Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Unless, of course, you’re dining at Barangaroo’s flash new Korean barbecue joint. They’ve done away entirely with the exhaust hoods that descend from the ceiling like a small army of Daleks and instead embraced some very nifty technological advances that mean the smoke is sucked down into the barbecue pit. You still get delicious, coal-roasted meats, but without the smell of short rib sticking to your expensive date-night outfit. And you will want to dress for a dinner here – it has serious ‘hot night in the city’ vibes and all that golden timber and warm mood lighting acts like nature’s Instagram filter.
Maybe you’re on a first-name basis with a dolsot bibimbap and don’t require the explanations below the dish name to know you’ll be getting a rice bowl served in a hot stone pot that makes the base layer of rice crunchy. But even if you’re a frequent flyer with Korean food, don’t let that steer you off the butcher’s table set menu. They’ve collected a very convincing 'greatest hits' playlist here that covers all the bases, fills your boots, and will also keep the bill firmly to budget (if you’ve barbecued before, you know full well that the total can quickly spiral once people start getting a bit YOLO with the high-end cuts).
Things kick off with half a dozen banchan that includes red and white kimchi, sweet and sour pickled white onions, big chunks of radish and a wibbly steamed chestnut cake. It’s a real sensory experience across all textures. A heavily seasoned sashimi-style salad of julienned veg and a tiny snow cap of shaved ice is a playful experiment in just how refreshing a salad can be, and each diner gets a wedge of seafood pancake before the DIY elements arrive.
Each of the perfect leaves in your ssam basket are camera ready to be the outer wear on a wrap of bronzed strip of chuck eye roll with a marble score of 9+ that they source from a specialist Wagyu farm in Central NSW. A little dab of soybean paste, some salt, pepper, sesame oil and some funky shallot salad completes the look. Picture a classic rib eye steak? You know that skinny bit of meat that sits on top like a little hat? That’s the ribeye cap, or the deckle steak, which is buttery soft and barely needs to kiss the hot plate before it’s ready to roll. We like how specific they are about the cooking times here – they don’t want you subjecting your wafer-thin oxtongue slices to more than 45 seconds a side or else you risk tightening up all the proteins and drying out the meat. They also would prefer to grease your grill with the chunk of beef fat provided for you, what with the risk of oil fires and all. However, after that you’re left to your own devices.
Obviously some purists will say that marinades cover the clean, grassy flavour of the high-grade beef, but how can you argue with the big, ballsy savoury-sweet char that is created on the soy-marinated short-rib when it gets some proper flame time. This is the sense memory that we keep coming back to after our visit. Living somewhere in the grey area between courses, the last thing to hit our table is the egg jjim, which is a steamed, puffy cloud of whisked egg, but with a nautical flavour profile thanks to the addition of kelp and some fun textural contrast from flying fish roe.
You might have room for a sweet potato and yuzu cheesecake, or maybe you won’t. Perhaps instead you cashed that stomach real estate on the house cocktails (which lean towards the sweeter side). Or, if it isn’t a barbecue for you without a beer, they’ve got the big-hitters from Asia like Kirin, Cass, Asahi and Orion rubbing shoulders with some local craft brews. Or you can really get into the spirit and explore their collection of sojus and ju – a 375ml bottle is a very good amount for two if you like something to stretch across your whole meal.