So you’d probably know that Apple had iPhone C and iPhone SE. Sony had Sony Xperia Lite and Samsung launched their Samsung A series. These mid-tier (or commonly known as “mid-range”) phones aim to cater to a market who wants above average user experience at a budget-friendly price.
The same trend is starting in my neighborhood (Bin Mahmoud) but instead of tech and gadgets, it involves restaurants. When Tofu House opened last year, they started the trend of “budget-friendly Korean food” in Doha. For most people who have been around for quite a while, you might have known that these Japanese and Korean restaurants are on the expensive side of the price range. Tofu House became a popular go-to place despite being on a relatively busy neighborhood and the restaurant itself is small and always packed. Now, other Korean restaurants have started branching out with a more friendly price tag hoping to replicate Tofu House’ new found success. Korean Garden Restaurant opened their baby brother Sol and soon Yee Hwa will have its sibling Little Yee Hwa. All of these new restaurants are located in Al Jazeera street in Bin Mahmoud. Exciting times to see stiff competition among three.
I finally got to try Sol over the weekend for dinner after a few failed attempts finding its exact location in Al Jazeera street. If you get lost searching for it, don’t fret because you’re in good company. The restaurant is inside Universal Suites and Hotel Apartment which you’d commonly mistake as one of those shops along that area. Pro tip: Look for a roll-up banner where it says Sol by the entrance and you won’t miss it.
Ambiance and Service
The place is pretty simple and straightforward. Unlike its bigger (and older) sibling, you wouldn’t find anything Korean with the interior. It is also on the compact size with a few chairs and tables but it is clean and well kept.
I think the place gets busy during peak hours so a reservation will always be advisable. I came in half past five and there were only a few customers around. Service was on a slow side but I would understand that during my visit, there was only one staff taking our orders. Despite the apparent shortage, the lone staff did a fantastic job being warm and attentive to our orders not to mention her being proactive on which ones are their best-sellers and which ones to avoid. This lady knows what she was talking about and I’m impressed.
Food and Quality
The menu is limited and if I will go back to my phone parallelism, it is like a “compact and lite” version. While Korean Garden had a few more choices of Korean dishes (they completely took out the Japanese items in their menu), Sol stuck to what I assumed is “tried and tested”. I can’t help but notice that their menu is almost identical to Tofu House’s and priced exactly the same too.
For the sake of comparison, I ordered the same items I usually order in Tofu House and made a head to head battle.
Sol wins on serving size as all of our orders came in bigger sizes than their competitor. If you’re hungry (or just has a big appetite like me), you’ll be pleased that the servings are plenty.
But my only concern (and this I think is a major one) is the taste. The seafood pancake, kimbap, and chicken teriyaki were amazing and highly recommendable. But my jjajangmyeon was a major let down. Despite that the toppings were generous (veggies and seafood), it lacks taste and absolute bland. I hope this is an isolated case and perhaps the chef just placed a little more liquid than it should be as it was runny and lacked the sweet-savory flavor I am familiar with. The same goes with bulgogi as the beef is not as tender as I would prefer and the colour is not as enticing. As they say, we all eat with our eyes first and the bulgogi literally “pale” on this area.
My overall experience is greatly positive despite the jjajangmyeon blandness and I hope that the next time I visit, the taste will be on point as their serving was really generous for 35QAR. Would I still give it another shot? Without a doubt, yes, absolutely!
As competition is getting stiffer, I am looking forward to seeing more improvement on quality and overall dining experience. Having a key differentiating element is a must-have to stand out. Gotta find their edge and it better be quick!