Photo: Eddie Jim
KOREAN restaurants are riding high on the population J-curve, experiencing a mini-boom in the past year with about 20 openings, such as Seoul Soul (Richmond), Bb Bap (city) and Subi Q (Prahran).
Myeong-ga Madang, a plushly carpeted haven of Korean charcoal barbecue and royal court cuisine, joined the gang a month ago. Do you remember Sen Bar, that awesome Korean karaoke joint on Exhibition Street? Madang is by some of the same crew.
You don't so much enter as ascend: up the red stairs, past the twinkling chandelier, the mirror-tiled walls, right to the top, where the hustle of Lonsdale Street is left behind.
To the left is the snazzy bar serving reinvented cocktails, such as sangria made with Korean wine. To the right is the restaurant with charcoal burners in each table and black extractor fans dangling like curious snakes.
I've been to Madang twice now, once for a mix of dishes and once for a duck banquet. Possibly, service is better if you speak Korean, but if you don't, be patient. It's early days - drinks may take a while, and don't expect menu explanations.
Banquets are an easy way to go, with seven options. On the barbecue front, raspberry pork belly is marinated in bokbunja ju (wine made from Korean black raspberries), giving it a slightly sweetish taste - great with some white kimchi and a sheer, thin slice of daikon from the list of eight side dishes. Add more heat to the spicy beef bulgogi with some red kimchi - it could be hotter - and a round of pickled onion goes well with the smoked duck, which kind of tastes and looks like bacon.
From the traditional court cuisine, don't miss the milssam, multicoloured thin wheat-flour crepes that you wrap around a springy mix of shredded beef and veg with a dollop of mustard sauce. Kimchi and mung-bean pancakes are pretty good in a ''how good is fried food'' way, but the fried vegetarian dumplings were super-greasy and not very plump. The staple bibimbap - with miso on the side - scored well; an assortment of seasoned veg (called ''namul'' in Korean) including bean shoots, carrot, radish and seaweed came with the egg yolk on top, ready to pierce with chopsticks and stir through the rice.
There is dessert - rice cakes, a speccy fruit platter - but, as everyone knows, the perfect apres-dinner course is karaoke. Head upstairs to a private room and … My, my, my, Delilah … Why, why, why, Delilah? Let the musical mayhem ensue.
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Point and choose at this fast, cheap Korean lunch spot.
311 Exhibition Street, city, 0467 880 018
- 9663 1112 or 0413 007 564
- Cuisine - Korean
- Prices - Salads, $12-$18; barbecue, $17-$69; banquets, $28-$95; desserts, $7-$18 (karaoke for five or six: Mon-Thurs, $20/hr; Fri-Sun, $30/hr)
- Features - Licensed
- Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Daily, noon-3pm, 6-10pm
- Author - Nina Rousseau