Kimchi Grandma

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.

Kimchi Grandma

125 Koornang Road, Carnegie

Ph: 9569 2399

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Warra Warra Korean Kitchen

Here I have been waiting, waiting waiting. Waiting for the Melbourne foodie blogosphere to discover my newest secret lunch and dinner spot, my newest food love. I thought that despite it’s hidden location, word would have to get out. SURELY. Food this good doesn’t stay a secret in this town. They would come. I had faith.

I waited.

I waited MONTHS.

Nothing.

I scrolled through all my favourite blogs. I looked at the trendsetter foodie blogs, run by folks with their noses to the ground and their fingers on the mayo-filled pulse. Not even the slug-a-beds at the printed press had a whisper. Not a word.

Maybe folks just don’t get as excited by good Korean food as I do. Or maybe the tricky location is the reason! Whatever it is, this grave injustice MUST BE RECTIFIED.

So, let me introduce you to Warra Warra Korean Kitchen.

I was first introduced to Warra Warra about a month after it opened by my friend Julian, who is the best kind of friend because he facilitates new Korean food experiences. When was the last time your friends took you out for bibimbap? Never? GET RID OF THEM. With it’s handy location close to work, I was very excited to have potentially delicious Korean food within lunch break walking distance.

Head down the Tivoli Arcade from Bourke Street right to the end where you come out onto Rainbow Alley, turn right, and you will find Warra Warra in the second storefront on the right. It’s a super cute place, with three long outdoor tables (this is where barbequing happens, if that is your Korean cuisine jam), before you head inside into the bright interior. The staff are enormously friendly and attentive, with often the owner himself looking after you.

After being seated (with a complimentary little bowl of spicy pumpkin seeds), I normally go straight into ordering the tofu bibimbap, because bibimbap is where it’s at. I have rhapsodised previously about how bibimbap is the perfect meal, and Warra Warra dish up a pretty damn good version, filled with many vegies and tofu and the glowing orb of egg yolk that sits on top just asking you to pop it and sizzle against the hot stone bowl. Make sure you put plenty of Korean chilli sauce on top before you mix it all up – some Korean restaurants skew their chilli sauce too much towards the sweet side of the spectrum to appease Western palates, but Warra Warra rides a nice balance between sweet and proper spicy heat.

Loving bibimbap as much as I do, I find it hard to stray to other things on the menu, but I’ve manged to try a few of Warra Warra’s other vegie dishes. The jabchae – stir-fried sweet potato noddles with vegies – is a lot more saucy than I’ve come to expect the dish to be, but is still delicious and is served with a little mound to rice to soak up the excess. The vegetable pancake is a huge meal, filled with all kinds of fried vegetable goodness and served with a wee bit of salad to give you a slight aura of health. Non-vegetarian wise, most of the friends I’ve dined with who haven’t gone with bibimbap have gravitated towards bulgogi, particularly the beef, and have heartily enjoyed them. Combined with the complimentary banchan dishes, which can include kimchi and various types of pickled vegetables, dinner is a solid proposition here.

For those working in the city hunting for a good lunch, Warra Warra has cheap deals on bibimbap, bulgogi and soups, and a food bar where you can build together a lunch out of all sorts of little savoury treats, where there’s PLENTY of vegie options, like tofu steaks and seaweed salad and pickles and crispy sweet potato.

I honestly can’t encourage you enough to look into Warra Warra sooner rather than later. It’s the sweetest place, and it deserves a large and loyal patronage. So put on a big parka and meet me at Warra Warra for some bibimbap and a jug of soju, and we’ll all pretend we’re in a Hong Sang-soo film.

Warra Warra Korean Kitchen

Shop 19 & 20 Tivoli Arcade

235-251 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 2077

warrawarrakitchen.com.au

Kimchi Lunchbox

When I heard that there was a cheap-and-cheerful Korean place on Glenferrie Road that churns out everyone’s favourite Korean dishes for $10 and under a pop, it would be an understatement to say that my curiosity was piqued. I needed to get that stuff in my face YESTERDAY. Luckily Amelia is always down for cheap food adventures, so we set off to investigate after a Sunday afternoon movie session.

Kimchi Lunchbox is clearly designed to be an ‘eat quick and do not linger’ kind of place. You order at a counter, collect your cutlery and napkins from the same counter and your drinks from a fridge, then sit at simple tables and chairs to await your food. You won’t be waiting long, the kitchen pumps out food with almost obscene speed.

Not only is the food quick but, word of warning, the servings here are the size of SPACE, so bring very eager and hungry tummies with you. Amelia’s teriyaki chicken lunchbox came with not only ample amounts of stewy chicken, but a mountain of white rice, a smaller mountain range of marinated beanshoots, spicy cabbage kimchi, beancurd strips and a piece of both orange and cantaloupe. While she wasn’t terribly fussed with the accompanying piles of vegetables, Amelia was very keen on the teriyaki chicken itself, and was slightly aggrieved that it was such a massive serving that she couldn’t eat it all.

I of course had to go with the vegetarian bibimbap, what with bibimbap being my most favourite dish in the history of ever. This one featured white rice, beanshoot kimchi, shredded zucchini, fat slices of shiitake mushroom, and a fried egg. The rice ended up being a bit too moist, and didn’t properly crisp up against the hot bowl as bibimbap should, but it was still a tasty and adequate version.

Kimchi Lunchbox won’t immediately become your very favourite Korean restaurant around town, but they will fill a hole for when you just need to get some bibimbap into you without completely cleaning out your change pocket. There’s enough vegetarian variety spread throughout the menu that I’m certainly interested enough to go back and see whether their versions of Korean savoury pancakes and jabchae are to my liking.

Kimchi Lunchbox

650-652 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn

Ph: 9818 1233

Haruaki

It’s a strange thing, but I often don’t get around to featuring a lot of my very favourite food places on this blog. You know, the kind of places that I’ve been a regular at for years, where I always end up gravitating towards when I can’t be bothered reaching out and chancing somewhere new. Those good, solid and dependable joints I am always recommending to friends, but that here on the blog end up getting side-lined in favour of brand spanking new places that have got me all excited often out of pure novelty.

And that is just a damn shame, because these are the places I should be sharing with you above all others! So this is how we come to Haruaki, a Japanese/Korean restaurant down the Windsor end of Chapel Street. It’s not an eye-catching space, being very simply decked out with plain wood furniture and the occasional piece of Japanese art hanging on the walls. But don’t let the humble appearance fool you: the food here means business.

Korean cuisine is easily my very favourite type of regional food, and this is because I have been routinely spoiled with it by my friend Jen, who runs her family’s Korean restaurant down on Southbank (perhaps if you are super good I will tell you all about it someday. MAYBE. Because I am greedy and may want to keep the best bibimbap in town my own delicious secret). I was adamant that I wanted Jen to give the a-okay to Haruaki before I blogged about it, and was so excited yet full of trepidations when I finally got her there. Would it pass muster?

To start with we shared a dish that I hadn’t tried before, the vegetarian dumplings. They were in the style of gyoza, and came presented on a sizzling plate, which meant that the dumplings crisped up nicely. The filling was ample and varied in terms of that you could identify several different ingredients, the the light soy dipping sauce provided a tasty compliment to the dumpling.

But Haruaki is always about bibimbap for me. If you are unfamiliar with bibimbap, it is basically the perfect meal. Let me set the scene for you: first you get yourself a heavy stone bowl. The stone bowl is heated over a stove-top flame until it is sizzlingly hot. First you make a layer of cooked white rice at the bottom of the hot bowl. Then you can put in a variety of ingredients; for instance the tofu vegetable bibimbap at Haruaki has carrot shreds, shiitake mushrooms, beanshoots, zucchini and crispy blocks of tofu. Top with some flakes of dried seaweed and, most importantly, a raw egg yolk and a generous squeezing of Korean chilli sauce. Then, you mix that shit up real good. What happens is that the heat from the bowl cooks all the ingredients inside it. If you do it right, the egg yolk and chilli sauce flavours the entire dish, and the rice will crisp up into crunchy little joy nuggets. PERFECT MEAL OR THE MOST PERFECT MEAL, I ASK YOU.

Jen chose the samgyetang, a dish that involves a wee whole chicken that’s been stuffed with rice and boiled up in a soup that includes ginseng, spring onions, and other cleansing ingredients. Basically it’s Korea’s version of chicken soup for when you’re feeling poorly, and is designed to be as comforting as possible. Apart from the fact that the chicken had been frozen before cooking, and as a result had bones that dissolved into shards very easily, Jen was very happy with this version of samgyetang. She was also quite pleased with Haruaki overall, which totally dialed my smug face up to level James Franco. Achievement unlocked: Delicious Korean!

Haruaki

145 Chapel Street, Windsor

Ph: 9530 2828

Yong Green Food

So in the past year I’d gotten highly jealous every time I saw Yong Green Food pop up in write ups around the foodie-sphere. “Oh, but why is it not me that gets to write about kimchi pancakes?” I would lament from the depths of my fainting couch (every lady should have one). I made pact after pact with myself that it would be the very next next place I visited, oh yes… and then all of a sudden it’d been open for a year and I still hadn’t got there!

Then one day kicking it back in the staff room, Nadine turned to me and said “So I had this amazing dinner the other day at this place on Brunswick Street called Yong Green Food…”

I sat bolt upright. “You’ve been to Yong Green Food?”

“Yeah, it was all Korean and vegetarian, I figured you must have eaten there.”

“OH MY GOD WAS IT AMAZING WHAT DID YOU EAT DID YOU HAVE KIMCHI PANCAKE CAN WE GO THERE NOW AND JUST EAT EVERTHING?”

“Wow, I’m finding this moment right now quite confronting.”

“KIMCHI PANCAKE.”

Fortunately I was able to calm down enough to reassure Nadine that I wasn’t on the verge of having some kind of violent episode, and to organise a dinner date with her and Muffin.

The first piece of advice I can offer about Yong Green Food is to get there EARLY. I figured to myself “Hey, a Tuesday night at 6.30, going to be easy to get a table.” False. I was lucky enough to slip onto the last four-person table, and then spent the time waiting for the others to show watching a lot of people getting turned away. Yong Green is doing very, VERY well for itself.

I was about to find out why. While waiting for my compatriots to arrive, I ordered a pot of quince honey tea to mull over. A giant pot was delivered to the table, and this astounding sweet aroma engulfed me. If you like gorgeous, fruity tea that completely overwhelms any stresses that currently reside in you and renders you a happy, peaceful, nattering blob by the time your friends arrive (“This tea, guys! Wow, this tea…”) you will be well served.

To the dishes! Well, obviously I went with the kimchi pancake with soy mayo. The pancake itself is enormous, reaching the very edges of the dinner plate it was served on, yet was thin and crispy, and all in all lived up to my high expectations. The soy mayo was an utter revelation, especially as I’ve always found regular mayonnaise to be an obnoxious condiment.

Nadine also ordered the pancake (probably because I hadn’t shut up about it for days), yet was full of trepidation when informed that kimchi is fermented chilli cabbage. “Is it hot? Oh no, I don’t like things too spicy!” The pancake did have a reasonable kick of spice to it, yet once spread with the amazing soy mayo the spice was held back to a pleasant level. Soy mayo, you can be my condiment of choice anytime.

Muffin ordered some kimchi gyoza that she shared around. The skins were thin and crisp, the filling not quite as hot as the pancake but still retaining that agreeable tart kimchi tang, and the sharp dipping sauce rounded it off nicely.

For my main I went with the ‘dragon bowl’, which was essentially a fresh, light version of bibimbap, with brown rice, tofu, beansprouts, grated carrot, pickled purple cabbage, mixed salad leaves and a healthy blobbing of Korean chilli paste. This was a perfect solid main meal, with each component providing interest and contrast (I particularly liked the sweetness of the beanshoots, which seemed to have been marinated beforehand). Again, if you were afeared of heat, I would recommend asking whether they could dial back the chilli paste when you order, there was a lot of it, enough to make me slow down a bit towards the end to ingest more tea, and I’m normally okay with Korean chilli paste!

Time to finish off with a dessert three-way, with blueberry raw cheesecake, raw carrot cake, and chocolate fudge. Although we ordered these to share, the three of us managed to become partial to a different one each. For me the blueberry cheesecake was the perfect way to end the meal, with the almond and berry overtones smooth and juicy in your mouth, and having a very pleasing texture that wasn’t as grainy as some raw cakes I’ve had in the past. Nadine was a fan of the carrot cake, while Muffin took a liking to the fudge, championing it in the face of myself and Nadine’s shrugs of “It’s not BAD, it’s just… it’s not CAKE!”

Yong Green Food is a utter winner in my book. It’s vegetarian and is having what appears to be an obscene amount of fun in pushing what it can do with veggie cuisine. The staff are friendly, the fit-out gorgeous (pro-tip: Hayley will love your restaurant aesthetically if you cover a whole wall with a mural of a giant dragon), it’s the whole box and dice, people. Get along, and have a kimchi pancake for me.

Yong Green Food

421 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9417 3338