Byul Bam Korean Restaurant and Bistro- Sydney CBD

In search of tteokbokki.

All day I was craving tteokbokki so hard! So hard! For those who haven’t had tteokbokki before, it’s essentially a dish of tubular rice cakes, usually smothered in this red spicy (but sweet) sauce, and on top of that, melted cheese! Mmmmmm. And only in February of this year we had dined here (73 Liverpool St) with friends and we had an awesome serving of tteokbokki. But fickle is the Sydney dining scene, in between Feb and the present day (end of June) JangPo had closed down, and had re-opened as Byul Bam (also another Korean restaurant), so we were hoping against hope that they would also serve a killer tteokbokki!

We studied their menu before heading in, in English there wasn’t a tteokbokki listed, but there was a pic of a dish smothered in red sauce which was captioned in Korean. So we went on in.

The inside of the restaurant still had the same street-scape design, but it was definitely brighter than the JangPo days. And the tables and chairs had changed, but we were seated at the very same spot where we had sat exactly 5 months ago. At present everything was aluminium, the tables and chairs, the cups and bowls, only the chopsticks weren’t made of metal (and of course their tissues weren’t aluminium either).

Studying their menu, there were most of the usual Korean favourites; bibimbap, stews, fried chicken etc. And there were price points for everyone’s budget, a section for $10 meals, $20 meals, and a section where everything was at least $38. There was one dish which vaguely resembled the description of a tteokbokki – chicken in red sauce with cheese, but seeing that it had 3 chillies signifying its spiciness and knowing how spicy Korean food can be, we steered clear of it.   

In the $20 meal section, I couldn’t get past the first option, an Army Style Ramen & Rice dish; while my wife was craving a something like soft tofu stew, so she ended up ordering a Spicy Fish Roe Stew ($18.00).

And once our orders were taken, we took in the atmosphere of the place. The pumping Korean pop music was still present from the JangPo days, and the place was pretty packed with uni-aged patrons. And moments later our complementary sides arrived, a dish of potato noodles, and a dish of kimchi.

And this is what they mean by “Army style”! It dawned on us when my meal was set down before us.

Army style, as it was served in a camping style metal lunch-box, with the ramen and soup in the tub part of the box, and a serving of rice, a kimchi-like pickled veg, and these tempura-like fritter things on the lid of the box, which acted as a shallow bowl. It was more unusual than it was an amazingly flavoursome dish. But I can completely see how this is how army folk could chow down their grub in Korea. As I was fishing around for my noodles in my deep box, I imagined myself hunkered down, watching the North Koreans on the other side of the demilitarised zone, and come lunch time a jeep rumbles up and the commissary sergeant hands me a metal canteen of hot noodles and rice. So as I tucked in to the deep pot with my chopsticks and spoon, I had a bit of fun eating rough (fitting that I was actually wearing an army style bush jacket as well).

My wife’s dish was not quite what we had expected, the soup in which it was served in was quite sour as well as being spicy, the fish roe was cooked through, which made it resemble fish innards and it had quite a strong fishy taste.  The soft tofu was good though, and the rest of it was a bit of an acquired taste. And as the music was quite loud, and we were hungry, we basically just tucked into our food and moments later we were finished and full.

Our verdict? 3.5 From 5! 2 from 3 for Food (in the end we went with dishes which were off-centre so they weren’t quite what we had expected, but they hit the spot and tasted good enough); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the staff were all friendly and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (everyone sounded like they were enjoying themselves and the K-pop was pumping all night long!); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for Money (in the end, my dish wasn’t worth $20, it was gimmicky, but strip it down to its individual pieces, it was literally instant noodles, an egg, 5-6 mussels, and strips of onion in MSG soup, 3 pieces of fried wheat fritters, plain white rice, and 4 pieces of pickled veg……. realistically the total cost of the dish at most was $5? But hey, it’s the city and rent is expensive and staffing is ex-y as well).

In conclusion, Byul Bam is a solid little Korean restaurant, there are meals for each price point, and if you’re willing to try something a little bit different from your usual Korean favs, you’ll find it here! Except for tteokbokki. The search continues………

Byul Bam- Friday 28 June (3.5 Stars)

73 Liverpool Street, Sydney

Mon-Sun 11am – 4am

Jangpo Korean Pocha & Bistro- Sydney CBD

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.

Chicken V- Sydney CBD

Remember Hawker? Malaysian street food which took Sydney by storm, oh say…4 years ago? Good…so now you have a point of reference in where Chicken V is situated, as Chicken V now stands where Hawker used to be. Sydney trends? ‘One day you’re in, the next day you’re out!

A common complaint people have of Korean Fried Chicken joints, is the inability to order smaller servings of Chicken. Thus when dining in a small group you inevitably end up only trying a flavour or two, or at worse end up having 10 big pieces of chicken each, all of the same flavour- leaving you with no appetite or stomach space to try anything else. Boring!

But Chicken V solves this first world problem! Let me introduce to you their ‘9 Sampler’, offering to you all 9 flavours in moderation, so that in one sitting you can try every flavour on offer! Imagine that, it’ll be like going to Gelato Messina and trying all 40 flavours a teaspoon at a time; or going to Zumbo’s and having one of each Macaron flavour, one mini Macaron after another! Interesting concept hey? The premium for this experience, being $8 more than the cost of a full-size plate of one single flavour (that is around 25% more). **Note: They also do half-and-half.

The 9 flavours Chicken V had on their menu were: Crazy hot, Traditional, Honey butter, Curry, Soy, Seasoned, Onion, Shallot, and Snow flake.

And as we waited for our food, we took in the décor of the restaurant. There was a Spiderman soft toy dangling from the ceiling, a poster of the green Hulk on one wall, and if you can read Korean sub-titles you could fully immerse yourself in the Marvel movie which was being shown (muted) on the flat screens (this arvo it was Ant-Man). So that was a little bit quirky and different. And we also enjoyed the Korean pop-playlist, one artist sounded like a Korean Ed Sheeran. Haaha. Although the tables were a bit squishy, they were set for four and we had to reposition the wooden stools which we weren’t using, to give ourselves some more space around the table.

When our KFC arrived, the trays (there were three) took up almost the entire table. And to wash it all down, we tried one of their fruit beers, opting for the pomegranate flavour.

Why I was so excited (and you can tell from my re-telling), was that we’ve eaten a fair share of our KFC over the years, but we’ve still never tried Honey Butter, Curry, “Seasoned”, nor Onion, so given that the Sampler offered us between 5-8 pieces of each flavour, thus at a minimum we had 50 pieces of chicken shared between 2. Woohoo! Before you accuse me of being a glutton, each piece was sized just right to fit whole into your mouth. Picture irregular shaped chicken nugs, or large pieces of popcorn chicken. Thus the crunchy batter ratio to tender moist chicken flesh was high, which meant more crunch per munch, and no bones! Yay!

The stand-out flavours for us were Curry, Onion, Snow flake, and Crazy hot…. Crazy hot because it was pretty crazy hot! If you’re familiar with your usual KFC offerings, you can picture the fried chicken coated in a thick layer of sauce where the entire piece of fried chicken was probably dipped in a vat of sauce. But at Chicken V, each flavour had the same base fried batter, but instead only drizzling the different sauces onto the cooked fried chicken. Thus on the positive side, each morsel of chicken was crunchy right through to the last piece we consumed like an hour after we first started. But on the flip side, the flavours weren’t as intense as other KFC joints, that being a good thing, as even just a drizzle of the Crazy hot sauce was enough to initiate a chilli-induced runny nose. **Note, if the majority of your group wanted chicken, but you felt like something else than fried bird, don’t despair as they also serve ramen, stews, stone pots, and hot plates. +Pay cash and get $2 off the bill.

Our end verdict, 3.5 stars (1.5 star on the napkin test = box of cheap facial tissues), we loved the fact that we were able to ‘eat the entire KFC board’ in one sitting, however it didn’t have the same explosion of flavours as Sparrow’s Mill or Red pepper (our benchmark for KFC). But I can see the venue’s appeal as a Uni crowd’s hang-out, with fried chicken, beers, good music and front row seats to some Marvel flicks! Pretty good combo hey? Ah, to be young again…

Chicken V- Sunday 7 October 

PH: (02) 9267 5401

345B -353 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Sun 11.30pm – 1am

Basax Korean Chicken and Dining- Haymarket

I love it when food takes you back down memory lane! I remember as kids we used to have fast-food once a week (after evening music lessons)and I remember when KFC first introduced their whole roasted chicken, and thereafter my parents never bought us Colonel Sander’s secret herbs and spices deep fried chicken anymore, but preferred this healthier option.

So is this what Basax Korean Chicken and Dining is doing to the Sydney Korean Fried Chicken scene? Creating a behavioural change from deep-fried to baked chicken goodness?

Standing out from their competitors, Basax is offering an entire menu of baked-not-fried Korean chicken, and I have to say it captures 95% of all that is good about KFC, but without all the unhealthiness of deep fried food.

Today we opted for their Basax signature baked chicken with their secret seasoning, with 2 types of dipping sauce, and also ordered the Spicy tofu stew with seafood.

As we waited for our food, we took in the restaurant’s ambience which was located in a smaller space but gave off a very modern and relaxed vibe, from the yellow schemed lounges and yellow ceilings, the Andy Warhol-esque artwork, and mellow K-pop. The cutlery was neatly placed in your stainless steel bone collection bucket; the cups and bowls were cute conical implements, although the “napkin test” only returned 2 stars as it was pretty thin and small, considering the type of food you were going to devour was more likely than not going to be eaten with your hands.

We were pleasantly surprised to be served the complementary Korean sides (although it wasn’t mentioned on the menu), so we nibbled away at our kimchi, seaweed salad, crunchy noodles in mayo, and egg omelette, until our Spicy tofu stew with seafood arrived. The pot contained silken tofu, egg, squid, prawns and clams. It wasn’t too spicy but just nice and tasty.

And when the star of our meal arrived, the serving platter on which it arrived rightfully took up the majority of our table space. The whole baked chicken on the bone was perfect, each piece of chicken was coated in a light batter which was baked to a golden crisp, and because it was baked it wasn’t oily, but the outer coating was nice and dry, and the chicken inside was truly tender and juicy. Nice, nice, nice, nice! The secret seasoning was subtle, so that you couldn’t work out what was the predominant spice, but it just left a nice tingle in your mouth, and if you wanted a stronger taste, you just had to dip your chicken into one of the two sauces, the creamy orange coloured one was like a sweet mayo, while the darker sauce was like a BBQ sauce, with a hint of spice to it.

So our first experience of Korean baked chicken was a memorable one, for it’s perfectly tender flesh and crispy outer coating thus justifying a 5/5 rating from us (our first 5/5 restaurant rating), and because of its healthier nature, I’m considering bringing my parents here, when they would otherwise baulk at the idea of deep fried chicken at their age. So we’ll definitely be back with family and/or friends, so we can try more of their BKC flavours and try their waffle fries which looked delish!  

Basax Korean Chicken and Dining – Saturday 22 September 

PH: (02) 8880 5543

415 Pitt Street, Haymarket NSW

Mon-Sun 11.45am – 10pm