Han Gook Gwan is one of two main Korean restaurants in Colombo (the other being Kyong Bok Kung). They do a great take on Korean cuisine at an affordable price. It's not for everyone, but if you like the DIY style of food, this is one place you have to visit.
Korean food is somewhat rare in Sri Lanka. It's different from any other type of cuisine since it involves some assembly and self cooking. For those who are unfamiliar it can be a bit confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it's fun.
Prices generally range between Rs. 700 - Rs. 1400 for most dishes, but if you go with 3-4 people you'll find yourself spending only around Rs. 1000 per head which is pretty great value for money. They don't have small/large portion sizes but we think it's enough for at least 3 people. They also offer certain meats like ox (tail, intestine, tongue, you name it) which is obviously not for everyone, but it's still great to have the option.
We ordered the three-ply pork (Rs. 900) to get us started. This is one of those signature DIY dishes. What you get is 10 strips of belly bacon served with six side dishes, which includes - lettuce, honey peanuts, two types of kimchi radish, kimchi cabbage and a leek salad. So the basic idea is to cook the bacon on the circular barbeque on your table and then assemble a wrap with a bit of all the sides. It's actually quite simple to assemble and very interesting to eat since all the sides add so many different flavors and textures. Oh and if you do manage to finish the sides, they'll refill it for free.
Their Kimchi fried rice (Rs. 700) was also different from the stuff you regularly get at most Chinese restaurants, with the kimchi adding a distinct sourness and spice which was gladly not overpowering. The fried rice also had a good amount of pork in it as well, so needless to say this is a pretty good spot for those of you looking for pork dishes.
We also ordered their Ox tail stew (Rs. 950) which was actually a great addition to kimchi fried rice. It was braised perfectly to the point where the meat fell off the bone, with the stew having a nice, somewhat thick consistency. For those of you who haven't had Ox meat before it tastes more or less like beef, if a bit tougher, hence the reason it's generally cooked over time. All in all we were really happy with the meal, with all of it coming to Rs. 3200.
Service & Ambience
The service was quite fast with first dish coming to the table in less than 10 minutes. The other two arrived just in time as we were finishing the first. The staff was friendly, attentive and will tell you anything you need to know about the dishes. If you're unsure about how to cook/eat something, just ask and they'll help you out, or you can just copy the Koreans.
The first thing you'll notice when you walk in is the weird smell of boiled meat, which can be very unsettling, but once you hang around for a bit you'll get accustomed to it. Besides that, the ambience at Han Gook Gwan is pretty simple. They've got single burner cookers on each table, which is there to place the barbeque on, and a TV permanently on Korean news channels which adds to the authentic feel. Another thing worth noting is that we were the only Sri Lankans at the restaurant during the time we were there. Kinda nice to be the minority for a change.
Han Gook Gwan does an authentic take on Korean cuisine at a price that will keep you going back for more. If you're looking for a change from the usual Chinese eateries, give these guys a try. You'll most likely be walking away with a new found love for Korean cuisine.
The food at Han Gook Gwan is great – if you can get past the lingering smell of boiled meat and cabbage that haunts its halls. We’re not sure if this was just an occasional odor or a resident one, but it was enough to make us consider leaving.
After thinking about it a bit, we decided to stay - your nose soon gets accustomed - and we were glad that we did. The meal turned out to be really quite good - and a lot of fun.
Many of Han Gook Gwan’s dishes are interactive; the bibimbap and Korean bacon that we ordered both required active involvement before eating. Bibimbap is a signature Korean dish that consists of white rice, julienned vegetables, beef and raw egg - all juxtaposed in a hot stone bowl for you to mix up (don’t worry, the raw egg cooks against the hot sides of the bowl). It’s basically a Korean fried rice, but more fun than ordinary fried rice cause you get to stir it all up yourself – and add the sauces that you like. Just make sure you don’t touch the bowl, it’s really really really hot.
The bacon is served raw, and you cook it yourself using the hotplate-like device that’s on the table. It comes with garlic that can also be cooked, and a large variety of sides: kimchi, cucumbers, a sesame seed salad, potato cakes, peanuts and lettuce.
At the beginning we didn’t really know what to do we with our food or how to eat it – but this is what makes Han Gook Gwan such a fun dining experience, there’s so much interaction with your meal. It would be a great place for a date - the hot plate contraption and all the cooking will give you lots to do together and lots to talk about.
Han Gook Gwan’s been around since the late 1980s, and it’s currently the only Korean restaurant left in the country. It isn’t a fancy place – there’s little to no décor, and it’s more of a Korean hangout than a restaurant catering to Sri Lankan customers. But the food is good and both tasty and enjoyable to eat. Overall, it’s affordable. The bibimbap (this is called steamed rice with vegetables and sauce on the menu) is Rs. 750 and the bacon (called three ply pork on the menu) is Rs. 900. With service the bill came to Rs. 2033 for two people. Not bad.
As for the smell, well, I guess that’s just the scent of a restaurant that serves boiled meat and cabbage, what to do. We’d recommend you just power through those first 5 minutes. It’s worth it.