With the Jacaranda’s in full bloom and the Johannesburg streets washed clean by the first highveld thunderstorms of the season, the decision was made that an excursion in the form of lunch was needed.
PRON (People’s Republic of Noodles) is the “little sister” to Emma Chen’s acclaimed Red Chamber: Mandarin Restaurant. Situated in Linden’s trendy restaurant radius, it offers a different take on Chinese cuisine, focusing on Northern Chinese noodle bowls andxiaocai(“small dishes” or tapas), the type of food Emma grew up with, and that is made for communal eating and sharing.
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People’s Republic of Noodles
Starters: We ordered the tofu and cucumber salad with hand-break bread.
The salad is a crave-inducing combination of smashed cucumber, yuba (tofu skin), fresh coriander, thinly sliced spring onion, soy sauce, sesame oil and red chili. The combination of the crisp cucumber with the chewy sauce-drenched yuba may not come across as particularly appealing on paper, but trust me, you will be dreaming of this salad on hot summer days.
The hand-break bread is the rustic, coiled cousin to better known Chinese spring onion pancakes, and a must accompaniment to help sop up the left-over dressing from the salad.
Mains: We opted for two mains to share. The first being, my choice, of beef flank soup noodles. A steaming bowl of tender beef flank pieces, with full leaves ofbok choy and fresh handmade noodles, all swimming in a salty beef broth. The main word that comes to mind when eating / sipping your way through this bowl is: comfort. Chicken soup kind of comfort … but dare I say it? … even better!Requiring both chopsticks and spoon to eat, it invokes you to slow down and enjoy the meal.
My husband, the more spice loving of us, chose the Sichuan chili chicken noodles. A sweat inducing (for me) chicken and noodle dish, the spicy thick Sichuan chili sauce lies deceptively below the noodles, and is served along with bok choy and pickled vegetables to help temper the heat. Like so many chili-based dishes, having had this once, you will soon find yourself craving it again.
PRON is a deliciously different take on Chinese food. The freshness of the ingredients, the handmade noodles, and aromatic flavour combinations, make it a must-try for anyone who loves Asian fare.
I am a great lover of birthday celebrations. My husband and I have a birthday tradition, where the non-birthday person researches and finds a new, unique restaurant for us to try as a birthday treat and surprise rolled into one. I did good this year, if I do say so myself!
Banchan: Korean Restaurant is situated in Parkmore, Johannesburg. A small unassuming gem that, with Covid protocols in place, seats a max. 40 people, and booking is essential.
On being seated at your table, the first thing you notice is the central gas plate installation and pull-down extractor, used for the BBQ selection on the menu. As well as a little button / bell that you are encouraged to ring whenever you need assistance or your waitron’s attention. I’m happy to say we only needed to use it twice.
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Starters: Having had time to study the menu beforehand, I arrived with my heart set on Mandoo (Korean king-gyoza dumplings with pork and vegetables), but they were unfortunately sold out for the day. Note to self: next time we are coming for an early lunch, so as to ensure we get to try Mandoo.
Recovering from my disappointment (no exaggeration), we settled on the Kimchi Bulgogi Tacos and a portion of Dakgangjung.
The tacos (5 pc) are bit size (2 bites), and filled with fresh lettuce, corn, kimchi and bulgogi (sheared beef marinated in soya sauce). A clever Mexican / Korean mash up, and very tasty.
The Dakgangjung (7 pc) are described as “fried chicken breast balls”, which I must admit did not entice me, but they were my husband’s choice. I am happy to say their description does not do them justice. Rather than minced meat, the chicken is finally diced to produce little balls that are very juicy, with a more pleasing texture than a minced meat ball. Served with a spicy sauce and chopped peanuts they, together with the tacos and an ice cold Tsingtoa (a Chinese beer) hit the spot and got us ready for mains.
Mains: I’d read a few reviews before booking, and almost every one recommended the K.F.C. (Korean Fried Chicken), so that was eagerly ordered as our one main, along with a soya garlic sauce. Depending on your table size, or perhaps how much love this dish, you can order a half portion (half a chicken) or a full portion (a full chicken), we went with a half portion. Without a word of a lie, this is the best KFC you will ever have! Unbelievably crisp, but not fatty or oily, and the sticky and sweet soya garlic sauce perfectly complements the salty chicken and crumb.
We also felt it fitting to try a BBQ dish, and so ordered the Sam-Gyeop-Sal : sliced pork belly served with kimchi, sprouts, garlic, chilli and three sauces. Looking around the restaurant everyone has their own way of tackling this DIY dish. We eventually settled for slicing the pork belly into smaller pieces and cooking it on the grill with sprouts, garlic and chilli, along with a little soya and plum sauce. Once cooked, we had it with steamed rice and kimchi. It was good, but not amazing. I wouldn’t order it again, as I think there are more exciting dishes to try, which are cooked for you.
Dessert:For dessert we ordered Hoddeok to share. They are described as “yeast-raised pancakes”, but are more like two sweet flatbreads that have been married together with treacle sugar between them, before being cooked in a pan. In all honesty it doesn’t sound great, but served hot with vanilla ice-cream they are the perfect, not too sweet ending to an inaugural Korean meal.
We paired our dessert with plum Soju – a Korean spirit made from rice and barley. It’s very mild and quite sweet, so a lovely accompaniment to sip on.
This is a really stunning little restaurant that introduces the diner to authentic Korean fare, without being over-the-top or intimidating. You are looking at about R250.00 per person, excluding alcohol, which we found appropriate considering the freshness of the food and portion sizes.
Will we be going back? Absolutely, we cannot wait! I have a shopping list of other dishes I am excited to try, and my husband has not stopped talking about the K.F.C.