Positive word of mouth had us really excited to visit Haru BBQ Korean for the first time this past weekend. We have had some limited experience with Korean BBQ in the past, but there isn’t a ton of it on offer in Nanaimo. Maybe that’s because many of the Korean restauranting families operate Japanese restaurants instead, to satisfy Nanaimo’s (limitless?) appetite for sushi and tempura.
Haru can be found at the top of Rutherford hill in the space formerly occupied by the excellent (and now dead) Thai Orchid. You’ll know you’re in the right place if you nearly get broadsided by some inattentive dingbat in that roundabout.
Our visit this time was for dinner. We easily made a reservation and arrived to find plentiful parking. We were immediately welcomed at the restaurant and ushered to our seats. It’s a nice dining room. The building style is entirely exposed wood, like a cabin, which is neat. They could use a little more décor in there though. The walls and shaelves were mostly bare. We assume that will improve with time.
Drinks were offered shortly after we were seated, and after clinking soju glasses we settled in and perused the menu. (By the way, soju is a slightly sweet rice spirit. It’s quite refreshing before, during, and after a meal. We recommend it with your BBQ! At 17% alcohol, one bottle is more than enough for two people, likely better for three or four.)
In case you’re unfamiliar, Korean BBQ is essentially plates of grilled meat that is served with a selection of small side dishes. Some Korean BBQs will bring the meat raw for you to cook to your liking at your table, others will cook it and bring it out for you. Haru is the latter. The side plates are typically made up of kimchi, pickles, seaweed, or other spicy or acidic items which you can use to break up the richness of the meats you’ll be eating. You might also get lettuce to make lettuce wraps with (called “ssam”), and you’ll pretty much always get some rice. If you’re thinking this sounds ideal for group eating and sharing, you are right!
Haru’s menu extends beyond the traditional BBQ and offers bento-type meals for those who aren’t interested in sharing, as well as bibimbap (big bowls ‘ o stuff), hot pots, and other fun items.
We were here for BBQ though. We ordered a plate of spicy pork belly (samgyeob-sal) and a plate of beef spareribs (haru gal bi).
Our side dishes (and side plates) came out instantly, and the sizzling platters of meat were delivered shortly thereafter. The menu noted that there would be side dishes, rice, and ssam served with the meal. We got the side dishes and the rice, but not the ssam. Weird.
The meat dishes were really, really good. The pork belly was ultra-rich and the peppers and other veg it was served with added some nice crispness and volume to the dish. We ordered the dish spicy, and while there was a little bit of a zing, it certainly wasn’t hot enough to be inaccessible to anyone.
The beef spareribs were delightful, with flavours of sesame and onion complementing the full flavour of the beef. This may sound weird, but they were also really fun to eat. The ribs were cut thinly and crosswise, which meant peeling the meat off the bone with our teeth in a fun little circular motion. Even the onions in this dish were amazing and we ate literally every last bit.
Between every few bites of the rich oily meats, we had the kimchi and pickles (and soju!) to “reset” our palattes. Perfect.
Our bellies full, we polished off as much of our drinks as we could and called it a night. Our bill for the excellent meal, plus the soju (and a beer), and a modest tip was $73. We consider this great value.
It’s easy to recommend Haru Korean BBQ. It’s a nice little restaurant with great service. The menu is fun and the food is super good. The prices are good if not great too. We can’t wait to get back in there to try a few more things. Get a few friends together and go check it out!