Got its claws into us
With its grand opening in February, Horang has become nothing short of the talk of the town. This north Nanaimo restaurant is a project from the same forces behind Nori, so if you’re a fan of that restaurant, you’ll already have a good idea of what to expect this time around. The twist? Instead of over-the-top expressions of Japanese cuisine served with barely-contained grandiosity, Horang offers over-the-top expressions of Korean cuisine served with barely-contained grandiosity. And we’re here for it.
Like Nori’s, Horang’s dining room is energetic, with plenty of kitchen noise, loud chatter, trendy music pumping, and sizzles from tableside service. Also like Nori, there is virtually no waiting area at the door and so diners near the entrance will be subjected to all the chatter as the hosts organize waiting patrons and drafts from the door constantly opening. This is not a place for a quiet, private meal, but is a fun environment for a gang.
Our visit was on a sunny evening to have dinner with a group of friends. We were seated by a window, but there were no blinds installed and so some of us were subjected to direct sunlight for the whole meal. We cooked. The restaurant did not have a solution for this, except to say sorry and that window coverings were going to be soon installed. This was not great for us, but the problem may have been corrected by the time you read this.
We’ve mentioned before that we like group eating for Korean food, so we were excited to try multiple small dishes in one go. First things first, though, an unusual drink option caught our eyes. Makgeolli is an unpasteurized rice wine. We like rice wines and so ordered a carafe. Funny note – if you look at the Wikipedia entry for this drink, it says, “The milky, off-white, and lightly sparkling rice wine has a slight viscosity that tastes slightly sweet, tangy, bitter, and astringent. Chalky sediment gives it a cloudy appearance.” That is also word-for-word how it is described in the menu. (Haha – nice one Horang.) Anyway, the wine was tasty and exactly as described, though pricy at $29 per jug. We also took the option of adding a small block of honeycomb to each serving. At $6 extra per serving we can hardly recommend this. While there was a nice little presentation involving the server tonging the honeycombs into our glasses from out of a custom wooden case, all it really did was add a touch of extra sweetness to the drink. If you decide to swirl it around a bit, the sweetness is further enhanced, but you will also wind up drinking down bits of beeswax too.
Anyway, on to the food. Horang’s menu is extremely intriguing, with plenty of different slices of Korean cuisine. There’s BBQ, bibimbap, noodles/ramen, kimbap (which is basically sushi rolls), and other fun stuff. The restaurant makes no attempt to help non-Korean speakers with the food names, but the servers can help, so there’s no issue there.
While we were all stealing bites from our group’s other orders, the dishes the two of us ordered for ourselves were the beef bulgogi mandoo (dumplings), the truffle yubu japchae (glass noodles), and the kimchi aioli jeyuk (spicy pork) kimbab.
First, the mandoo. These are dumplings filled with seasoned beef and soaked in delicious yangnyeom sauce (similar to what Nanda’s uses for their excellent yangnyeom chicken). There were also a few little rice puffs served atop the mound of dumplings, and some picked cabbage too. This dish was spicy and super delicious and we would happily eat ourselves to death with it.
Next was the japchae. These slippery noodles were served mixed with mushrooms and vegetables. The sauce was truffle and sesame, and we were delighted that the chef was restrained in the use of the truffle. Too often places use truffle oil/flavour to be bougie, but wind up overdoing it. Not so here. Despite the restraint shown, the umami was off the charts in this dish to the point that you almost don’t want to swallow. Eyes-rolling-to-back of head good. 11/10 would order again.
Lastly, the kimbab. This was our first time trying what is essentially a Korean sushi roll (minus the fish). Like the sushi at Nori, Horang goes over the top on the presentation here. The roll was served with a heap of spicy pork, and the server finished the dish at tableside by torch-searing the meat. Nice touch. It obviously didn’t hurt that the pork was mouthwateringly good too. The roll buried underneath was also tasty, but not what we expected. Where sushi rice has vinegar in it, kimbap rice is seasoned with sesame oil. It makes for a totally different taste and mouthfeel compared to a sushi roll. We’re going to stop calling kimbab “Korean sushi” from now on because that’s just not a good comparison, and now we know better.
Three dishes split between us, plus all the food theft going on at our table, meant we were too stuffed to try any dessert this time.
The total for our dinner, with the drinks, tax, and a modest tip was $110. Horang is not a cheap place to eat.
Horang is stellar. While it wasn’t a perfect dining experience, it came close and the food was truly next level for both presentation and taste. You will pay for it, though. We had three small plates to share and a couple of drinks and were well over a hundred dollars. That said, we have to look at the overall value when determining the fairness of the price. Restaurant nice? Check. (Blinds issue aside.) Service good? Check. Menu interesting? Very check. Food good? Check, check, check, a million times check. Because Horang is such a winner, in our view, the price is fine — good even. You might have to save it for special occasions or when you are feeling unusually adventurous, but you absolutely must check Horang out. We loved it and are thrilled to go back soon. See you there!