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Ssal Bori Ssal is located in the de facto “Korea Town” that is Kimberley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. The name literally means ‘Rice-Barley-Rice’, a game popular among Korean children, which is used here to indicate the playfulness of a casual Korean eatery. Its location may lack a standout factor, but it is essentially the humble shopfront that delivers the surprise inside.
The restaurant space is square and proper, with wooden tables neatly arranged across the establishment. Traditional brass-toned makgeolli serving ‘kettles’ are displayed along the bar adjacent to the fridge that stores the varieties of fresh makgeolli drinks imported from Korea. Elbow room is limited but seating away from the bar is slightly more spacious.
Food offerings at Ssal Bori Saal are mostly the warm comfort dishes you would expect. Punchy flavours can be found from spicy kimchi to soup with fermented bean paste, best paired with the restaurant’s signature makgeolli. Korean pancakes are popular here, particularly the seafood spring onion pancake, the pancake is packed with softened batons of spring onion and mixed seafood, bound together by the batter and fried until crisp on both sides.
Soft tofu and seafood stew is prepared with kimchi, the quintessential Korean preserved cabbage. We love the orange-hued stew, soupy and hot, bubbling as it was served. The clams are fresh and tofu creamy and soft.
We couldn’t resist ordering a hot pot bibimbab, or Korean hot stone pot rice. Properly topped with matchsticks of carrots, spinach, kimchi, a raw egg yolk, and hearty chunks of chicken, the residual heat of the stone pot continues to crisp up the rice underneath, forming a thin crackling of crispy rice. We suggest letting it rest for a minute or so to further crisp up the rice before mixing the gochujang (Korean chili sauce) in. Best enjoyed hot, the rice bears both crunchy and creamy textures. We opted for the braised ox tail stew on the staff’s recommendations, even though the spicy pork rib stew came a close second. The portion is generous, and meaty chunks of oxtail are fork-tender and juicy, while the gravy stays rich with a rich sweetness from jujubes and reduced root vegetables, a homely stew that is perfect with fresh makgeolli served here.
As a restaurant themed around the makgeolli, the humble Korean fermented rice drink, Ssal Bori Ssal excels in its selections served by the bottle which is best shared among guests. The varieties vary by flavour, from chestnut to sweet potato and grape.
We enjoyed the Boksoondoga Fresh Makgeolli, the restaurant’s signature beverage. The off-white rice wine is very fizzy, with fine bubbles that tickle the palate. The flavour is sweet and appealingly rich, almost like a sparkling horchata but with the pure taste of rice and the slightest tinge of tartness in the after taste.
Ssal Bori Ssal may not have a sommelier, but rest assured the staff is knowledgeable in the varieties of makgeolli offered at the restaurant. They do, however, need some familiarisation with the menu’s food offerings, especially when inquired of comparisons among soups and noodle dishes. The service team is very friendly and keen on offering personal suggestions from drinks pairing to food options.
Dinner for two including one bottle of Korean makgeolli amounts to slightly below HK$700. Ssal Bori Ssal is a good newcomer in the neighbourhood with a friendly vibe and good spot for makgeolli lovers and novices. We suggest parties of four to share some of its signatures and to sample more bottles of makgeolli.