I’ve been having a lot of parties and BBQs at home recently. My cousin from Shanghai seemed to have fallen in love with the concept as well as the big selection of beautiful cuts of meat we have in Australia that’s quite rare in China. I remember when I was there, the good meats served in restaurants have often been labeled ‘from Australia’ but with all the issues in the news, I really couldn’t be sure where the meat was from. At least there’s no need to worry about that here.
I love such gatherings and having everyone join in on the fun of cooking your own meat. Paired with a few beers and you have a perfectly fun and delicious meal! That’s the beauty of BBQs. Although a pain to wash, the after smell of meat remnants on your clothes serves as another reminder of all the fun you’ve just had.
Another form of self cooked meats is of course the Korean version of our beloved BBQs and I love these to bits as well. I’m such a meat kind of girl after all. One of my more recent Korean BBQ adventures was at Dae Jang Geum in Chinatown. ‘Dae Jang Geum’ or 대장금 (大長今) is a Korean drama from 2003 which has gained international popularity for its culinary influences and of course its historical plot. As a result, many restaurants popped up after that with the same name and perhaps this one was the same. I can vouch that most housewives in China would know of this drama.
Dae Jang Geum is a huge restaurant with 2 levels of never-ending tables. Even then the place filled up quickly and the waitresses were running around frantically trying to get us settled. I felt sorry for the girls responsible for our table(s) as it was a whopping huge table of 22 people. I couldn’t even hear what the people on the other end were saying. I think this was one of the biggest single table gatherings I’ve had (although we had to join about 5 tables together). If you’ve seen Harry Potter, you’ll understand.
This didn’t stop us from enjoying our meal though and we found it easier to split the ordering by smaller table of 4-6 people. Each small table got its own stove to cook with and their own complimentary side dishes and separate bills. I love the side dishes at Korean restaurants, they’re always quite different but would usually include kimchi (chilli pickled Chinese cabbage). For those of you who don’t eat Korean food often, these side dishes are free and usually able to be topped up when you’ve finished them.
We took our time picking what we want from the menu so the table next to us received their food first. I was so hungry by then and almost drooled all over their table. I was ready to beg for a taste but thankfully our dishes arrived soon after. What they ordered: Kimchi pancakes (left), meat platter (right).
Instead of ordering platters, we decided it was better to order them separately and I was glad we did. The first meat to make an entrance was the beef scotch fillet ($22). It was the best scotch fillet I’ve ever had (it might be because I was famished) and plate of meat disappeared in an instant, with the aid of the waitress cooking the whole thing in one go for us.
It wasn’t a cheap meat by any means so I was a bit wary of what it might turn out like but I was a happy person after eating it. It was so tender and juicy it literally melted in my mouth. I was happy to just eat it by itself without the sauce. It was that good.
The next plate of meat to be devoured was the sliced pork belly ($15). Pork is my favourite meat in the whole world (even though I love most meats) and Korean BBQ is not complete without some pork belly. I like eating it with the fermented bean sauce provided or just with some salt and sesame oil. Unsurprisingly, this plate also disappeared very quickly.
It’s not everyday that you see duck on a Korean menu. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it anywhere else so it was a unanimous decision to order it simply out of curiosity and the fact that we love duck meat ($20). It did however, get outshone by the preceding meats, especially the scotch fillet. The duck was slightly overcooked when we ate it and as a result was a bit dry and not as tasty. I think the meat may have been frozen and defrosted but not too certain. Instead of ordering the duck, I’d recommend ordering another beef dish, or a 2nd serving of that beautiful scotch fillet.
What’s Korean BBQ without ordering the star dish seafood pancakes ($15)? It’s one of our must orders anyway. Although I love the kimchi version, I much prefer the seafood one. Dae Jang Geum makes a swell seafood pancake, although I did find it a bit on the doughy side with less visible seafood pieces compared to other places.
Up to this point, we thought we may not have had enough food and then came the HUGE pot of spicy seafood hotpot ($39). For that price though, it better have been big. We were the only table to order a hotpot and we quickly became the envy of everyone. I could feel the hairs stick up on the back of my neck with the stares we were getting.
The pot came with a whole lot of seafood including fish, clams, big prawns and squid as well as a whole lot of mushrooms and tofu. I’m the laziest person you can think of when it comes to eating shelled things so I left those to my friends while I slurped away at the beautiful soup (which has sucked the seafood dry of all its deliciousness of course). We couldn’t finish all of it so offered some to the eagerly waiting friends on the next table. I’m so glad we ordered this soup as it hit all the right spots.
The night would not have been complete without our beloved beers. Being the good diners we are, we all ordered Korean beers – Cass and Hite ($4 each). I couldn’t remember which one was better but in my opinion both were quite weak. Although I only just recently got into the whole beer thing, I still do prefer my stronger local varieties, although I can’t really talk since I get drunk on just 1 bottle. Ha.
The night was definitely an enjoyable one although the service was a bit of a let down. Even though I don’t blame them for having to serve so many of us, I did still expect the staple fresh lettuce to wrap my meat in. After asking twice to no avail, I decided to suck it up and just eat them without. These would have normally been offered up front without needing to ask at most other Korean restaurants. We also had to ask a few times for extra beers amongst other things. Perhaps dining in a smaller group would have attracted better service.
The girl serving our table seemed quite out of it and chucked all of our meats on the barbie without a second thought. I always forget to ask to cook the meat ourselves as I enjoy the process as much as the end product and cooking ourselves means we could have eaten the meats to a lesser overcooked state and not having to rush through it all. Oh well, next time.
The dishes though I couldn’t complain about. Although Dae Jang Geum is a little on the expensive side, it was well worth it I thought. It’s a restaurant I would return to time and time again. <-- Refer below for a revisit, this time I can't say I'd return again. Ever.
EDIT: I visited Dae Jang Geum again after this post was put up and although the food was roughly about the same standard, the service I felt was just appalling.
The same issue with the ‘no lettuce’ policy was there. I asked 5 times with different waiters/waitresses the same question ‘can I please get some lettuce?’, I either get a ‘yes’ or a ‘lettuce?’, they walk away and then never come back again! If someone had come back to tell me that lettuce was not available, I would have stopped asking and it would be left at that, but the fact that they don’t get back to me at all was just utterly rude. I’ve always had my Korean BBQ meat with lettuce wrapped around so it was already quite strange for me but this…I was in awe.
Anyway, to make the night worse, the table leaked, yes, LEAKED oily meat juice all over my cotton shoes, pants and my friend’s new shoes. It turned out that the tray to hold excess oils had leaked onto the table and then dripped all over our shoes and the floor through the gap between the table and the hotplate. Ahh…I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I’d ever return to Dae Jang Geum after this experience. There are better Korean restaurants that treat their customers properly, without leaky tables too.
Question time: What’s the biggest number of people on the same table that you can remember during a meal? Do you prefer small intimate groups compared to big gatherings?
Dae Jang Geum Korean BBQ
Phone: (03) 9662 9445
235 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000