I am starting to think that I am cursed. Cursed to never experience the Aussie-fied vegan vittles at The Sweetwater Inn. Because every time I have organised to go there, something has happened to make those plans fall into a heap.
The most recent fail was a Monday when Alison, Kim, Pat, Bennett and I made plans for a Sweetwater dinner, but due to misinformation across a variety of web platforms didn’t realised until half an hour before we were all meant to meet up that it was closed on Mondays. Confusion abounding, we all fluttered about in indecision as to where we would go instead, at least until Pat took charge and insisted we head towards Carnegie, as due to the high concentration of restaurants along Koornang Road we would be guaranteed that at least one good place would be open.
Once in Carnegie we scouted up along Koornang to see what was doing. I was secretly hoping that perhaps I might get a second bash at Auntie’s Dumplings, but once we discovered Kimchi Grandma was open we all gravitated towards it. I remembered reading quite a few recommendations of it as a very good option for cheap Korean, and you should all know by now that my desire for Korean food at all times overwhelms all other concerns.
Perhaps, however, I should have taken a moment or two to quickly google a few vegetarian reviews of Kimchi Grandma before we had gone inside and seated ourselves down. For here we have an example of the true pitfalls of picking a place on a whim – I opened up the menu and, combing through it, found two vegetarian options. Two.
“We can go somewhere else,” said Kim anxiously, but I didn’t want to make any further fuss on an already fuss-filled evening. Truth be told though, I was starting to feel the loss of Sweetwater even more.
So what were these two vegetarian options? For entree there were potato croquettes, which were four hash brown-shaped discs of finely crumbed creamed potato, sporadically dotted inside with the occasional piece of corn, carrot and pea. The croquettes were drizzled with two sauces, one a kewpie-like mayo, the other soy-sauce based, and were served on a mound of dressed green and purple cabbage. These were pretty nice, very simply done, but warming and the sauces in particular were quite finger-licking. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the croquettes’ original provenance was from a freezer packet.
The sole vegetarian main was the jabchae, sweet potato noodles stir-fried with zucchini, carrot, mushrooms, onion and what looked like wom bok, and the key ingredient, TONS of sesame oil. Now, jabchae is a constant in my own kitchen, I adore it, potato noodles and sesame oil are constantly craved by me so jabchae is perfect, and very easy to make. But it means I’m pretty critical when it’s served up to me elsewhere, and Kimchi Grandma’s frankly wasn’t that great. The vegetables were pretty thin on the ground, and there was SO MUCH GARLIC. I never put garlic in my own version, and whenever I’ve eaten it out there’s rarely any garlic beyond a minimal amount as, you know, the point of the dish is the sesame flavours. But there were chunks of garlic all through this, to the point where the noodles at the bottom of the bowl were clumped with it. I ended up not finishing the jabchae, which should be surprising to you given my general state of unmitigated gluttony.
Also, got to be honest, the service here is lackluster. We were left sitting for at least 15 minutes without any staff coming near us after we were originally seated, and any time we needed attention it took quite a while for us to attract anyone, even with five of us waving hands and throwing out expectant looks. If you’re a later evening diner the staff will also start to do things like stack chairs and mop floors around you while you’re still eating, so if you find this (rightly) off-putting there’s another strike for you.
While omnivores will no doubt enjoy Kimchi Grandma’s offerings – indeed, all my omni friend enjoyed their dinners happily – for vegetarians the options are minimal and rather grim. There’s so many other Korean restaurants around town with plentiful vegie options that this place can be safely avoided without worrying that you’re missing out.
125 Koornang Road, Carnegie
Ph: 9569 2399