Woo Galbi

5 years ago


One time, I ordered Korean food at a small food court kiosk reminiscent of turo turo. The Korean server grinned at me and pointed to the kimchi. In halting English, she asked me, “Spicy or more spicy?”

These days, Korean food isn’t limited to just spicy fare. The Korean BBQs and buffets that have sprouted all over the metro show that Korean cuisine is so much more than kimchi. Woo Galbi, the latest restaurant to take up the sujeo and chopsticks, is a veritable contender to the more established Korean joints.

Located in Shangri-La’s East Wing, a new hotspot for foodies, Woo Galbi invites diners with its odd, almost anachronistic yet aesthetically pleasing interiors. The interiors are unmistakably Korean (think wood carvings and wooden panels) but updated to fit the 21stcentury. The clean lines are broken by geometrical fixtures; sky lanterns fashioned from steel illuminate the place and give it an otherworldly ambiance. The juxtaposition of the modern and the whimsical carries over to their food as well. Some of their dishes are plated with flowers planted in a mound of wasabi while their dishes have traditional flavors with modern presentations.


The meal started with Hot Stone Bibimbap (P420), one of Woo Galbi’s bestsellers (pictured above). The meal is very customizable; you can change every component of the dish right down to level of spiciness and the vessel it’s served in. You can even ask for a vegetarian option. We made ours with gochujang (Korean chilli paste), beef bulgogi, and had it served in a hot stone vessel which can keep food warm for up to two hours – long enough to enjoy a leisurely lunch catching up with your friends. The beef is somehow crisp and smoky on the outside, as if charred, but tender on the inside. The clean flavors of the vegetables melded with the meat beautifully, and the dish was redolent of sesame oil and creamy with the addition of egg yolk. If you order nothing else, order this. All of the meals come with complimentary banchan; the restaurant has a dedicated banchan chef and while they may be side dishes, they are nothing to scoff at. A surprising crowd favorite is the candied dilis; it’s sweet, smoky, briny, ever so slightly bitter thanks to the caramel, and utterly addictive. It was the first dish to run out at my table. Michael Soon, Woo Galbi’s marketing managers, grins, “It’s actually my favorite. We wanted to make banchan na rice lang, tapos pang-ulam na.”


Next up was the Woo Galbi Roll (P588). An easy crowd favorite, the Woo Galbi Roll has snapper tempura, crab meat, mangoes, and is topped with avocado and barbecued eel. The rolls sit on a bed of tenkasu (tempura refuse). I took a tentative mouthful and was rewarded by flavors and textures complimenting, and not competing with, each other. It’s a little fruity, tangy, smoky, savory, briny, crunchy, smooth, and so many other things, but it works.


For the office lunch crowd, don’t miss Pork Me Up (P645), the bento lunch. The set comes with sangyupsal, pork belly with a spicy pork topping. It’s crazy addictive. The pork belly is first roasted then grilled to fork-tender perfection, with the topping adding just the right amount of zing. The pork’s skin, when bitten, gives a sharp and satisfying crunch. It’s unctuous, but in the best way possible. This, ladies and gentlemen, is bagnet on steroids. Less sinful but just as flavorful is the jeyuk, pork coated in a spicy sauce. The meal also comes with warm, spicy soup and banchan. Some of the banchan offerings are different from the complimentary ones, such as Japanese coleslaw and tuna with tamago. There’s also a serving of chocolate cake for dessert. Despite the bounty of food, finishing the set doesn’t feel like overindulgence because the food is portioned just enough to fill you up (and then some), but not enough to overwhelm. In a word, it’s balanced.


Last is Woo Galbi (P605), the restaurant’s namesake dish. The Woo Galbi is pork cookedsous-vide; the portion is small but this is one of the most expensive items on the menu. Why order this when you can get a bento meal for just forty pesos more? Take one bite, and you will understand. Because of its long cooking time, the pork is impossibly tender and flavorful; your teeth will not bite but rather sink into the meat. Roll it up with the lettuce, banchan, and gochujang provided. You will want to savor every bite.


Something tells me that Woo Galbi is going to be a mainstay and a family favorite in the Manila dining scene. It has everything: grills for those looking for an interactive dining experience, meals to order for those who just want to sit back and let someone do the cooking for them, and items to tempt even the pickiest of eaters. So just sit back, relax, and ride the Korean wave. You might be surprised where it takes you.


6/F Shangri-La Plaza, Eastwing, Edsa Cor. Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong, Metro Manila

Landline: 655 0558


Words by Janelle Año. Photography by Zac Moran.


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