After my mum got hooked by Livingsocial’s Belgian Beer Cafe 5 course beer tasting dinner deal around a year ago, she’s been getting vouchers on a regular bases from these type of sites. I have a love-hate relationship with these vouchers. I love the surprise of going to somewhere I’ve never been before. I hate it when the restaurant is subpar and we are stuck with a less than satisfactory dining experience. Now I have a new plan of attack with them. Whenever mum plans to buy a voucher, I go on Urbanspoon to check ratings first. How smart am I? Not really, should really have thought up this sooner. Anyway, Yeonga had an 89% rating on Urbanspoon so I gave mum the green light to book us into a $45 seven course dinner for two.
A slight remark about the restaurants who advertise on these type of sites. I’ve seen multiple complaints from diners about being treated differently when they go into the restaurants with these vouchers. I really don’t get this. Yes, I know the restaurant makes very little, if any money from customers who come with vouchers. However, isn’t advertising the sole purpose? If you give your customers an uncomfortable experience, you not only failed to advertise, you have also earned yourself a bad reputation.
Anyway, back to Yeonga. Yeonga is located just near Victoria Market. The day mum and I visited, Melbourne was pouring with rain and we were quite lucky to find a parking spot just opposite the restaurant. The waiting staff at the restaurant spoke English with a fairly heavy Korean accent. This can make communication a little bit difficult, but if you listen carefully and speak slowly, everything should be fine.
I love how the whole place is divided up into little compartments by bamboo curtains. It just adds some privacy and that little bit more intimacy with your dining companions, which I really enjoy. Also, there is a big, red button on each table for calling the waiting staff. It’s very smart and very convenient, since I always seem to have trouble flagging down waiting staff at restaurants.
I was a little uncomfortable at describing this course as an appetizer platter. Because these are just banchan (side-dishes), which are an integral part of Korean cuisine, to be eaten accompanying your meal, not solely just at the start. It’s probably also due to the fact that my boyfriend has drilled into me that these should be free. The mashed potato was light and smooth, lightly flavoured with a herb dust on top. The pickled daikon was tangy, sweet and crispy, perfect for breaking up rich grilled meat during the meal. I feel a little uneasy commenting on the quality of Kimchi. There are a few reasons. One is that Korean people take their Kimchi very seriously. Two, I’m not very good at telling what good Kimchi is, because every time I think Kimchi tastes okay, my boyfriend always says they are bad or mediocre. I trust his opinion, since he has eaten more Kimchi than I ever have. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there to dine with us, so I can’t tell you how good these are. All I can say is, they tasted refreshing and went nicely with my steamed rice.
This salad was very ordinary. Probably something I’d whip at home for a light dinner. Mixed salad with capsicum and cucumber all tossed through some mayo; topped with what appears to be small silvers of chicken schnitzel, you can find in the frozen aisle of your supermarket. This salad came in handy when I was overwhelmed with too much protein, but I think it would have been a much better refresher if it were simply dressed with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Next, course 3-6 came all at once.
This soup was very punchy and salty with Korean miso, which is quite a bit stronger than the Japanese version. I liked ladling the soup a tablespoon at a time and mixing it with my rice. It was very warm and comforting on such a rainy night.
The heavyweight of Korean barbecue came next – the meat. We were instructed to grill the beef first, as a different grill plate must be used for the pork belly to prevent spluttering and reduce fire risk. I am very happy to report Yeonga uses coal for their barbecue. A lot of restaurants use gas or even electricity nowadays. I’m a big fan of using coal, because it adds an extra smokey flavour to the meat. The short rib fillet was lovely and tender; the marinade for the beef mix was nicely balanced, not overly sweet like a lot of Korean restaurants. For once in my life, I managed to not overcook the beef. Victory! We cooked the pork belly until the meat formed a flavoursome, crispy crust on the outside, while ribbons of fat made the meat extra moist and moreish.
Condiments of salt & pepper and ssamjang was ready to infuse themselves into the hot, sizzling meat straight from the grill. Ssamjang is basically a red, spicy mix of gochujang, doenjang, sesame oil, garlic, spring onions and other ingredients. A waitress came around and offered to squirt in your salt & pepper plate a little of what she claimed to be sesame oil. She didn’t lie, it certainly contained sesame oil, but it was also very sweet which stopped me from further dipping my meat into.
The last course was dessert. We were allowed to choose any item from the dessert menu, however that night the cheesecake wasn’t available. Since mum likes chocolate mousse, we chose the chocolate mud cup.
Actually we just assumed it was going to be chocolate mousse, but unfortunately for mum, it wasn’t. The consistency was closer to a chocolate cheesecake or chocolate ganache. The thick mud cup was rich and chocolatey, but had a strange taste of milo to it, which reminded me of Yogo. It has lead me to believe that either cocoa powder/poor quality chocolate was used instead of a good quality chocolate, which was a shame.
For $45, mum and I were very well fed and extremely full. We also enjoyed the general atmosphere of the restaurant and had a very comfortable dining experience. Would I return to Yeonga without a voucher? Hmm honestly, I’m not too sure, because I don’t actually go to Korean barbecue on my own volition. I think I will have a little further investigation of menu prices and if one day, out of the blue, I want to go out and eat Korean barbecue, I shall return.