Melbourne loves a good sanga, and we’re not starved for delicious and diverse options – with everything from ultra-cheesy toasties and reubens to hot chicken rolls and a cult pig’s ear sandwich available for the grabbing. Asian-style sandwiches are the toasts of the town – from Goldie Canteen’s char sui pork and kimchi toasties to Super Ling’s mapo tofu jaffle. And in 2019 Dari Korean Café brought Korean-inspired sandwiches into the spotlight.
Yoon-Ji Park came to Melbourne from South Korea as a teenager and is slinging Korean-inspired street food, including an array of interesting sandwiches, on Hardware Lane. The Idol Sandwich is popularised by K-pop stars on a Korean Top of the Pops-type programme called Inkigayo. Four slices of white bread barely contain the thick layers of Mexican salad (cabbage, ham, crabstick and egg dressed with sriracha mayo and ketchup), an egg and potato salad and – wait for it – plenty of strawberry jam. It sounds intense (and it is), but all the elements fuse to create creamy bursts of sweet and savoury – not unlike a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or try the satisfying Street Toast, a popular on-the-go breakfast in Korea. White bread is filled with ham, cheese, cabbage, an onion-and-carrot omelette, pickles, ketchup and mayo. Korean barbecue enthusiasts will love the bulgogi bun: oodles of soy-marinated beef soak a milk bun with its juices, where onion and lettuce cut the richness and a house-made sesame mayo rounds off the whole experience. It’s predictably rich, but complimentary glasses of hot barley tea – served with jolly enthusiasm by Park or her mother – aid digestion.
This is also the place to try Korean desserts. We suggest you order the sweet soy and rice cake toast, a fusion dish inspired by traditional flavours. Gelatinous, house-made rice cake is wedged between slices of white bread and toasted, delivering a melty, almost cheese-like effect. It’s dusted with sweet soy powder, drizzled with honey and condensed milk and sprinkled with almond flakes – the combo is super sweet and chewy and has a slightly dust-like texture, but somehow, it’s also moreish. The Korean soy tiramisu is composed of mascarpone and cream folded through chunks of rice cake and sprinkled with the same sweet soy powder.
The café is also open for dinner Thursday to Saturday, when the no-frills interior receives an intimate, candle-lit glow. The compact menu steers away from sandwiches and focuses on street food dishes like pancakes, a popular festival snack in Korea. Try the one with calamari and green chilli, or the shiitaki, where a whole mushroom top crowns a pork and beef mince patty studded with green chilli, enveloped in a paper-thin omelette. Dip your slices in the soy, mirin, vinegar and onion sauce and chase it with a Tsingtao. You get three pancakes per serve and can mix and match flavours.
Continue with namul, a daily selection of cold salads. We had a well-spiced kimchi and lightly pickled cucumbers sprinkled with sesame – both did their job of cutting through the rich meat dishes. We particularly liked the beef ribs marinated in onion and radish juices, soy, mirin, sugar and sesame oil and braised with chunks of carrot and radish (we’ll be back for that sweet and savoury sticky marinade alone). Complement your meal with the hot pot soup; a sweet, soy beef bulgogi broth built on carrot, mushroom, onion and chives on a backbone of dried anchovy.
Drinks range from Korean kombucha (pomegranate or raspberry fermented sparkling vinegar with fizzy water) to sik-hye (malted barley and rice drink) to pumpkin and black sesame lattes to cocktails like the Korean Old Fashioned, made with su-jung-gwa (a Korean cinnamon and ginger punch), bourbon and house-made grapefruit syrup. No matter what you choose, all make great accompaniments to a new breed of sandwiches going against the grain.