Level 1, 196 King Street Newtown, New South Wales 2042
Once, while working at a bookshop, I had a couple ask me for ''saucy books''. When I showed them the racy adults-only section they were horrified. What they actually wanted were cookbooks, about sauce.
This saucy encounter comes to mind when we find the Korean restaurant, Paju BBQ, is up a narrow flight of stairs off busy King Street. They're the type of stairs that often lead somewhere adults-only but thankfully, these lead us to exactly the kind of saucy we're after.
The big, open space has walls painted in bright hunger-inducing shades of orange and red, with shiny, silver light fittings that'd look at home in an Austin Powers movie.
We are here, mainly, for bibimbap. The dish's name translates to ''mixed rice'' and Paju offers several varieties. We order a few and know we're on to a good thing as soon as the hot stone pots arrive at the table, sizzling away, developing those irresistible crunchy bits that catch to the bottom. Side dishes of chilli sauce dare us to up the ante.
There's a bibimbap topped with tender baby octopus, but our favourite is kimchi and cheese. We mix it well, and enjoy the heat and tang of the fermented cabbage and chilli, and the way the melted cheese holds the mix of rice and veg together in chopstick-friendly clumps.
As the night wears on, the room gets busier with groups sharing fried chicken and barbecued meats. We get in on the action, too. The chicken is decent - the meat not too dry and the outside satisfyingly crunchy. The sweet-chilli version is sweet and sticky but packs no punch, chilli-wise.
Barbecuing is DIY at the table on portable gas cookers, and staff are happy to help if necessary. The gas cookers mightn't have the same appeal as hot coals, but the big plus is they're far less smoky. We stick to beef, wrapping the morsels in lettuce before devouring them. It's juicy and moreish.
We also try ddukbokki; dense, gummy rice cake cylinders covered in a mild fish and chilli sauce. The menu suggests adding boiled egg, ramen noodles or deep-fried dumplings. We opt for the latter and get a trio of large vegie-stuffed parcels buried at the bottom. The dish is a vibrant red and, yep, just the right kind of saucy.
Do … choose OB over VB - one of a selection of Korean beers
Don't … miss the $8.90 lunch specials, including bibimbap
Dish … stone pot bibimbap - with baby octopus, or with cheese and kimchi
Vibe … sizzling and saucy with a dash of Austin Powers