Neul Bom

*Restaurant is now closed*

The buffet. A cornucopia of food meant to satisfy even the most cavernous of appetites. Not exactly the best way to experience any type of cuisine. Ultimately buffets serve a purpose and they seem to thrive in some places more than others. To me at least, the all-American buffet (ribs, chicken, roast beef etc...) don't do so hot up here. Rather, we see the all-you-can-eat ethnic foods such as Japanese, Thai and Indian. There also seems to be a trend towards AYCE which is served rather than the buffet line. Due to the prevalence of good Chinese food for cheap, it seems that the Chinese buffet (a la Dragon Inn) have no market in the GVRD. It appears that the Korean AYCE is beginning to catch on and they succeed in varying degrees. I've been to Kim Ga Nae and it was alright. Mando tipped me off of a new Korean AYCE in Surrey called Neul Bom. A search on Google yielded nothing. Apparently it's brand spanking new.

Tonight, Viv and I met up with Mando and Motown (he loves the Red Wings... BOOOO!!!) for some gluttony in Surrey. Being an exclusively AYCE restaurant, we were a bit confused at being presented each a menu. There are only 2 choices: Buffet ($19.95) or Buffet + Korean BBQ ($24.95). I found the prices to be a bit high compared to a place like Kim Ga Nae. But with little in the way of competition nearby, I guess they can charge that. Well, Oriental Buffet is across the street; but I can hardly say that is competition... Keeping with the buffet line leftover from the previous Indian buffet restaurant, the entire place has been nicely renovated with built-in burners and required high power vents.

Although we could help ourselves to the food in the buffet line, we had to order the meat for our BBQ. I guess they don't want people wasting it. We got all the meats which included Kalbi (short ribs), Bulgogi (Beef), Spicy Chicken and Pork Belly. There was a really, really nice older Korean lady who wanted to cook the meat for us; but we insisted to do it ourselves. She was almost like a mother who was watching over us to make sure everything was alright. To her credit, she offered us romaine lettuce, hot sauce and raw garlic slices to wrap our BBQ'd meat. That is the Korean way of eating BBQ. Although I would've preferred bean paste in place of the gochujang. Make sure you slightly grill the garlic first! It's quite sharp if you don't. The beef and short ribs were quite good, while the spicy chicken completely confused us. Normally, we get spicy pork and the flavours work well with the texture of the meat. However, we all thought that the chicken meat did not stand up well to the spicy marinade. We really wished it was just regular chicken. In theory, the pork belly should've been the crown jewel of the meal; yet it was probably cut a bit too thick. Thus it was a bit hard to eat once cooked. With that being said, we thought the BBQ portion was not bad. We kept ordering more and more short ribs and they happily brought it for us as well as replacing the grilling surface 5 times.

Now this is where the meal gets interesting... The buffet station is a mishmash of Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Western food. Personally, I think they should stick to Korean cuisine exclusively. So the buffet line starts with a few soups including Cream of Mushroom? I skipped that one. Okay, let's start with the Korean food first. The Japchae was actually quite decent. The noodles were not overcooked and there was a sweet sesame flavour. Rather than a seafood pancake, there was a Kimchi Pancake. It was crispy and not too oily. If we didn't have enough short ribs already, there was Braised Shortribs. Exhibiting a pale unappetizing colour, these ribs were actually quite good. They were tender and had a nice meat flavour. The last "Korean" item was the salad bar. No, not the salad, but their limited selection of Banchan - Kimchi and Pickled Daikon.

Alright, here is where the buffet gets a bit interesting and confusing. If you look at the picture, yes that's Takoyaki. To me, it was a bit hard and I didn't notice any octopus in mine (maybe I was unlucky?). From what I can gather, the sauce on top was chili mayo. Surprisingly, the Tonkatsu was decent. It was crispy with moist meat inside and also came with the proper sauce on the side. I didn't try the Tempura since it looked a little over-battered. I can't comment how it really was. The last Japanese item appeared to be Oden with daikon, squash and fatty pork. Although it really didn't taste like Oden, the pork was quite good. It was tender and fatty! Now moving to another cuisine, we have some Chinese food. There was Honey Garlic Chicken. It was alright. Pretty much the same as food fair Chinese. Looking like a gummy mess, we had the Sweet Chili Shrimp. Despite looking strange, they were alright too. The shrimp was crunchy and well, the sauce is your typical sweet chili sauce. In a category all by itself, we had Chicken Wings in a sauce I couldn't figure out. It seemed to be BBQ? They were cold and not that great.

Lastly, we have Sushi. Yah, I went in with reasonable expectations. The good news? The salmon and ebi were okay, the rice, not-so-much. It was a bit hard and dry. It can partially be attributed to being made in large quantities and left out in a buffet station. The 2 rolls were also quite interesting. There was a Ham Roll and a Smoked Salmon Roll. Both were forgettable and are probably there to satisfy the "safe" crowd. But again, this is a Korean buffet, so we shouldn't expect great sushi. We weren't going to have dessert since we filled up on so much short ribs; but the nice lady insisted we try it. What we got were Popsicles, one was red bean, one was melon. Not the most conventional dessert; but a nice treat nonetheless. This to me was a truly bizarre buffet. I thought that the BBQ portion was quite decent and authentic. However the buffet station itself was much too diverse and unfocused which leads to items that get lost in translation. Some of the food was actually decent mixed in with some that were not. There is potential here. I'm not sure how they can incorporate Bibimbap, Pork Bone Soup, Mandu (dumplings) and more Banchan; but if they can concentrate on making items that is their specialty, this would work.

The Good:
- Decent Korean BBQ
- Friendly service
- Clean with proper BBQ setup

The Bad:
- Pricey for what you get if you only have the buffet (with no BBQ)
- Too many different cuisines, things get lost in translation

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