141 Bourke Street Melbourne, VIC 3000(03) 9078 8882
|Opening hours||Monday-Friday, 11.30am-3pm; Sunday-Thursday, 5pm-11pm; Friday-Saturday 5pm-late|
Where and what
Like that song, Gangnam Pocha is named after the exclusive Seoul suburb where the beautiful people like to shop; Pocha is the Korean equivalent of a Japanese izakaya, or a place where eating and drinking gets equal billing. Or so I'm told by Gangnam Pocha co-owner Chelsea Kim, who, with her husband In Lee, also owns Zen Japanese restaurant in Hawthorn and Zen Charcoal BBQ in South Yarra. They returned to their Korean roots and opened K-pop palace Gangnam Pocha on Bourke Street in late May, with chef Sora Kim spinning a modern take on traditional Korean food.
Where to sit
Ten points for bravery: that cartoon of Gangnam Style star Psy exhorting diners to enter will be a turnoff for some, a drawcard for others. If it's the latter, you're probably one of the Korean students who gathers in the rear of the restaurant where K-pop plays on a huge plasma screen. If the former, don't be put off: Gangnam Pocha is a surprise package with flocked wallpaper, sound-squelching carpet and less of a bar atmosphere than you might imagine.
The full quiver of Korean beverages is available, including the floral plum wine marketed as a chicks' drink. Get the party started with the curious makgulri milky fruit liqueur with a subtle spritz - think vodka, banana and milk and you've pretty much nailed it. The short beer list includes South Korea's Max Beer on tap and Hite. The wine list is tiny: two whites and two reds.
The food is more traditional than the Gangnam Pocha window-dressing suggests. Spicy seafood - mussels, little clams, prawns and calamari - mix it up with boiled eggs and with chewy cylinders of glutinous rice cake in a zesty broth peppered by kim chi and red chilli; the signature Korean bibimbap, a mixed rice dish with vegetables cooked in a traditional stone vessel, nails the crusty paella-esque base, and the seafood and spring onion pancake disappears all too quickly. Try the bo ssam (wrapped pork belly) - it's a great iteration of the dish made famous by David Chang. Early fusion comes in the form of the corn mac'n'cheese, the result of the US military influence on Korean food in the 1950s; ditto the ''US Army stew'' mixing kimchi with ham, cheese and noodles.
Well-dressed Korean twentysomethings. Lots of 'em.
Real Korean food and ambience.