Due to the celebration of the first anniversary of Gwangju’s very own Open Mic Night, this post has been moved back to be posted on today instead of Wednesday.
Since I first started writing food reviews for Gwangju Blog, I’ve somehow managed to eat at over two hundred restaurants. That’s a lot of food. While simply keeping up with something I was asked to do years ago doesn’t really seem like a big deal, I figured it would be worth celebrating this small, yet significant milestone in the form of yet another restaurant review.
I had been searching for some time for a nice place to celebrate at before a couple of people recommended 행복한 임금님 (Haengbokhan Imgeumnim), which means “Happy King”. Since our very own John Crook was visiting from Taiwan, I invited him and a couple of other amazing people to help me with reviewing this fancy and apparently popular place.
Though it required a bit of a drive, we eventually ended up at the restaurant without too much trouble. Located right next to a golf place and the highway, the restaurant stood out quite a bit, especially since there didn’t seem to be many other businesses nearby. It was nice to see that the restaurant did have a fair sized parking lot, though it was mostly full when we arrived for dinner.
Once we were seated, I read over the menu tacked onto the wall before us multiple times while trying to make sense of it. As with some of the best Korean restaurants I’ve been to, the selection was limited, and any ideas of substitutions or custom orders were definitely not allowed. The two main choices were the 임금님 수라상 (imgeumnim surasang) and the 떡갈비 수라상 (tteokgalbi surasang). These came with options for add-ons like 보쌈 (bossam), a steamed pork dish served with kimchi, 해물매운갈바찜 (haemul maeun galbijjim), spicy seafood and steamed pork, and 오리훈제 (orihunje), smoked duck. There was even a 돈까스 (donkkasu), also known as deep fried pork cutlet, dish for children. Going off of recommendations, we ordered the 떡갈비 수라상 for four people and added on an order of 보쌈.
Before too long, our food was out and ready. As our waiter approached our table, our eyes all grew in diameter as we all quietly asked the same question one usually asks before a traditional Korean meal: “How are all those plates going to fit on our table?” This restaurant found a lovely and tasteful solution which consisted of simply sliding the giant board all the dishes were already on over our small table, doubling the surface area with little to no inconvenience.
While we were now working with a large amount of table space, the sheer number of dishes we had seemed almost overwhelming. Not including the meat, we had about 18 sides to go with our bowls of red yeast rice, which came in a lovely pink color. Honestly, I couldn’t have named everything I was looking at if I tried. Some of the sides I did have enough knowledge to identify included fried tofu skin sushi, cold wasabi noodles, steamed eggs, seafood kimchi stew, ginger salad, radish kimchi, fresh cabbage kimchi, seaweed salad, mung bean jelly salad, spicy crab, marinated quail eggs, and, my personal favorite, stir-fried potato starch noodles. Each and every side dish was fresh and wonderfully prepared, and some even had interesting twists I had not seen before in similar restaurants.
When it came to the protein portion of our meal, we were all quite pleased. The 떡갈비 came in two forms: beef and pork. Shaped more like flattened meatballs than patties, these moist and meaty morsels came with rice cake in their centers, giving a nice, chewy texture to contrast with the seasoned meat. As delicious as they were, my personal favorite part of our dinner was the 보쌈, which came with perfectly ripe kimchi. Though pork served in this fashion is typically seen as bland and flavorless, I found myself growing quickly addicted to the rich and slightly sweet flavor of those fatty pieces of pork, and they went so well with that tart and crunchy kimchi. As someone who’s not a fan of having pork served with fresh kimchi (or fresh kimchi in general), this was a definite winner for me.
Overall, our celebration at 행복한 임금님 was one worth remembering. Indulging in so many classic Korean dishes left us all looking back upon our first culinary experiences in Korea, and how the food in this country left an impact on us all. While not the ideal spot for picky eaters, I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone wanting to get a taste of the real deal without having to leave the city. Though it’s easy to focus on the meatier aspects, it should be remembered that when eating at places like this restaurant, the side dishes are what truly shine.
Address: 광주광역시 서구 벽진동 274-1 (next to the highway going through Pungam-dong)
Hours: 11:40AM to 8:30PM
Average Price Range: 16,000 per person for the 떡갈비 수라상