What will happen, when the head of Koreatown joins up with the tail of Chinatown?
If you’ve been hanging around South CBD/Haymarket over the past couple of years, you’ll have noticed that Chinatown has gradually expanded. In the 80s-90s, the totality of Chinatown was the block (and streets) surrounded on four sides by Goulburn St on the Northern tip, Sussex St on the east side, Hay St at the South end, and Dixon St on the West side. But today the boundaries of Chinatown (the term now used to incorporate all Asian cuisines) can be said to extend as far North as Bathurst St, as far East as Pitt St (Castlereagh St at some parts), as far South as Quay St, and as far West as Bridge St (Darling St if you include Steam Mill Lane). So as recent as only 5 years ago, we’d still refer to the little patch of Liverpool St as ‘The Spanish Quarter’, but unfortunately Spanish Quarter no-more, since the second last Spanish restaurant closed down (Capitan Torres) mid 2018. And opening up in its place last November – Jangpo Korean Pocha & Bistro. So as the borders of Chinatown grows in all four directions; within it, Koreatown also grows- moving further down Pitt and Liverpool streets, now only one shop shy of connecting-up a continuous path of Korean restaurants from Pitt, down Liverpool to Sussex and Dixon streets, right to the dragon’s tail of old-Chinatown.
I must stress that this expansion isn’t good or bad, but what we’re finding is that we’re losing variety/diversity though. So on this Friday evening, with our friends we were fortunately in the mood for Korean and after finding out that Arisun on Dixon St was packed-out, we headed over to Jangpo Korean Pocha & Bistro, confident that we’d find a table for 4 as they’ve always looked kinda empty since they opened up.
If you can’t picture where Jangpo is located, here are some old landmarks to re-fresh your memory- Casa Asturiana is on the left, the stairwell leading to what used to be Norita board games cafe to it’s right, and further down is Comic Kingdom and what used to be Mama’s? Yeah, can you picture the spot now? So the old Capitan Torres shop is now occupied on the ground floor by Jangpo, and on the first floor is a Korean BBQ (Jang Ta Bal) both venues run/owned by the same restaurateur.
As soon as you enter the ground floor area of Jang’s, your senses are welcomed by the pumping music (and I have to admit it’s pretty pumping loud)! We were seated in a spot in the restaurant which felt like a little nook (it was actually the front of the shop with the plate glass windows covered with their branding), which made for a nice little private spot like a mini private room to ourselves. And after studying their menu (well-worn A4 sheets clipped onto a clipboard), as a group we settled on half-and-half Korean Fried Chicken (Garlic and Snow Cheese)- $36; Ginseng soup with Chicken; Kimchi pancake; and Spicy Rice Cakes with Cheese (all 4 dishes totalled to $92). And to grab the attention of our waiter, you simply press one of three buttons fitted to the surface of your tabletop, and within 10 beats of their sub-woofers, a waiter will appear at your table ready to take your order (later I learned that the other 2 buttons would either order Beers or Soju for the table).
The interior/ambiance is pretty cool, decorated to resemble a Korean streetscape; and to match the ambiance with its food, there was a section in the menu devoted to Korean street food (but unfortunately the majority of choices in this section were crossed out with permanent marker). But thumbs-up for exhibiting distinguishing features, which stands them out from the other Korean offerings in the area.
Shortly after making our orders, the complementary sides arrived. And soon after that, our mains also arrived. The reaction from all of us as each dish made its touch-down, was that we were pleasantly surprised by the size of each serving, our table almost not large enough to accommodate all the plates/bowls.
The kimchi pancake was the size of a large pizza, and it was crunchy around the circumference and chewy/gooey closer to the centre. Mmmmmm.
The fried chicken pieces were boneless, and unfortunately it wasn’t the crunchiest we’ve had, it wasn’t the most flavoursome, and the chicken was a little dry. But for those who tried Snow cheese for the first time, they enjoyed the sweet/cheesy powder.
The actual ginseng soup with chicken was tasty, although the chicken was more for the flavour rather than for you to eat. The chicken was tough and all the flavour had been boiled out of it for hours, so much so that the thin chicken bones were so brittle that you could chew through them like tinned tuna fish bones!
And my favourite of the night was the Spicy Rice Cakes with Cheese. Rice cakes (tteokbokki) are these long tubular chewy things, like having the equivalent of 10 strands of noodles twisted together. It was in a really nice chilli sauce (not too spicy) and the cheese was applied generously, so you got big chunks of melted and then congealed cheesy bits (textured like tofu). I’d definitely go back for that dish!
All in all, we really enjoyed more than half of what we ordered, and it was good to see that Jangpo was a pretty happening and full of character up-close, compared to our casual glimpses of it when we walk past. And most importantly it was a great host for an enjoyable night out with our friends!
Our end score, 4 stars from 5 (2 from 3 for food; 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (as the waiter was on-call, curtesy of the button/buzzer system); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (at first they were playing Korean pop, which then transitioned over to new-school Hip Hop, but it was perhaps a little bit too loud so we had to lean in and shout at each other at times to be heard, but everyone seemed to be shouting at their tablemates and that added to the atmosphere); and 1 from 1 for Value for Money (as they were large servings and each of us were stuffed and there were some left-overs).
So as Koreatown slowly makes its serpentine way closer to the dragon’s tail of Chinatown, and Korea’s own mythical dragonlet on the verge of growing into a full sized dragon, what’s going to happen when one dragon head touches the dragon’s tail? Only one vacated store (the old Mama’s/Pappa Rich store) stands in the way of Koreantown joining up with Chicken V and Arisun (who are already well within old-Chinatown). What will happen when Korea’s dragon grabs a hold of Chinatown’s dragon’s tail? Well, I guess we’ll just have to eagerly wait and see, who takes over the vacated Pappa Rich store. Will it be another Korean restaurant? Interesting times, interesting times.
Jangpo Korean Pocha & Bistro- Friday 1 February (4 Stars)
PH: 0424 547 375
Ground Floor, 75 Liverpool Street, Sydney NSW
Mon – Sun 11am – 11.55pm
**Accepts cash only.