My gastronomic trek across Asia – via the good establishments of Edinburgh, of course - continued with chopstick-flourishing gusto last night at Korean restaurant Shilla. Squirrelled away on Dundas Street, it’s Edinburgh’s first and only Korean restaurant (so says the website), and after rave reviews from my flatmates, I’d been wanting to try it for ages. Opportunity happily presented itself when our friend John came up to Edinburgh for a quick visit.
The restaurant itself is a cosy, unpretentious basement affair, separated into a couple of small, eccentrically-decorated dining rooms that make it feel a bit like a miniature rabbit warren. The staff greeted us warmly and were more than happy to help advise on the extensive menu, which featured a wide variety of rice, noodle and Korean hot-pot dishes, plus a slightly pricier selection of more unusual-sounding chef’s specials.
Food-wise – in the opinion of this incorrigible freebie lover - things kicked off most auspiciously indeed when a variety of appetisers arrived at the table – radish in a sweet chilli sauce, fried aubergine, potato salad and my personal favourite, beansprouts in a nutty dressing. We also ordered some kimchi to pick at, a traditional Korean pickled cabbage dish, which is normally served as a side with the main course (we were feeling impatiently piggy). It was clearly straight from the fridge and far too cold, but was nonetheless very tasty – crunchy, tangy and fiery-hot with chilli.
Despite the kind guidance of the waitress, I ended up making a rather floundering lucky-dip selection when the time came to order, although I needn’t have worried about choosing poorly. My starter of gun man do, fried dumplings stuffed with minced pork, tofu, spring onion and rice noodle (£5.50), were gargantuan parcels, fried to caramel-gold perfection on one side, with sausagey filling that had hot, deliciously oniony juices trickling down my chin. Having sampled the dumplings during recent outings to Tang's and Chop Chop, I immodestly consider myself a bit of an authority in this particular area (erm…), and Shilla’s offering without question takes the gold. In cooking and eating, size doesn’t matter, but when something tastes as good as these did, you can’t help but think bigger really does equal better.
My split-second main course choice of sizzling oh sam bul go hi, a classic Korean dish of pork with squid and rice (£9.99) also came up trumps. It was a real rib-sticker of a stew, with succulent shreds of pork melting into a dark, salty, syrupy gravy that was fragrant with star anaise and ginger. The pieces of squid were generous and tender, and provided a fresh, chewy texture contrast to cut through the richness of the meat. I also thought the portion size was spot-on – decent but not so excessive as to overwhelm with the strong flavours.
The only area Shilla is a bit lacking on is dessert, with a lonely option of red bean ice cream wedged on the end of the menu, and reported to be “a bit weird” by my flatmates, who had sampled it on a previous visit. This aside, it was another top-notch dinner, and at just over £20 a head including wine and tip, bargainacious to boot (expect to pay a bit more if you go for one of the chef’s specials).
Admittedly, this was my first foray into Korean cuisine. I know what I like, but if you would prefer a more balanced review, feel free to send plane tickets to Korea – South rather than North, if poss – and I will see what I can do…