If you’ve driven past or walked down the top end of A’Beckett Street on any given evening, you’ll inevitably have noticed the line of people waiting outside Mansae. It's a modern Korean barbecue restaurant whose name translates to ‘hip hip hooray’ – and a celebration of Korean barbecue cuisine it is.
Mansae opens at 5pm and does not take bookings. Keen diners often begin lining up from the late afternoon, and as many restaurants were in the pre-Covid era, it's a first-come, first-served. We bravely arrive at 7pm, knowing the line will be in full force but to our surprise, it moves quickly. The staff know the drill, efficiently handing out menus to those in the line. They’re those fun pencil-in-what-you-want menus, allowing you to do your homework while you wait, and hand it to the waiter from the second you sit down. You’d better not waste time, as the restaurant has a strict 1.5 hour sitting time. As far as first impressions go, Mansae is a well-oiled KBBQ machine. A hectic, bustling, well-oiled machine, that is.
As the story goes, you’ll walk in and catch a whiff of smoky wagyu cooking on grills around the space – and true to Korean barbecue form, your clothes will catch much of it too. Unlike some venues, Mansae grills use charcoal, which produces even more smoky flavours that encapsulate each piece of meat you’ll cook, and it makes all the difference.
There are an array of banchan – small sides – already waiting at the table when you’re seated. The kimchi has a punch of spice, though it isn’t deadly and it’s calmed by the moreish pasta and corn salad that you could down mouthfuls of if there were bucketfuls. Though, there could be bucketfuls, as the staff willingly top up the sides as you chip away at them (at no cost).
The wagyu scotch fillet comes as a thick-cut steak, with its marble score of 9+ accounting for the webs of fat that will later be attributed to the juicy, melty texture. It’s good. Real good. Tender, soft and buttery, as one would expect from a 180g cut at $43. The wagyu short ribs follow suit. They're similarly marbled but are more thinly sliced – the one-biteful thin slice you'd usually expect from Korean barbecue. The staff explain that most of the meat options come as chunkier steaks, which proves to be slightly impractical given you’re provided a pair of scissors to try and hack away at the cut with.
If you’re looking for thin slices of marbled steak that melt within seconds of hitting the barbecue, Mansae may not be the place for you. Still though, they melt. Boy, do they melt – just with a few more seconds and a little more cutting action than you're probably used to. The staff are also helpful, offering to cook for you on the grill or giving you the option to do it yourself. If you like to eat at your own leisurely pace and piece by piece as it's hot off the grill, we’d opt for the DIY option. Otherwise leave it to the pros, though expect them to put everything on at once.
The barbecue menu centres around the cow and the pig, which should come as no surprise given the large neon mural on the wall loudly shouts: 'Go beef or go home'. To switch things up, we try the pork belly at the waiter’s recommendation, which again, comes out as a thick, rectangular rasher. The scissors have their work cut out for them. There is also the option for a $15 veggie platter, which delivers slices of zucchini, pumpkin and enoki mushrooms to char in between each bite of meat. Be warned: you won’t find a chicken or seafood option here. Instead, if you’re after variety, you can try the very welcomed shareable plates.
No visit to a Korean restaurant is complete without trying the tteokbokki – the piping hot and spicy rice cakes. Mansae’s is chewy and sweet, topped with lots of cheese and is addictive, as it should be. Wash it down with a can of Cass, Korea’s favourite lager, and you’ve got yourself the perfect barbecue experience.
Mansae doesn’t come cheap, with premium cuts at premium prices. Though if you don’t mind a wait and are happy to dish out some cash, it’s worthy of the ever-growing line out front. Just be sure not to wear your Sunday best – unless you want to carry the smell of a smoky, drool-worthy dinner with you.