Continuing to fuel my craze for Korean, this week for Cheap Eats I visited an establised Auckland favourite.
Korean BBQ Squid ($12)
Steamed egg with shrimp and vegetables ($10.50)
Housed in a rather mystical, retro red pagoda style building on the corner of Wellesley and Lorne Streets, Nol Bu Ne has been serving up good Korean for as long as anyone can remember. I used to frequent its floorboards in my days spent at the university’s city campus; we’d often go down together as a group and share a luxurious meal for a less than luxurious price tag and then sprint back to class clutching the stitches in our sides.
Nol Bu Ne has been a family owned business, and having recently changed hands from one family member to another, I thought it was high time I paid a visit to see whether Nol Bu Ne still oozed the charm of one of Auckland’s most popular Korean eateries.
Nothing much had changed; the dining room was as busy as ever, and the enigmatic ceiling mirrors were still there. Despite climbing only one set of stairs, the room has the feeling you’re dining much higher off than ground than in reality.
Once we were settled, we set about dissecting the menu, which leaves one spoilt for choice. With an emphasis more on good eating than drinking (perhaps not for the table yelling ‘Drink, drink, drink!’ in the corner), the appetiser choices are short and sweet, offering pancakes, dumplings and Korean sushi. There are also your standard BBQ variety mains that come with rice and a good array of noodles, soups and stews (the cold noodles are a delicious and interesting dish to try albeit disconcertingly chilly). For those who enjoy grazing, Nol Bu Ne now offers bento-box style dosirak to please one’s indecisive tendencies. And if you’ve come in a large group with an eye to share, there are BBQ platters and steamboats to fit the bill nicely.
I ordered the Korean BBQ squid, eager to see what $12 worth of cephalopod would get me whilst Zoe decided to branch out and order the steamed egg ($10.50). As mandatory in Korean restaurants, our mains came accompanied with banchan (Korean side dishes), of which the marinated soy sweet potatoes have an almost cult following. Sweet, gummy and with just a twang of moreish saltiness, Zoe and I quickly finished and requested more of these spuds, along with the sesame seaweed salad and kimchi.
Despite arriving at the table hissing and spitting and volcanically hot, my squid was done to perfection, tender with a little spring to its bite once the fire had settled. Covered in their ubiquitous spicy, red sauce, the dish was very generously portioned and I challenge anyone to find better-cooked squid in that quantity and for that price anywhere else. Zoe’s steamed egg was a good example of a perfectly set egg custard that was delicate in texture; filled with shrimp and finely diced vegetables, it was unfortunately also rather delicate in taste, but this was easily rectified with a few helpings of kimchi and squid on top.
Once Zoe and I had finished dinner and our second helping of banchan, we felt dangerously full to bursting and yet managed to spend less than $13 each. Nol Bu Ne has managed to hold its place as one of Auckland’s kings of Korean and judging by the full dining room, the people in the streets all know it too.
Location: Level 1 & 2, Choice Plaza, 10 Wellesley St East, Auckland CBD
Phone: (09) 307-0188
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-11pm; Sunday 12 noon-11pm
Prices: Appetisers $9.50-$15; BBQ mains $11-$20; soups and stews $10.50-$13; fish mains $11-$20; noodles $9.50-$13; dosirak (bento-style boxes) $13.50-$15; shared platters and BBQ sets $16-$51; steamboats $34-$51; extra rice $2; side dish refills $1; Korean spirits $12-20; beer $5-$6; wine $6/glass-$34/bottle; non-alcoholic drinks $2-$3.
Credit Cards: Yes for payments over $40
Licensed: Yes and BYO corkage $6/bottle
Suitable for Vegetarians: Yes
Bathrooms: Just tolerable