Bibimbap was ranked 40th on CNN Travel’s World’s Fifty Most Delicious Food 2011. Ewe Paik Leong checks out some bibimbap restaurants in the Klang Valley

1. The Smile of Korea, Avenue K, Kuala Lumpur

Tucked in a secluded corner in the upper concourse, this restaurant features low wooden partitions that separate tables. The menu is like a maze as category headings are few but there are many flameless Korean staples. Chilli icons indicating the level of spiciness are a plus. My beef bibimbap is a near-perfect balance of heat and funk, and crunch and chew. They need to increase the portions of the three varieties of banchan.

Rating: 3/5

2. Daorae Xpress, Paradigm Mall, Petaling Jaya

The restaurant is casual and its small menu features the usual Korean culinary hits, including several bulgogi sets. Bibimbap can be topped with beef, pork or seafood. My seafood bibimbap is accompanied by cabbage kimchi, seasoned spinach, lettuce pickles, tofu, soup and gochujang in small separate bowls. The dish delivers multiple sensory pleasures from the sweet-spicy gochujang and the crunch of fresh vegetables juxtaposed with light, fluffy rice.

Rating: 4/5

3. Koryo-Won, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur

An old-timer on the Korean cuisine scene, this restaurant sports elegant furniture and is famous for its BBQ waygu beef. Pictures on the menu are a bit small which do not do justice to the exciting dishes with innovative touches. Banchan are refilled throughout my meal. My dolsot bibimbap contains minced beef. It is a well-orchestrated classic as a layer of paella-like crust sits at the bottom of the stone bowl. After several mouthfuls of the rice-mix, the gochujang sauce warms me from the inside out. This restaurant has an added fine-dining polish to a traditional Korean dish with finesse.

Rating: 5/5

4. Su Ok San, Jalan Ampang Utama 2/2, Ampang

Operated by a friendly elderly Korean couple, this no-frills spot can do with better ventilation. The menu is hard to navigate as the dishes are listed in a haphazard manner. All Korean classics are available and the banchan are fresh and tasty. However, the mash-up of rice and standard ingredients in my dolsot bibimbap doused with gochujang fails to impress me. Complex in taste but it is flat, maybe because the vegetables have been prepared beforehand or the ratios of the ingredients are amiss.

Rating: 3/5

5. Hobahn, Desa Parkcity, Kuala Lumpur

Exuding an upscale vibe, this restaurant is divided into smoking and non-smoking sections, and dogs are allowed in the latter. The menu consists of long listings that can give diners a feast, and includes interesting Korean beverages like multigrain latte, honey green plum and rice punch. Bibimbap of several varieties are available, including lamb. My namul bibimbap (sauteed and seasoned vegetables) comes in a regular bowl with three banchan and a soup. What I see on the menu’s photo is what I get. The textures and flavours of all ingredients hit the right notes.

Rating: 3/5

6. B.Bap Korean Bistro, Avenue K, Kuala Lumpur

This is a pork-free restaurant that exudes a casual ambiance with its brown wooden furniture. Its beautifully-designed menu makes browsing a joy. All dishes are well described and illustrated with photos. Apart from beef and chicken bibimbap, there’s also the hard-to-get octopus bibimbap. The mushroom slices and chewy octopus in my bibimbap make a valiant fight for the dish but its weak link is the rice. It’s too soft!

Rating: 3/5

7. Dae Sa Kwan, Jalan 25/70A, Desa Seri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur

Don’t come without making a reservation. The restaurant’s decor is unpretentious and its menu has a bit of everything, from BBQ to noodles, soups and rice dishes.

The hot-sour tang of the dolsot bibimbap’s gochujang jolts me as it delivers a smarting sensation to my tongue, but I like it. This bibimbap is not only full-flavoured but also true to the spirit as the ingredients contain five colours.

Rating: 4/5

8. Bee Won, Setapak Central, Kuala Lumpur

Its signage says that it is a “BBQ restaurant” but the menu also includes meat, chicken, fish, rice and noodle dishes, as well as four types of kimchi soup.

Options for bibimbap are vegetables, chicken and beef. My chicken bibimbap contains bean sprouts, julienned carrots, lettuce, seaweed strips and a runny egg. The ingredients are well portioned and the spicy-savoury gochujang (chilli pepper paste) binds everything nicely together. This dish earns high marks partly because of its reasonable price.

Rating: 4/5

9. DubuYo, Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur

The menu corrals the restaurant’s offerings into soondubu jigae (stew), gogi (meat), all-day sets, and drinks and desserts. Not all dishes are illustrated with photos, however. Dolsot bibimbap, cheese bibimbap and vegetable bibimbap are available. For the dolsot and cheese bibimbap, you can choose either chicken or beef.

My chicken cheese bibimbap is served with three banchan (side dishes) and a soup. Tasting a spoonful of the mix makes my palette protest that cheese does not belong to bibimbap. However, the chicken serving is generous.

Rating: 3/5

10. Bulgogi Brothers, Paradigm Mall, Petaling Jaya

Beautiful paintings decorate the inner walls of this up-market restaurant. Though thick cuts of meat rule the BBQ grills, there are also an extensive selection of grilled and stir-fried dishes, including stews and noodles. Standouts among the menu are sauteed beef wrap, beef salad and tofu-beef steak.

Beef, chicken, seafood and beef tartare bibimbap are offered. I try the seafood bibimbap served without the ubiquitous seaweed. By the time Gangnam Style from the overhead speakers ends, I’ve finished my bibimbap and eager for another bowl!

Rating: 5/5