The unknown zone
There’s a feast to be had at Korea House for those in the know, but needed help learning the drill.
The dishwasher is worked hard at this restaurant. I counted the plates, bowls and glasses left on our table at the end of the meal and it numbered 30 plus. Almost a dishwasher load for just the three of us, and no desserts.
Koreans give you lots of sides with their barbecue meats and while it makes the plate count soar, it also makes you feel like you are having a great feast. Who doesn’t love that?
Korea House is tucked away in the Bishopdale Mall. It’s been around for a while but seems to fly well under the radar.
We heard it did a good job of authentic dishes and also that it was a regular stop for tour groups. We found proof of both on the night.
I’ll be honest, Korean dining is outside my usual zone. But, doubling down on the confusion, the restaurant staff assumed we’d know exactly how it all works. There was little welcome – you turn up and they feed you and you go – seems to be the vibe.
In the end a young waitress did give us some tips when we asked for help and had very specific questions. But first came some fascinating attempts to order from the small drinks menu.
It had a glass of “house wine” for $8. You pick red or white. We chose white. That went well.
But all three listed fruit juices were sold out. I asked about the makgeolli rice wine, but there was none of that left. I asked for an Asahi beer, but none left again. It was like a plague of locusts had been through the drinks fridge.
I tried a different approach: “What beers are left?” “Tui”, she told me and “that one” pointing to Steinlager on the list. “Steinlager please,” I said. I got a Heineken.
The menu is weighted towards group eating with various set courses and dishes for a minimum of two. All the usual Korean favourites are there – kimchi, soy bean paste, bulgogi, bibimbap.
Two of us shared the Korea House BBQ special for $25 each while the third had the bulgogi (sliced grilled beef) and sprouts bibimbap (salads and meat on rice with sauce).
Before our food arrived, we saw the machine-like precision of tour group dining. A Korean group sat down to places already set with side dishes. Plates of hot food were landing even as they took their jackets off. They ate quickly and then disappeared, all within about 15 minutes.
A plate of raw meat appeared on our table along with a portable barbecue, which the waitress fired up for us. The barbecue has a dome-like hot plate and the top is hotter than the sides. It kept me busy cooking and serving thinly sliced pork shoulder, pork belly strips, steak, mushrooms, potato slices and onions.
Bowls of salad appeared with sauces – we had soy bean paste, gochujang – and sides of kimchi, seaweed, spicy cauliflower, seasame-flavoured sprouts and a spinach dish.
Some of the flavours we recognised. Others we didn’t. The kimchi cabbage was mild and the real heat seemed to lie among some little cauliflower florets. This was fun dining, with lots of tasty twists and turns. Always it felt healthy.
Another highlight was a spicy soy bean paste soup with potatoes served with bowls of rice that came as part of the BBQ special course. The fermented paste soup had a deep savouriness that said much about what makes Korean food different.
Next time it would be fun to try seafood like squid, mussels and spicy cod fish and the subtleties of the noodle dishes. And there will be a next time. We are old hands now.
Bishopdale Mall, 133 Farrington Ave, ph 03 366 8949 Open: daily from 4.30pm-10pm. Price: stews and soups up to $18; stir fry dishes up to $20; hot pot stews up to $50; bibimbap up to $17. Cost: $67 for three (excluding drinks)