Restaurant Review: Nolbu

Nolbu serves both Korean and Japanese dishes, and is known for their karaoke, which is open until 4:00 am. I went for lunch to check out some of their Korean food options. I was there when it opened at 11:00 am on a weekday, and it was empty when we arrived, but filled up as it got closer to noon.

There are some items on the menu that can be made vegan fairly easily, but you will need to ask some questions and make some changes to the dishes.

The dishes I tried at Nolbu

The Food

The vegan banchan options

The banchan (반찬, side dishes) were delivered, and we asked some questions about them. The server said the pickled veggie dish was (probably) vegan. It had pickled carrot and cucumber. She said the kimchi might not be vegan (and I assume it wasn’t), and the sprouts should be fine. The server didn’t give clear or detailed answers, so I had to choose the safest options based on what I knew about them. I would recommend that you are clear about what you can’t eat and be sure to ask questions about each dish.

We were served tea with our meal (barley tea, I believe).

Piping hot, delicious edamame

We ordered the edamame (완두콩, salted soybeans cooked in the pod), japchae (잡채, a sweet potato noodle dish with vegetables), the soondubu jjigae (순두부찌개, soft tofu soup) – I ordered the vegetable option with no egg, and doenjang jjigae, spelled Dwen Jang Chi Gae in the menu, (된장찌개 , soy bean soup) (again, the vegetable option with no egg).

The edamame was piping hot and delicious. It was perfectly prepared and seasoned. It seems like something you shouldn’t get too excited about, but it was really good.

Japchae (noodles with veggies)

The japchae was my favourite dish. It looked, smelled, and tasted amazing. The sauce was flavourful, it was served piping hot, and everything was cooked perfectly. There were tons of vegetables in the dish, including carrot, green pepper, red pepper, onion, zucchini, green onion, and cabbage.

The side dishes that I tried were good.

We tried two soups that both had tofu, and we expected them to be more different than they were. We expected the doenjang jjigae to have a firmer tofu, but the tofu in both dishes was soft (silken). Both of the soup dishes might normally come with egg, so be sure to specify that you want no meat and no egg when you order.

Soondubu jjigae (soft tofu soup)

The soondubu jjigae was also steaming when it was brought to the table in the stone dish (all of our dishes were served with steam pouring out of them). It was spicier than the doenjang jigae and had tons of silken tofu in it. It felt thick as you ladled it into your bowl because of the amount of tofu in it. It wasn’t incredibly spicy, but had a bit of a spicy aftertaste to it.

Doenjang jjigae (soy bean soup)

The doenjang jigae was very mildly spicy (it had less spice than the soon tofu). It had less than half the amount of tofu in it, and had lots of thinly sliced vegetables in it, including cabbage, zucchini, potato, and mushroom. The soybean paste flavour was very subtle.

The Service

The service here wasn’t ideal. Although our server did let us make changes to the dishes to make them vegan, she didn’t seem very patient with us when we asked questions. She often walked away without acknowledging our questions or fully answering them, which was a bit confusing. My (Korean) friend was asking the questions in Korean, so that did help a bit, I think.

Additional Notes

Something that may be unpleasant for vegans is that when you walk in the restaurant, there are several very small aquariums filled with fish and seafood that is used to prepare the dishes. Also, I didn’t realize this before going, but apparently they serve live fish sashimi, which is probably quite upsetting for most vegans.

Vegan options

Some more items on the menu that could most likely be vegan-friendly include:

  • age tofu (deep-fried tofu)
  • fresh tofu
  • miso soup
  • various salads
  • dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥, a mixed rice dish cooked in a stone bowl), as long as you order the vegetable option with no egg

Overall

I give this restaurant 3/5 stars. They did well for providing vegan food options and I loved my japchae and the edamame, but the soups weren’t amazing, the service wasn’t very friendly, and the bleak aquarium and the live and fresh seafood options on the menu are quite off-putting for a vegan.

Just the Facts

  • Address: 3 Elmhurst Ave, North York ON
  • Hours: 11:00 am – 3:00 am
  • Phone: 416-221-4700

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