Shilla Korean Restaurant
Taking its names from an ancient Asian dynasty, Shilla provides a unique take on contemporary and traditional Korean cuisine. The New Town restaurant, opened in 2009, has four separate rooms.
£10 Challenge: Shilla
Reviewed by Euan Andrews
Monday, August 9, 2010 - 2:24pm
Starters: £4-£5. Mains: £6-£6.80
OK, so we’re bending the rules slightly with Shilla. It is perfectly possible to have a great lunch for a tenner at Edinburgh’s sole Korean restaurant but, frankly, you’d be better off splashing out on a mini feast. It’s worth every penny. Alternatively, go along with a group of friends so you can mix and match dishes with each other.
Situated down a basement property off the main New Town boulevard of Dundas Street, you enter Shilla by walking down stairs surrounded by hypnotic bird song, as though passing through some kind of portal into a more calming place. The restaurant itself is a warren of small rooms, with a back room devoted to larger parties, each table having its own special buzzer to summon assistance.
I’m here today with the Hobb family. Children are most welcome and high chairs are on offer, although the stated junior portions turn out to be more the waiters’ recommendations of child-friendly dishes. But the waiting staff are effusive and pleasant, their occasional tremulous grasp of English combining with the presence of several Korean diners to underline the authentic “otherness” of this restaurant.
Small taster dishes are quickly presented, including beansprouts and the Korean national dish of kimchi, that being pickled chilli cabbage, much more enticing than it sounds. While the Hobb children busy themselves with basic plates of noodles and rice, we adults get stuck in. Mrs Hobb has the saeng sun jeon, fried fish cakes in breadcrumbs, while Mr Hobb goes for the ddouk bok yi. Allegedly Korean youngsters’ favourite dish, these are gnocchi style doughy tubes made of rice and fish, coming doused in a hot chilli sauce.
For me, though, it always has to be the dumplings to start at Shilla. The gun man do duly arrives, three sumptuous fried parcels filled with an unctuous mixture of minced pork, tofu and spring onions and soy dipping sauce. I could eat these divinely more-ish dumplings morning, noon and night.
Main courses are divided up into rice, chargrilled and noodle sections. Mr Hobb inadvertently orders up more rice cakes, which accompany his dak gal bi, being chargrilled chicken with sweet potato. Mrs Hobb has the ever excellent stone pot of dol sot bi bim bab. This huge bowl of rice with shredded beef and vegetables comes bound together with a fried egg and side dishes of hot chilli sauce and a cleansing broth. I have the oh sam bul go ki, a traditional Korean dish of spicy pork and squid which comes sizzling to the table.
There really is an air of tranquillity to Shilla. It’s like a place of refuge from the bustling hustle of Edinburgh’s city centre, a den of corridors filled with exotic smells and the mild ambience of Korean pop tunes. If we hadn’t had to leave at 2.30pm, I think the Hobbs and I would have spent the afternoon drinking peppermint tea and waiting patiently for the evening service to begin.