There is some hunger that only the fermented acidity of kimchi, the soft bubble of boiling tofu, tender marinated beef and a whole lot of deep-fried chicken can sate. We're blessed here in Melbourne to have a selection of killer Korean restaurants at our fingertips.
Prime your tastebuds for coal-fuelled Korean barbecue or bibimbap cooked in a hot stone dish, tables crammed with every banchan imaginable and hot soups to warm your cockles on a chilly evening in the city.
When it comes to Korean food, Melbourne is spoilt for choice. From authentic to fusion, sizzling grilled meat to boiling-hot jjigae. But many seem to haven’t discovered how to make the most of their Korean dining experience.
Are you finishing a meal then leaving for a drink at nearby bars? That’s not how you do it. For Asian people, a good drink should be accompanied by good food.
In these Korean restaurants, their irresistible food and cozy vibe are guaranteed to keep your party in Melbourne going all night long.
12 Korean Restaurants in Melbourne
Paired with the supreme quality of beef, pork and other produce that we have here in Melbourne, the quality of some of the Korean restaurants in Melbourne can even compete with those in South Korea.
In terms of the price range, we have categorised them into:
- Cheap – $30 for two people, not including drinks
- Moderate – $50 for two people, not including drinks
- Expensive – $80 for two people, not including drinks
- Splurge – $100 for two people, not including drinks
Not long ago, Bridge Road was the epicentre of discount fashion, but in recent times, retail’s had it tough, and the strip has slowly transformed into a hill of tumbleweeds. Enter Jan Chi, one of the many independent hospitality businesses taking on the tough real estate to give Richmond a second chance at life. Jan Chi means ‘to feast’ in Korean, and there’s truth in advertising when the jewel of the menu is a 530-gram plate of braised Angus short rib.
Korean may be the flavour of the moment, but owners aren’t jumping on the bandwagon - they’re dishing up flavours from home with their twist. Ryu has made his way to Melbourne through New York, working the line at the revered Japanese restaurant MASA and revolutionary Momofuku Ssam before doing his time in Melbourne’s Lucy Lui and Spice Temple.
Min is considered the MVP of the Lucas Group, holding the fort and her cool in an impressive six-year stint at the juggernaut known as Chin Chin before being part of the opening crew of Kisume - no easy feat. It makes sense, then, that the two are bringing together their traditional sensibilities with a laid-back, party attitude to this casual diner with very serious food.
We may have mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth restating: order the braised short rib. It will comfortably feed a group of four and allow you to share a range of other dishes (which you’ll want to do). The soft, sticky short rib comes doused in pear and apple infused soy sauce with a refreshing, crunchy salad made of the same fruits.
You could dig in as is, but as the customised prints on the wall suggest, order a basket of crunchy sesame vegetables that feature a range of lettuces and sturdy, bitter greens to wrap up your meat for maximum enjoyment. Throw in a house-made kimchi plate while you’re at it.
On the lighter side of the spectrum, fat slices of salmon come cured in premium soju on top of pickled cucumber, dotted with a sweet-spicy gochujang and brightened with a yuja (citrus) vinaigrette. Wild rice puffs and crumbles of freeze-dried mandarin add some welcome texture.
And what’s Korean feasting without fried chicken? Jan Chi’s come in a serve of six pieces (wings and drumsticks), fried in an impossibly crisp batter that keeps its crunch long after it has been rolled in a sweet and spicy sauce aptly named ‘Yum Yum.’ More truth.
The original flavour comes sober, and you also have the option of a sweet soy and garlic glaze. Thick, chewy, tubular rice cakes (tteokbokki) are fried before they’re married with a spicy gochujang sauce laced with shredded kale, crispy shallots and grated cheese, which sounds weird on paper, but is moreish in practice. Can’t decide what to order? There’s a $40 and $55 banquet option that gets you fed from each part of the menu.
A bar dominates the dark, neon-accented room, emphasising how Korean food and alcohol go hand in hand. Soju is the most common order here, with a variety ranging from 17-53 per cent alcohol.
Cocktails get flourishes of Korean liquors or Asian ingredients, such as the Mojito smacked with peppery shiso. The Martini is spiked with Yuja syrup or the Negroni, which replaces gin with a smooth, 53 per cent organic soju.
It doesn’t have to be Friday night for this place to pack out. The younger members of the Korean community are already taking ownership of the tables, while the locals are lining up for takeaway.
Jan Chi is not like every other Korean restaurant. It marries traditional flavours with Australian dining sensibilities, where eating and drinking serves as entertainment. You can see the cumulative effect of culture, fine dining and modern eateries as influences on Ryu and Min, but Jan Chi is a restaurant on its terms, and it couldn’t feel fresher.
Koreans have a word for food that’s consumed with alcohol – Anju – and while a lot of the anju we see here in Melbourne are things like sticky soy garlic-glazed fried chicken wings or thin strips of beef sizzling away on a Korean barbecue, tiny Brunswick eatery Chae is here to highlight a different side to Korean cuisine.
Ever since word got out about her intimate restaurant, Chae has faced so much demand that she’s had to set up waitlists, with the next one reopening in June. So what’s the hype all about? Well, the food, of course.
Here, bugak, or deep-fried vegetables, come wafer-thin in the form of potato, lotus, carrot and beetroot crisps and are topped by a cloud of deep-fried seaweed paper that owes its appearance to the reaction of hot oil coming into contact with its coating of glutinous rice paste.
It’s crisp and served with the owner and chef Jung Chae’s very own fermented watermelon makgeolli, or rice wine, which is slightly aromatic, sweet and milky – the ideal light accompaniment to a deep-fried snack.
Jung Chae is a one-woman show of very few words, and she moves around her little kitchen quietly and with ease. Turn your head and realise she’s replenished your cup of hot tea, or look up from your plate to find she’s meticulously stacked the dishwasher with used plates.
Like the beautifully stacked shelves of her housemade ferments (kombucha, kimchi, chilli sauce and vinegar, to name a few), dishes are neatly presented. The fine dining experience at venues like Cutler and Co and Lûmé shines through from everything from “work” uniform and unembellished apron to the efficient manner in which she plates up.
Sesame oil sourced from Chae’s mother’s farm in Korea perfumes the busut (mushroom) japchae. Glass noodles are interwoven with enoki, shimeji, king oyster and wood ear mushrooms and little strips of lightly charred wagyu beef, still rare and blushing, the smoky flavours balancing perfectly with the nutty sesame oil and Chae’s savoury housemade soy sauce.
Yeongeun bap (lotus root rice) comes loaded with three different grains of red rice. It is accompanied by a cloudy galbitang (beef rib broth), served hot with islands of spring onion and a side of salt for you to amp up the seasoning and banchan of housemade kimchi pickled cucumbers, perilla leaves and kelp. The crunch and acidity of the pickles work in harmony with each bite of tender beef rib and rice.
The secret is out. This once low-key Korean restaurant overrun by displaced students wanting a taste of home is now being infiltrated by locals. Blame the internet. Blame Instagram. Blame Facebook. They’ve hit social media aggressively, and now everyone is lining up for all the banchan (side dishes) you can handle.
Hansang means ‘table full of food’ in Korean, and that’s exactly what you get. Typically, when you sit down to a Korean meal, you’re met with a handful of side dishes; usually pickles (most likely kimchi), a salad, an ambient temperature stir-fry and a protein, but at Hansang, they fill your table.
There were eleven plates at our count featuring a rice porridge spiced with black pepper, stir-fried shredded potato, a rolled vegetable omelette, a cucumber and seaweed salad, japchae, kimchi cabbage, stir-fried bean sprouts, spicy fish cakes, braised eggplant, kimchi radish and braised tofu.
You might call it a gimmick if each plate wasn’t properly cooked and seasoned, adding to the experience of the ‘main’ dishes rather than distracting from them; all killer and absolutely no filler.
You’d be mad if you didn’t order from the set menu, where two people dine for $60, three for $90, four for $120, and so on. Each person chooses a shared main for the table, and aside from the abundance of well-considered and interesting sides, you each receive a bowl of rice, a choice between a kimchi or soybean stew, and dessert.
If you can’t finish your food, they encourage you to take the leftovers home with you. We count that as a win. The choice of mains come in generous portions designed to share banquet style and include a range of stews, soups, savoury pancakes, grilled fish, stir-fries, salads and bossam (braised pork belly).
A whole, deboned, grilled mackerel arrives at the table, still sizzling with redundant soy and wasabi dipping sauce. The fish is carefully salted, the edges crisp from charcoal and the flesh meaty and flaking apart at the touch of chopsticks.
The fall-apart beef short rib stew (galbi jjim) arrives in its cooking liquor alongside tender carrot chunks and slices of onion. It’s best spooned over rice to temper the intensity of the sweet soy broth.
As part of the set meal, the fiery kimchi stew is a highlight; aged, sour kimchi is softened by fatty pork pieces in a broth boiled into a thick, complex emulsion; the tartness of the kimchi, in turn, cuts the richness of the meat.
Pour a spoonful over everything. If for some surprising reason, you manage to fit dessert in, you’ll have a choice between scoops of commercially produced black sesame, green tea, vanilla or red bean ice cream.
Don’t be surprised if there are hoards of people at the door eyeing off your food like caged zoo animals; there are a mere 30 seats in this humbly furnished bluestone building.
Make a booking if you want to eat dinner after 6 pm or be prepared to wait. Hansang is dominated by Koreans not just because of the cuisine on offer but because there’s a sense of home-style generosity in the meal; you feel nurtured after eating, rather than uncomfortably stuffed.
If all the Korean you know is barbecue and fried chicken, make your way to Hansang to be fed by the Korean mum you never had.
When a 20-seater restaurant in the heart of suburbia that only offers three dishes, with no bookings, no website and no advertising, is never with an empty seat, you know it has to be good.
Mr Lee’s Foods is well worth the trip to Ringwood if you’re a fan of pork; all dishes are derived from this glorious animal, offering a delicious insight into the economic traditions of Korean dining, utilising an unconscious, innately cultural nose-to-tail philosophy.
Everyone knows that meat grilled over charcoal is exponentially more flavoursome than other forms of cooking. Yes, a gas barbecue will get the job done, but there’s an extra smoky depth that can only be achieved when charcoal is your fire-power.
And this is why we love Hwaro, the Korean barbecue joint on Little Bourke Street.
Hot corn tea. It’s a real thing, and it tastes just as husky and buttery as it sounds. Sweet little pitchers of the staff are on hand to temper the spicy bulgogi burn at the newer, bigger, pinker branch of Seoul Soul.
There’s a little extra space here – two long communal tables run the room's length with small block partitions separating couples like groceries in the supermarket.
This copper and wood Korean joint flogging fried chicken, jugs of Brunswick Bitter and Kenny G’s greatest hits are great. They do that poultry every which way here.
You can take yours as lightly battered wings slicked in a sweet soy glaze, and we’re pretty keen to come back for the Korean schnitzel.
Korean barbecue, at its core, is a communal dining experience, and Guhng makes certain groups are well catered for with their barbecue sets. The Angus set is enough to feed four moderately hungry meat-eaters comfortably.
You get a mix of lean and fatty cuts, starting with an evenly marbled Angus cube roll, cut into pieces over a cast iron pot of glowing hot charcoal.
Sisters Seon Mi and Seon Joo Lee, vegetarians from meat-loving South Korea, established Yong Green Foods in late 2009. Adapting Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and Italian cuisines into a unique menu emphasising raw and whole foods, the restaurant was an almost instant success.
The raw menu, which includes their signature dish, raw sage, is completely organic, vegan and gluten-free.
Gami Chicken is at its cheap best when you take a lot of people – that way you can get a keg of beer to share ($64 for 4 litres) and a whole chook for $35 (original, soy-garlic or sweet chilli coated), which will feed three to four depending on gluttony levels. Move over Colonel Sanders, Gami's taking over.
It’s hard to resist Korean BBQ and fried chicken, but once you do, you’ll discover much more charming Korean dishes. Joomla is a hidden gem in the basement of a plain-looking office building on Swanston St.
With no street signage, people often pass by it without knowing there is a pub where food and soju flow until 5 am. If you’re new to Korean drinking culture, Joomak will offer you an eye-opening experience that makes you want to come back for more.
There are a variety of dishes you can choose from but my favourite way to enjoy my time here is ordering a pancake, some small dishes instead of going for a proper meal. And you can’t forget the drink.
Joomla is a favourite for their peach ice blended rice wine cocktails served in bowls. It goes especially well with the pancake, another combination Koreans love that never goes wrong.
Bonga is the fanciest restaurant on this list and also the best Korean BBQ in the town. There are 2 Born in Melbourne, and you should visit the Little Bourke Street place. It’s a franchise of the Korean BBQ chain led by Baek Jong Won, Korea's most renowned chef.
If you’ve heard of the infamous Hanwoo, you know it’s inaccessible outside of Korea. But Bornga’s high-quality beef cut Kkot Sal is a great alternative that would melt right in your mouth. Other BBQ options are worth checking out, especially Galbi and thinly sliced Woo Sangyup with Baek Jong Won’s special sauce.
You know BBQ can get a bit greasy after a few bites. That’s why you need at least a bottle of soju on the table. It does an amazing job in cutting through the greasiness and keeps your BBQ night going.
FAQs About Melbourne Restaurants
Popular Korean Dishes To Order At a Restaurant
- Gimbap (or Kimbap)
The idea of banchan dates back to Korean royal court cuisine, where a meal was said to be twelve dishes and accompanied with rice and soup. Today, banchan can consist of anywhere from two to twelve dishes, although cheaper restaurants serve less.
The word 감사 (gamsa) is a noun that means “gratitude” or “appreciation” in the Korean language. The 합니다 (hamnida) part means “to do''. Put them together, and you get 감사합니다 (gamsahamnida | to do thanks). You can use this phrase to express “thank you” in Korean in a restaurant, convenience store, or taxi.
Top Must-Try Foods in South Korea
- Red rice cakes (tteokbokki)
- Korean stew (jjigae)
- Korean fried chicken.
In formal Korean, there are two ways to say goodbye – one for the person who's leaving and the other for the person who's staying. If you're the one leaving, you say, 안녕히 계세요. [Annyeonghi gyeseyo.] meaning, "Stay well." Then, the other person will respond by saying, 안녕히 가세요.
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