7 Coleman Parade Glen Waverley, VIC 3150
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 5pm-11pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 8838 1838|
You don't need to tell anyone you've been to a Korean barbecue restaurant. They can smell it on you. The smoky sizzle of charcoal-grilled pork belly and marinated beef are locked into the very fibres of your clothing, emanating evidence of your eating adventures as surely as a Google tracker.
That is, unless you've been to Hinoak, an excellent year-old restaurant next to Syndal station and the first in Australia to employ a novel vertical grill.
Usually, in Korean barbecue restaurants, meat sizzles atop slatted grills, the fat dripping onto charcoal, smoking wildly and wreathing the room in gray haze. Tabletop exhaust fans often slurp up some of the emissions but they tend to suck moisture out of the meat too.
Hinoak's grill system is a big improvement. The tabletop barbecues are like toasters for meat, holding it upright in a pincer grill, allowing fat to drip into a water tray underneath each table.
As a result, Hinoak is clear-aired and pristine, all the better for seeing the handsome timber screens, gently curved ceiling, fancy cocktails lined up on the bar and, best of all, cheery staff who explain the drill and help cook the meat prompted by timers which ring through the restaurant like digital birdsong.
Pork belly is laced with fat, some of which drips away, and some of which renders a little but clings on to make the meat juicy and tender. Thin-cut wagyu scotch fillet is scissored at the table, popped into the toaster, then finished on the flat grill. It's full of flavour. My favourite cut is the beef rib, expertly unfurled from the still-attached bone into a very thin flap. It's marinated with sweet soy and is lip-smackingly succulent.
The waiters get the meat going, set the timer, dart back when it beeps and advise you of next steps. You'll be given tongs and timings. Lettuce, kimchi and condiments – soy, spice, salt – are on hand to build your own wraps, or you can simply chopstick meat to mouth. It's a fun activity and a satisfying meal.
It's smoke-free, yes, but not heat-free so be prepared to converse over the radiant heat of the grill.
There's so much more than barbecue here. Snack platters include updated classics, like pork dumplings with kimchi hollandaise and charred pineapple.
Smoked, crisp-skinned duck breast is absurdly tender and served with a sweet-sour-sharp salad of pickled onion, shiso, walnuts and citrus dressing.
Crunchy fried lotus root is tumbled with salad leaves and drizzled with black sesame sauce.
Bingsu – a Korean shaved ice dessert – gets a bit crazy. I loved the version with coffee, Baileys and vanilla ice-cream, somewhere between a summery cocktail and a spiked dessert.
Owner Jason Lee grew up locally in a Korean-Australian family and fondly remembers the backyard pit barbecues of his childhood. He trained as a chef, then veered off to become a pilot and sometime DJ, then returned to hospitality because he loves the connection with people.
Hinoak definitely has a friendly people-loving feel, not least because you can see everyone clearly, rather than squint at them through a smoke haze.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)