There are some hungers that only the sharp fire of kimchi, the soft bubble of boiling tofu, sweet marinated beef and a whole lot of pork can sate. Melbourne is blessed with some killer Korean restaurants, some of which stay the traditional path, while others embrace a modern remix. Prime your tastebuds for coal-fuelled Korean barbecue, bibimbap cooked in a hot stone dish, fried chicken, tables crammed with every banchan imaginable and hot soups to warm your cockles on a chilly evening in the city.
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Korean restaurants in Melbourne
Jan Chi means ‘to feast’ in Korean, and there’s truth in advertising when the jewel of the menu is a 530 gram plate of braised Angus short rib. Korean may be the flavour of the moment, but owners Steven Ryu (chef) and SJ Min (venue manager) aren’t jumping on the bandwagon - they’re dishing up flavours from home with their own personal twist.
The secret is out. This once low-key Korean restaurant overrun by displaced students wanting a taste of home is now being infiltrated by locals. Blame the internet. Blame Instagram. Blame Facebook. They’ve hit social media pretty aggressively and now everyone is lining up for all the banchan (side dishes) you can handle. Hansang means ‘table full of food’ in Korean, and that’s exactly what you get.
When a 20-seater restaurant in the heart of suburbia that only offers three dishes, with no bookings, no website and no advertising is never with an empty seat, you know it has to be good. Mr Lee’s Foods is well worth the trip to Ringwood if you’re a fan of pork; all dishes are derived from this glorious animal, offering a delicious insight into the economical traditions of Korean dining, utilising an unconscious, innately cultural nose-to-tail philosophy.
Everyone knows that meat grilled over charcoal is exponentially more flavoursome than other forms of cooking. Yes, a gas barbecue will get the job done, but there’s an extra smoky depth that can only be achieved when charcoal is your fire-power. And this is why we love Hwaro, the Korean barbecue joint on Little Bourke Street.
Hot corn tea. It’s a real thing and it tastes just as husky and buttery as it sounds. Sweet little pitchers of the stuff are on hand to temper the spicy bulgogi burn at the newer, bigger, pinker branch of Seoul Soul. There’s a little extra space here – two long communal tables run the length of the room with little block partitions separating couples like groceries in the supermarket.
This copper and wood Korean joint flogging fried chicken, jugs of Brunswick Bitter and Kenny G’s greatest hits is great. They do that poultry every which way here. You can take yours as lightly battered wings slicked in a sweet soy glaze, and we’re pretty keen to come back for the Korean schnitzel.
Korean barbecue, at its core, is a communal dining experience and Guhng makes sure groups are well catered for with their barbecue sets. The Angus set is enough to comfortably feed four moderately hungry meat eaters. You get a mix of lean and fatty cuts, starting with an evenly marbled Angus cube roll, which is cut into pieces over a cast iron pot of glowing hot charcoal.
Sisters Seon Mi and Seon Joo Lee, vegetarians from meat-loving South Korea, established Yong Green Foods in late 2009. Adapting elements of Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and Italian cuisines into a unique menu with an emphasis on raw and wholefoods, the restaurant was an almost instant success. The raw menu, which includes their signature dish rawsagne, is completely organic, vegan and gluten free.
If you've never tried bibimbap – that Korean dish of rice with a neat moat of braised meat, vegetables, fried egg and pickles for DIY mixing – Seoul Soul is the place to hit it. Not because it's the best bib in town, although the tangy mix is excellent if a little sweet, but because the crew here are just so unabashedly thrilled to be showing off So-Ko cuisine.
Gami Chicken is at its cheap best when you take a lot of people – that way you can get a keg of beer to share ($49 for 4 litres) and a whole chook for $32 (original, soy-garlic or sweet chilli coated), which will feed three to four depending on gluttony levels. Move over Colonel Sanders, Gami's taking over.
Kong is Chris Lucas's latest queue-magnet, this time in Korean, Japanese and American barbecue flavour, and it’s everything you come to expect from the group who brought you Chin Chin and Baby. Fluorescent lights shine down on blonde communal tables, cooks are in baseball caps, and cutesy panda icons line the walls. Kong delivers exactly the sort of high-octane sweet-and-spicy dumplings, buns and ribs you want, plus chef Ben Cooper officiates over the culturally ambiguous menu.