Thursday, 19 December 2013

Miss Korea vs Topokki

If you’re a looking for a restaurant in Birmingham, UK to eat some nice authentic Korean food well… there are only two restaurants LOL. Good news is that they are both awesome, cosy and the food and atmosphere is really nice. If you like kpop even better because they both play kpop (at times).
The two restaurants are Miss Korea and Topokki. Both are in close proximity to each other in the Chinese quarter of Birmingham.
Here’s the back story. Miss Korea showed up just a few years ago and I’ve been there 5 times, with different amounts of people, mostly at lunch time but I’ve been there in the evening as well. Topokki came on to the scene just about 2 years ago and I recently went there for lunch. Since the two restaurants are so close to each other and are the only Korean restaurants in Birmingham (to my knowledge), I’ve always wondered if they had any kind of rival-ship at all. Miss Korea was the place I first had Korean food ever, so it holds a special place in my heart, although Topokki has received a lot more positive reviews, well… even if there is no rival-ship between them, I will be putting them against each other in this post.


I keep hearing on review websites about how small Topokki is, well lol because Miss Korea is tiny. But Miss Korea is cosy as well because of that and it's not all compact together like Mount Fuji (sorry Mount Fuji).
Now a big part of the atmosphere is what music is played. I will never forget the very first time I went to Miss Korea with a good friend of mine who was not a kpop fan. For the two hours we were in the restaurant they played just kpop songs with only two or three tops J-pop songs. It. Was. Awesome. I could not stop dancing! Really, I embarrassed myself in front of my friend that day lol. It was fun. But since then, when I went there, they started to play more American pop (bleurgh!), but I still always hear a few kpop songs while I’m there. Topokki, however, did not play one single kpop song! What the heck Topokki, this was it’s main down fall, I swear. My happiest moment is eating Korean food while dancing in my chair to EXO. Is that too much to ask for? All the time we were there they played some Michael Buble and then they had a youtube playlist of American pop songs like Miley Cyrus (barf!!) LOL We were going to ask if they could play at least one kpop song but haha, we didn’t in the end. It’s funny because I have heard they play Korean music sometimes, maybe we just went on the wrong day or the wrong time. I bet just as we left the restaurant we would have heard an ‘Awooooo…’
As Duizhang Kris used to say: Maybe next time.

The Menu:
Miss Korea’s menu is a lot more impressive than Topokki’s. Sorry Topokki. It is basically a large book with black rubber cover and there are pages and pages of delicious food to choose from with really good photography. You have lots of starters, main dishes, soups, side dishes and beverages. It’s all very affordable as well. Just to tell you what you can expect on the menu, you’ll see the classics like ddukbokki, bibimbap, japchae, kimchi jjigae, barbecued skewers, lots and lots more. If it’s your birthday, the chef will treat you to a special free dish Korean people apparently eat on their birthday which is basically a big bowl of delicious soup with my favourite kind of noodles – Udon noodles!
You are also given a tiny bowl of lettuce with vinegar before your meal, it makes you hungry. I think they give you this because it does take quite a long time for you meal to come out. I’ve never timed it like an a--hole but I’m guessing it’s around 10-15 minutes before you see your actual starter.
Topokki’s menu is smaller but I was so very impressed by the massive selection of types of bibimbap. There must have been ten or more. I didn’t even know there could be that many types of bibimbap. Miss Korea only gives you four. I’ve had the sea food one, very nice. I definitely need to try another kind of bibimbap next time I go there.
One awesome thing about Topokki is that you are going to get your food quick. Well at least that’s what happened to us, we got out food within 5 minutes I swear. It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such fast service. You’ll probably have to wait longer in the drive-thru at McDonalds lol.
Topokki menu still has quite a variety of choices including your classics, despite it being smaller than Miss Korea’s. I found it hard to choose even though I planned to get me some Japchae before I even entered the restaurant. What you’ll see in the Topokki menu is basically the main dishes, followed by side dishes, and beverages, they do have two choices of deserts as well (ice cream lol). Soon patbingsu will be added to the menu – which I find that strange because patbingsu is generally eaten in the summer and… it’s winter now… oh well.
So lots of nice choices on both menus and great presentation. Here's my meal, I had Japchae and kimchi, but you can't see the kimchi :) 

Very Important Factor: The Kimchi:
I had to compare the kimchi because it’s Korea’s most important signature food. They eat kimchi with everything. Two years ago when my Korean teacher went to Miss Korea, she told us that the food was awesome but the kimchi was too salty. Seeing how Maangchi on youtube used a shockingly generous amount of salt, I was surprised that my Korean teacher thought the kimchi was too salty but when I went there for myself I thought it was OK. However, in comparison to Topokki, their kimchi is sooo much more fresh tasting and a lot less salty. It actually tastes like I’m eating something healthy but also delicious. I’ve heard that Miss Korea buys their kimchi instead of making it fresh themselves which may just be true with what I’ve tasted but uh… I’m not going to spread any rumours.
Topokki’s kimchi is better than Miss Korea’s. Sorry.

Customer Service:
If you are Chinese, or speak Chinese, you will get to feel comfortable speaking to the waitress in this language at Miss Korea as 4 out of 5 times I’ve been there, the waitress was Chinese. One time, I heard her speak to one of the customers in Chinese. The other time I went there the waitress was European 0.o but all the waitresses (there are never any waiters) are friendly, helpful. They greet you when you’re coming in and when you’re leaving, thanking you for eating there. In Topokki, as we were leaving, it was like no one even noticed or cared that we were walking out. I never experienced that before and it wasn’t like the place was full, because it was lunch time! I don’t know. Anyways, the waitress and waiter we had were both attentive to us in Topokki whilst we were there. Our waiter was actually really happy and chipper. I liked him lol. He gave us a 10% discount which I thought was reeeally nice. Thanks so much waiter, if you’re reading this hahaha.

All the times I went to Miss Korea, my friends and I would all end up paying around £15 each every time with ordering a starter, a main meal and a drink (the Korean tea has an unlimited refill) and sometimes they would offer you a free bowl of rice if it went well with your meal. When I went to Topokki, the two of us had just a main meal each and a £1.50 small side dish of kimchi. With our 10% discount , the overall price came to £16something overall. This is just over half of what we would have paid if we ate at Miss Korea that day.
The Miss Korea menu is set out so that you would always naturally want to order a starter and a main meal. Topokki's menu just shows the main meals and then a few side dishes near the end of the menu, followed by the beverages.
Because of this, you're going to naturally spend more money at Miss Korea because you'll be ordering a starter and a main meal (of course you can choose not to) but in Topokki you'll only be paying for the main meal. I don't know if this was Miss Korea being clever or it's just how things turned out but for the customer Topokki is better in this aspect. In terms of business, Miss Korea has the upper hand here, they're obviously making more money by tricking customers into ordering a starter lol. Hmm... clever.

Overall Rating:
I'm going to be giving Topokki a 5/5 rating based on the fact that the price was surprising low with the portions being nicely generous. The waiter we had was really chipper (lol) and nice. We felt really welcome at the restaurant.
The only thing that would have been better is if the menu was as impressively long as Miss Korea's, but that kind of feels like nitpicking so I shouldn't even really include this point especially with Topokki's two page spread of about 10 different kinds of Bibimbap. Daebak!
And also the food came out within 5 minutes and it was hot and the kimchi was fresh, big difference to Miss Korea.
Oh, yeah, it would've been nice if they played some k-pop while we were there but I've heard they have played it at times.
Miss Korea's rating is a 4/5. I'm sorry. I love the restaurant and I will definitely go there again, but the wait for our food is a lot longer and the kimchi is not fresh. You're always going to spend more money at Miss Korea because of their tricks with the menu, lol, it's true. Also the food coma at the end if absolutely unbearable sometimes. It's nice that their giving us lots of food but gaaad; my stomach is not that big. However, I love love looove that you are always guaranteed to hear some kpop while you're there no matter what time of the day it is.

Topokki: 5/5
Miss Korea: 4/5

Reccomendation: Go to both!!

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