It’s all about Korea these days—Parasite won at the Oscars, BTS’s latest album is all over the global charts, Crash Landing On You is killing it on Netflix. Korea has indeed spread its soft power beyond its borders, and Filipinos have welcomed its K-culture with open arms, including the food.
Korean restaurants have become ubiquitous across the city, with unlimited samgyeopsal dominating the trend. But until now there was one enclave the Korean culinary wave hadn’t yet touched—the luxury hotel.
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Sheraton Manila Hotel in Resorts World Manila recently launched its signature restaurant, Oori alongside its more casual sibling, Bibimbap by Oori. Aside from the hotel’s all-day dining S Kitchen, Oori is the only other restaurant in the hotel, with its own accompanying bar and lounge—no Japanese or Chinese or Western restaurant in sight. That says something really, that Korean food is no longer a niche cuisine, but one mainstream enough to stand on its own.
What’s most refreshing about both Oori and Bibimbap by Oori is that they pretty much don’t look like any other Korean restaurant in town. With their minimalist aesthetic and neutral tones, the interiors don’t “scream” Korean, and could actually be mistaken for some other type of restaurant. The chairs and tables are spaced far apart. The grill tables don’t have those unsightly exhaust tubes that dangle from the ceiling (they use a downdraft exhaust instead). Service is discreet and efficient. And there are spacious private rooms for that K-bbq birthday party you’ve always dreamed about.
Oori exhibits all the signs of an upscale, “fine casual,” restaurant, modeled after an elegant hotel restaurant where one can go for a quiet meal or an important celebration. Except that here, the food is all about traditional Korean dishes served in modern fashion.
At the helm of Oori is Executive Korean Chef Kibum Park, who worked in hotels across Asia and the Philippines before joining Sheraton Manila. Having lived in Cebu for the past six years and marrying a Filipina in the process, Chef Park recognizes Filipinos’ love for Korean food “thanks to K-pop and K-drama,” he grins.
With his ready smile and jolly demeanor, Chef Park introduced the menu to our group, assuring that the food “tastes same like in Korea.” Unlike many Korean restaurants in the city, at Oori, he explains that they make everything in house, including the kimchi, which he admits he learned from his mother. “All mothers can make kimchi,” he laughs.
Open all day, Bibimbap by Oori gives diners a more casual and street food feel, albeit in fairly stylish surroundings. Of course, Bibimbap is the star of the menu. While this popular rice dish is traditionally served in a stone bowl with the veggies, protein, egg, and gochujang topping the rice, Chef Park instead serves it in a more modern way, separating the components to give diners the option of how much veggies to mix in, or how spicy they’d like the dish to be.
The menu offers several Bibimbap variations to choose from, including Hoe (sashimi), Jeyuk (spicy marinated pork), Haemul (spicy marinated seafood), among others, and of course, the traditional Bulgogi made with soy sauce-marinated beef.
But for a Filipino touch, Chef Park let us try the Sisig Bibimbap, using classic pork sisig as the topping of choice. And the Korean-Filipino combo works, with the vinegar-flavored sisig adding a different kind of punch to the rice and vegetable mix.
For those looking for something more, the Bibimbap by Oori menu boasts a host of Korean bar and street food standards: the ever popular Tteok Bokki or rice and fish cake, Korean pancakes or Jeun (in seafood, kimchi, and vegetable variants), and Dakgangjung or sweet and spicy boneless fried chicken nuggets, perfect with beer or soju. Noodle dishes, bingsu or shaved milk ice, and soju-infused cocktails round out the menu, whether it’s for a quick meal or late night bites.
The main restaurant, Oori, offers the quintessential Korean grill experience, but thankfully it’s an experience that doesn’t involve your clothes smelling from the grilling fumes. The space can accommodate up to 96 people, with 14 barbecue tables. In addition, there are semi-private rooms ideal for 8 to 24 persons, as well as two luxe private rooms for 12 and 20 persons respectively.
The basis of any Korean barbecue experience starts, of course, with banchan, those small side dishes that accompany every Korean meal. For Oori (and Bibimbap by Oori, too), Chef Park makes up to 16 different ones, which he rotates among the five side dishes that come with every main dish order. On our visit, we were spoiled with two kinds of kimchi (cabbage and cucumber), shiitake mushrooms, tofu with soybean paste, and braised potato.
Of course, the highlight of the meal has to be the meats for grilling, and Chef Park proudly shares that Oori is the only Korean restaurant in town that uses premium chestnut-fed Duroc pork from Spain, for an extra tender and flavorful result. The premium beef selection happens to be Australian Mulwarra Wagyu (with 5+ and 9+ grading), no less.
While diners are welcome to grill the meat themselves, we let the servers do the grilling for us, just to make sure we wouldn’t overcook the expensive cuts of meat. The downdraft exhaust, built into the grill, sucks all the smoke and smells, making the grilling all the more pleasant. Oori uses two different types of grilling surfaces—a grill rack for the beef and a covered one for the pork—to guarantee good results.
The grilled meats come with all the components for making your own ssams or lettuce wraps: a platter of greens (lola rossa, romaine, and perilla when available), chili peppers, raw garlic, and a host of sauces and dips—the standard gochujang, ssamjang, sesame oil, salt, a pickled onion- soy sauce dip, plus a funky meljorim sauce made with anchovies and soybean paste. The fun of ssam is playing with the multitude of sauces and side dishes to pair with the meat, offering a different flavor experience with every bite.
After the meal, frozen milky Bingsu, available in red bean, mango, fresh fruits, and chocolate variants, is perfect to wash all that spice away.
While the grilling is lots of fun, the Oori menu also offers homier dishes that, perhaps even more than the barbecue, hark back to what is at the core of every Korean’s love for their food—the everyday soups and stews that they depend on for nourishment and comfort. At Oori, there’s Mandu Jeongol made with pork, kimchi, and Korean dumplings (mandu), with glass noodles absorbing the robust kimchi-flavored broth.
Even more soul-stirring is Haemul Denjang Jjigae, a rich bouillabaisse-like soup of mixed seafood and soybean paste. While Chef Park says both dishes are “upgrades” (thanks to the mandu and seafood) of their humbler homemade versions, they retain that same hearty spirit, with their earthy, ferment-heavy flavors that are a defining characteristic of Korean cuisine.
In the end, whether it’s a luxurious or casual meal, what’s most enjoyable about the Korean dining experience is its emphasis on communal grilling and eating, which is why it is particularly apt that Oori means “ours” in Korean. Eating is really about gathering together in one place, sharing food, and yes, communing with your loved ones over the latest hit K-drama.
Sheraton Manila Hotel, 80 Andrews Avenue, Pasay City, (02) 7902-1800, www.sheratonmanila.com
Photos by Dane Soriano