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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Auntie’s Dumplings

For ages now, Michaela has been imploring me to visit Carnegie for this blog. It was grievous to her that her home suburb’s culinary delights should have thus far escaped my notice. Indeed, once I thought about it I was surprised at myself for not having gone eating there before, especially given it’s reputation as a hub for Korean restaurants.

But for my very first visit, Michaela decided that I should be treated to the most widely lauded of Carnegie’s food stops, the venerable Auntie’s Dumplings, which often features near the top of ‘Melbourne’s best dumpings’ lists. Not to be left out of a dumpling adventure, Bennett came along too, forming that oft overlooked superhero team of the Dumpling Trio. Our special powers are unlimited stomach capacity, and being able to breathe soy sauce like it’s oxygen.

Auntie’s is like many a cheap and cheerful dumpling restaurant, in that ambiance is basically non-existent. If you don’t like hustle and bustle, coming during peak meal hours is also best avoided – around 2-3pm when we visited is a good option, as the lunch rush is done with and you get to enjoy your dumplings in a calmer environment.

Our first dish was a trio of fried pumpkin cakes, as insisted upon by Michaela. These were little crisp discs of pumpkin with a very agreeable sweetness to them, a perfect starter.

While we were on fried appetisers, I insisted on a serving of one of my favourite dishes, spring onion pancake. Auntie’s version had a crisp, bubbled exterior, and were very thin, so there was not much fluffiness inside, but it was still a very good example of the dish.

We leavened all this fried goodness with the simple, healthy greenery of a plate of steamed Chinese broccoli, with oyster sauce very kindly served on the side so that Michaela and Bennett could go mad with it while I slopped my own soy/chilli sauce creation over my portion. The broccoli had been perfectly steamed, with leaves wilted but not soggy, and the stalks still retaining a firm bite to them.

Of course, what we were really here for were the dumplings. While Bennett contented himself with some pork versions, Michaela and I got stuck into some fried vegetarian dumplings. They had thick, crispy skins, with a very spinach heavy filling; you were hit with an immediate metallic smell once you cracked them open. Closer inspection of the filling turned up evidence of very finely chopped vegies in among the green, as well as tiny strands of clear noodles, but spinach was the predominant flavour. While if I’m being truly critical, I would in general prefer greater variety and nuance in terms of overall flavour, as a complete package the Auntie dumpling is very seductive.

Auntie’s delivered a pretty top notch dumpling experience. The dumplings themselves are well made, and the other non-dumpling dishes we sampled were highly accomplished in terms of simple done very well. I was also particularly happy that I was able to get an item like oyster sauce served separately in order to make the steamed Chinese broccoli truly vegetarian – by the waitress’ quick, understanding acquiescence to the request, it seems like Auntie’s is used to adjusting ingredients to suit dietary requirements. Best of all, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap! Carnegie may have plenty more culinary treats for me to discover, but it’s going to be hard not to feel the constant pull for another batch of Auntie’s dumplings.

Auntie’s Dumplings

68 Koornang Road, Carnegie

Ph: 9568 6641