Friday, November 1, 2013

The New-ish Korean/Japanese Joints in Town

I was intrigued when my friend Melissa suggested that we organised a catchup dinner at this new place called Gangnam Pocha on Bourke Street a few months ago. "Gangnam… Now, why does that word sound so familiar? Heh". The place looked quite interesting when we walked in. 

Although, I couldn't help but notice that there was an interesting looking Gyoza restaurant next to it while White Tomato had just renovated across the road. I later found myself back at all 3 restaurants on separate occasions with different groups of friends. 

Gangnam Pocha

Tofu and Kimchi - $10

Korean Style Pork Terrine - $10

Crisp Tofu - $11
Deep fried tofu with stir fried kimchi

Pork Ssam - $25
Boiled pork with homemade kimchi

Warm Sake

Crisp Calamari and Prawn - $11

Gangnam Chicken - $18
Fried chicken with sweet chilli sauce, peanuts

Braised Beef Spare Ribs - $20
Braised beef spare ribs with honey, root vegetables in hot stone pot

US Army Stew - $28
Assorted ham stew with beef, kimchi, noodle and cheese

Rich Hazelnut Chocolate Semi Freddo - $13

Mixed Berry Heaven - $13

Coconut, Lemon and Strawberry Cake for the Birthday Boy!
Every single feature of the figurine (from the hair, to the camera, shoes, hoodie) is exactly like my friend Julian this cake is too cute!

Must say that I'm definitely a fan of Gangnam Pocha. The restaurant is spacious and service really friendly. They were more than accommodating both times that I went (when we had more than 10 ppl on both occasions). Not to mention giving my friend Julian a flaming shoju on the house when they realised it was his birthday.

As for the food, my highlights include the fried tofu with kimchi. I like that they've reduced the kimchi till it's sticky and full of flavour and placed on top of incredibly crunchy tofu. The fried calamari and prawns tastes more exciting than it sounds. Of course, we couldn't come to Gangnam Pocha and not order the Gangnam Chicken, which I really enjoyed. Even though the chicken was not as crunchy as Gami's, but the sauce was definitely better as it was well balanced and highly addictive. Finally, I also recommend you order the beef stew because it was top notch! My friend Ian liked it so much that the sounds that he was making was starting to become borderline awkward to be heard in public, but in a good way =)

Generally, all the other dishes were good and I've got no complaints about them. What I find interesting about this place is also how they serve desserts too, which is quite rare for Korean restaurants. Happy to report that they were pretty good too!

Gangnam Pocha on Urbanspoon

Gyoza Douraku

Sake - $9.90

Sake Harami Yaki - $11.90
Grilled salmon belly (most fatty part of salmon) with sea salt

Make your own gyoza dipping sauce! Awesome concept
Mixture of white vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, chilli oil, minced garlic

Pan Fried Gyoza with Wagyu Beef & Red Onion Filling - $9.50

Cheese Gyoza with Miso Eggplant and Duck Filling - $12

Prawn Gyoza in Spicy Miso Soup - $12

Popcorn Chicken - $8.50
Deep fried crumbed chicken mince and sweet corn

Soft Shell Crab Fried Rice - 19.90
Japanese fried rice topped with soft shell crab, shallot, garlic, dried scallop XO sauce

This place really caught my attention too when I was on my way to Gangnam Pocha as it was right next to the restaurant. Why? It had Gyoza in the name. And I like Gyoza.

I later realised it was more of an Izakaya kind of Jap restaurant, which I thought was fitting as I was catching up with two good friends that Friday night after work. Overall, I thought the menu is quite vast and unique. There were lots of great sounding dishes to choose from and I liked the concept they presented for the Gyozas. There was a page each of steamed, fried, cheese or soup gyozas; each with a variety very interesting fillings. Just read what we ordered and you'll see what I mean. They were quite tasty too. Also, it's great how we could make our own gyoza dipping sauces as well. Another good and unique concept to the Melbourne food scene.

Besides the gyozas, our highlights also include that seriously delicious grilled salmon belly. It was so fragrant and unctuous, definitely a delicious entree to order here and anywhere. Also, the soft shell crab fried rice was, again, interesting! I enjoyed how it came in a hot stone bowl, with the raw beaten egg poured straight into it before being mixed up altogether. A little bit too peppery but still pretty tasty and just a stunning looking dish to begin with.

Although I enjoyed the food here, must say that we weren't full as the portions weren't very big. But that's Izakaya anyway. Still, interesting concepts and worth a try. But only if you're not famished when you arrive and expecting to eat till you drop. There's a time and place for that, and it's not at Gyoza Douraku.

Gyoza Douraku on Urbanspoon

White Tomato

Individual portion banchan for everyone -- no sharing, how nice!

Beef Jabchai - $12.50
Pan fried potato noodle with seasoned vegetable

Stone Bibimbap - $15.90
Choice of beef, pork, chicken or tofu with seasoned vegetable and steamed rice

Bulgogi - $16.50
Beef marinated in soy sauce with vegetable

Grilled Pork Belly with Salad - $14.90

Kimchi Cheese Pancake - $13.90

Dak Hanmari (Ginseng Chicken Hotpot) - $38.50
Ginseng, onion, mushroom, potato noodle in chicken hotpot

My first encounter with Korean food in Melbourne was actually at White Tomato, back in 2008. I believe it was my third day of arriving in Australia and I had the Hot Stone Bibimbap for the first time. Ever since that encounter, I had been back many, many times to White Tomato that year. However, I did stop after almost a year because I was getting a little fed up that every time I ordered the exact same dish, it would turn out completely different from my previous visit and even worse for the matter. I don't think I had been back since 2009.

However, I did notice that they had completely renovated the restaurant a few months ago. Mum and Sis had gone to try the food after this renovation and mentioned that they actually enjoyed the food. Good.

After coming here for a farewell dinner with some good friends about 2 weeks ago, I was noticed that the menu, food, setting and even the staff were completely different. And the food turned out pretty delicious. Don't think there were any particularly "bad" dishes, per se, but it's not like I was looking for things to criticise anyway. I generally enjoyed the new atmosphere and every dish that they served.

Highlights include the kimchi pancake with cheese -- yum! Crispy on the outside and full of kimchi and cheese. I also thought the ginseng chicken hotpot to be pretty hearty, warming and satisfying. The broth was flavourful and had plenty of chicken to go around. But I also liked the little rice bits inside as well. Oh, oh and they give every diner their own individual serve of banchan -- yay for no sharing!

Anyway, I'm happy to see that White Tomato is now back on track after being derailed for a while. Glad to know that there's another option for Korean restaurant to host group dinners in the CBD. A knowledge that's always handy to have, me thinks =)

White Tomato on Urbanspoon

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