Golden Bell, where real flavour rings true.
Korean food is not something that is very popular in Trinidad. As such, I've never had it before this year. Golden Bell restaurant is located in Royal Palm Plaza, Maraval, which is pretty close to where I work, so with limited food options in the area, it was inevitable that I try them. The only surprise is how long it took. Now, the first time I ate at Golden Bell was earlier this year, and since then I've been back around ten times, so clearly they're doing something consistently right.
Traditionally, the main dish of any Korean meal is rice, and as such this can be seen in most of the combinations. There are many rice combinations including Chicken: PaPa Chicken, Golden Bell Chicken, Mandu, Grilled Teriyaki, Grilled Sooo Hot Chicken (I love spicy food, and this is hot, so be warned if you're not accustomed, but I enjoyed it!); Beef: Bulgogi, Galbi, Beef Bibimbap (I don't eat beef so I have not tried any of these selections); and Pork: Don Kat Su and Jae Uk Bok Um. When you choose one of these options, it comes with the rice, vegetables, and your choice of meat.
Although most of the dishes have a definite hint of spiciness, if you're not a fan of too much heat, then you can choose from one of the less spicy menu options. You may still get a hint of heat, but it will be so perfectly combined with the other ingredients, whether it be ginger, soy sauce, or magic that you'll just enjoy the explosion of flavour in your mouth.
Gimbap (Korean Seaweed Roll). If you enjoy sushi, I think you'd enjoy this, as it's a similar concept with the rolls, although the ingredients are different. I really enjoy Gimbap. The first one that I ever had was the Chicken Gimbap (Comprised of chicken, egg, pickled radish, choy sum, carrot) and it was lovely. I tried the Don Kat Su Gimbap (same ingredients, but with pork instead of chicken) on another occasion, and I don't know which I prefer, as they were both delicious. I have found that personally the seaweed tends to become a bit much around half of the roll, but this is just my personal preference, and it doesn't actually stop me from finishing the meal. It just slows down the consumption process. When you order the gimbap, the chef prepares it in the open restaurant area, not behind the kitchen doors, so that's an added treat if you enjoy seeing how it's prepared. I do, so it's always a plus for me.
Ramyun - I am a lover of soup, but my favourite soups tend to be filled with at least a few ingredients, so I wasn't sure how I would feel about soup with just two main ingredients. There are several ramyun options such as cheese, chicken, etc. and each would include the ramyun noodles, and either the cheese/chicken/other option. Well, I am a convert. There is simplicity in the dish itself, but not in the flavours. It's delicious, and something that I will crave when I'm in the mood for soup, or when I'm not in the mood, but walk in and remember the exquisite taste.
There are also seafood and vegetarian options on the menu. Another cool feature is that the tables have heating elements to facilitate the making of certain table-side dishes. I've never tried this option, but I will in the future, and can then confirm what options are available. But, in the meantime, it never hurts to go in, and ask if it's what you fancy!
The atmosphere is very welcoming. It's a small space, but never crowded. I've visited on both weekdays and weekends, for lunch, dinner and mid-afternoon meals, and while there is a steady stream of customers, including both take-away, and eat-in customers, I've always gotten a seat with no trouble. Also, I love the system they have where they give you a number, and the number changes on the sign to let you know at any point where they've reached. There's no yelling out order numbers to distract from the mood. There's seating for about 16-18 persons. It's a comfortable, simple, and classic setting. I'd also like to make mention of the pictures on the walls. They're small, black and white framed pictures depicting what looks like traditional Korean lifestyles, which makes you remember where you are (if the food wasn't enough), and adds something extra to the ambience.
I was lucky enough to be able to speak to the owner of Golden Bell in the lull between customers, and it was very interesting.
So, here's our discussion. Please note that the responses are me paraphrasing based on his feedback, as opposed to direct quotes in an effort to deliver the message in the most effective way.
Who is the owner? In other words, who do we have to thank for sharing this delicious food with us Trinis?
The owner, who I had the pleasure of having this discussion with is Mr. Min Soo Lin.
Is this a family business?
Yes, it's operated by Min and his wife.
Are you originally from Korea?
Yes, he is originally from Korea, but has been in Trinidad since 2009, so it's been eight years on our shores.
Why the name Golden Bell?
Now, I hope that I don't muck this answer up with my understanding, but he noted that it's for several reasons. These reasons include in the order he told me that it's his wife's maiden name. Also, it's the name of a very popular restaurant in Tokyo, so by using the same name, he was told by relatives and himself hoped that this trini version would be similarly busy and popular. Finally, he asked me if I knew about the custom of ringing a bell in a restaurant and paying everyone's tab as a form of celebration. I noted that I did not, and he noted that his children attended Ivy League schools and whenever he was abroad and visited such restaurants, he indulged in this custom. I absolutely adore that custom, and would love to be present at a restaurant when it happens. Yet another reason would be that bells are often used as decorations in Korean culture, which add to the meaning and authenticity of the dining experience. To me, I think it must also for nostalgic moments remembering home.
Where did you learn to cook, and/or run the business?
He went to school in Korea, and coupled with his experiences, he learnt everything necessary to run the business. He can handle both the cooking, and the administrative parts of the restaurant.
Would you consider what you serve traditional Korean food, or are there other influences?
There are a few original, and traditional Korean dishes on the menu, but some of the other dishes do include other influences, Western, other Eastern countries, with some Trini flavour mixed in as well.
Are there any other branches?
This interview was held at the Royal Palm branch which I frequent. He noted that there is another location at Maraval Road, and one more is currently being constructed also at Royal Palm Plaza, a couple of stores down from the original. This new branch is set to open at the end of August, so get excited. I definitely am!
What is your personal favourite dish on the menu?
Said with no hesitation, #8, the Galbi - Korean Beef Ribs.
I am a lover of spicy food, but well flavoured spicy food, and Golden Bell has made me fall in love with Korean food. I will keep returning to their restaurant as the menu is large enough that I can continuously rotate my meal options without ever getting bored. Also, the portion sizes are perfect, in that generally for the rice meals, it would comprise of rice, salad, and chicken, but the rice is just enough. It's not so much that I feel guilty for over-indulging, or too little that I'm left hungry. It gets me to the point of being perfectly satisfied and guilt-free happy. Additionally, it's very affordable for the quality, and portions received. So, it's all in all, a great deal.
I know a few of my co-workers who also frequent Golden Bell, so I decided to ask them for some feedback as well, so that this post is more balanced that just my recently started one sided spicy Korean love affair.
"The Gimbap is my favourite because it's almost like sushi, but different." - Anne Marie.
"It's generally a healthier option, and I love the staff and menu options, and the overall ambience. I only wish they were open seven days a week, so I can get it at all times." - Ryan.
"It's authentic Korean food, and i like the experience of having the Korean BBQ. The staff are very helpful, and the food always satisifies." - Candice.
"You NEED Golden Bell in your life! Thank me later." - Stephen.
You can check the Facebook Page at Golden Bell Korean Restaurant Royal Palm Restaurant for more details, including the full menu.
Have you ever been? What has been your experience, and what is your favourite dish?
Life is better with good food, so share your choices, and recommendations. Let me know.
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Light and love always!