Restaurant review | Less fuss, way more flavour

Outstanding Korean eatery Bokman on Nine Tree Hill has authenticity at its heart

After meeting in France as chefs over ten years ago, husband and wife team Duncan and Kyu Jeon Robertson moved east for a stint in Korea, leading Duncan to fall in love with everything the cuisine offers.

What most attracted him was the culture around eating which is an altogether more relaxed experience than over here in the west, with less emphasis on service and more focus on the food itself. Restaurants often stick to the one dish and do it really well.

Down the road from Duncan and Kyu’s house in Seoul was a perpetually packed restaurant specialising simply in roasted chicken; elsewhere there were places serving just dumplings, or soup.

Bokman has taken all these elements and combined them effectively for the British market, understanding that no matter how multi-cultural a palate we Brits might think we have, it’s unlikely a single-dish restaurant would be top of our list. 

So Bokman has a small selection of dishes as well as their speciality, which is tongdak, the rotisserie chicken stuffed with rice served up by those neighbours back in Seoul, and just thirty are available every evening from 6.30pm. There’s no doubt that dining at Bokman is a different experience – you can’t book ahead, there’s a real possibility the USP dish will sell out before you can order it, and your cutlery is stashed in drawers under the table. But these restrictions just have people coming back for more.

Inside the restaurant it’s all white walls and bare wood tables. There’s something to be said for an interior that lets you enjoy the food without the distraction of over-excited decor.

We order a couple of kombuchas and the dishes start coming. The XXL dumplings are as fantastic as they sound – pillowy and delicately flavoured, they’re sprinkled with spring onion and come with a sweet soy dipping sauce. The banchan is a fascinating selection of fermented and pickled vegetables and is possibly the dish most far removed from British cuisine – most curious is the moo malengi, or dehydrated Korean radish. Before being served it’s re-hydrated and seasoned with chilli powder and macerated onion. Cooked mushrooms are served cold and sweet. Seaweed crisps are incredibly moreish, having been brushed with a ‘porridge’ of sticky rice powder before being deep-fried. Banchan is a feast for the mind as well as the tongue, each component being a unique combination of flavours and texture.

The tongdak chicken is superb. Crispy skin, soft meat, gently seasoned and stuffed with tasty rice that’s soaked up all the juices. The intensely flavoured galbi stew, made of braised dry-aged, beef back ribs, is dark and a stark contrast to other dishes, showing this menu to have serious range.

It’s obvious that Duncan and Kyu’s fine dining backgrounds have helped to tune each flavour into something exquisite.

Bristol would most certainly welcome more of Bokman, but a large part of its appeal lies in it being small and perfectly formed. They’ve already received visits from both Daddy G of Massive Attack and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, so I’d say they’re doing pretty well at their current size.

Caitlin Bowring 

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3 Nine Tree Hill, Cotham, Bristol BS1 3SB

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