Mapo Galbi on a Thursday night: a long ten-person table of high-vis vests trading stories, slabs of charred beef ribs and $6 Hite cans; two red-faced old men huddled over a crimson grill, a stone pot of steamed egg fluffier than a Japanese pancake and a tofu stew the colour of mouth tingles; and four more tables of Korean-Australian families, all loud with the energy of a good meal.
Even though this is probably one of the most uninteresting looking restaurants in West Ryde, it’s like this every night because it’s such a good time for less than $30 a head and, probably more to the point, the ribs and leek pancake here are as good as anywhere in Sydney. Ribs (galbi in Korean) come as either beef short ribs marinated in soy, ginger, garlic, sesame and pepper; or pork spareribs in rice wine plus soy. Grill either over charcoal, and you’ll have a long strip of sticky, charred meat perfect for gnawing or wrapping in lettuce leaves with funky bean and chili paste. If you’re lacking confidence in cooking times or getting the right char, those on the floor are likely to notice and either do it for you or guide you through it. The leek pancake is absolutely packed with shallots and leek, the perfect mix of crunch and doughy-softness.
If you’re finishing the meal with heavy meat breath or the weight of oil, meat and carbs in your belly, end the evening how the regulars do: with a bowl of slippery buckwheat noodles in an icy soup.