The Serve: Check out Massizim in The Glen, Melbourne

Massizim is the first Australian branch of a popular Korean restaurant chain.
Massizim is the first Australian branch of a popular Korean restaurant chain. Photo: Chris Hopkins




Rice ball with crab  at Massizim.
Rice ball with crab at Massizim.  Photo: Chris Hopkins



RICE BALLS: $8.50-$9.50; STEWS: $16.50-$24.50; DESSERTS: $13.50

Egg roll with tuna at Massizim.
Egg roll with tuna at Massizim.  Photo: Chris Hopkins

The most fun I had in a restaurant – actually, anywhere – last week was getting my hands into a bowl of rice and condiments and squishing it around for a while, before forming it into (messy) balls and eating it. Don't worry, I had a glove on. And don't fret, I was supposed to do it.

I was making jumeokbap, a Korean dish that translates as "fist rice" because it's pummelled with fists into fist-shaped balls. Like arancini (Italian balls of leftover risotto) or onigiri (Japanese pyramid-shaped rice cakes), jumeokbap is a concept rather than a recipe: the rice can be melded, stuffed and mixed with all kinds of ingredients. Jumeokbap is usually squished with preserved fish of some sort – tuna, anchovies – along with seaweed and pickles. My version was a little bit swankier, with crab meat and fish roe: it was crunchy, salty and satisfying and I'm sure my massaging made it more tasty.

I made my happy mess at Massizim, the first Australian branch of a popular Korean restaurant chain that's expanded into Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta. Just as pertinently, I was at The Glen in Glen Waverley, the east's once-daggy shopping centre that is now swish and sparkly. The outdoor eating precinct has a see-through roof, traffic-free plaza and appealing dining options. Massizim is the only business that's opened in the quiet upstairs zone but the sizeable local Korean population has already latched onto it. It's a dramatic space done in timber, slate and steel. Booths at the front give way to smaller tables near a colourful mural. The staff welcome you with a hearty hello or, more precisely, yell out, "Annyeonghaseyo!"

Spicy pork stew at Massizim.
Spicy pork stew at Massizim. Photo: Chris Hopkins

The restaurant's specialty isn't DIY rice, it's galbi jjim, slow-cooked meat stews that are traditionally served for celebrations. Massizim's mission is to democratise galbi jjim ("rib boiled") and bring it to everyday people for everyday meals. The meat – beef, pork or chicken – is marinated in a sweet sauce of gochugaru (fermented chilli), doenjang (fermented soybean paste) and fruit – usually apple – before being pressure-cooked to tenderness. It's served in an iron pot with your choice of noodle (glass or udon: I reckon the fatter udon noodles are slurpier and more satisfying) and a chilli level ranked from one to four. Two is reasonably mouth-tingly; good luck if you turn the dial to maximum.

The menu is pleasingly small, meaning less chance of decision meltdowns. Other good dishes include the crisp, hot kimchi mandu (wontons) and fluffy egg rolls stuffed, perhaps, with tuna and cheese (an easy shopping break lunch). Everything comes with side dishes of pickles and preserves, and top-ups are offered cheerfully. Dessert means bingsu, milk ice that's shaved into an extravagant mound of fluffy snow and topped with fruit, cheesecake and syrup.

Massizim is very friendly, the staff are well-drilled and the food is pretty good, though not exactly spilling with soul. If it all feels a bit formulaic, that's because it is. Massizim is a franchise business like, for example, Guzman Y Gomez or Coffee Club. Its Korean founder, Lee Dong-Jin, visited The Glen when the restaurant opened at the start of August but the local reps aren't Korean, and the key marinades come straight from Seoul. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but if you mind that the chefs are cooking from a procedural manual rather than their grandmother's dog-eared notebook, then this might not be a restaurant to rush to. At least you can be sure that the fist rice is mixed right here!