51 A'Beckett Street, Melbourne (map)
Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat
From about Little Lonsdale Street in the CBD to Victoria Street in North Melbourne, the Queen Victoria Market district is increasingly becoming Melbourne's Little Korea with a swag of great little student-packed restaurants and cafes where you can bibimbap to your heart's content.
The fabulous H & F introduced me to their favourite of these restaurants a few Fridays ago, after we'd been along to the kozyndan exhibition opening at Outré. Darac is casual and friendly, with a loft-like interior dotted with artwork and knick-knacks. Although they don't do Korean BBQ, there are plenty of grilled and unusual dishes on the Korean/Japanese menu that caught our eyes as F and I necked beers and H drank a cocktail that tasted exactly like an alcoholic lemonade spider.
Foodwise, we started with the pork shabushabu salad (poached pork belly and green salad with a sesame dressing, $11) and the Korean hamburger steak ($16) which was flame grilled and served with a spicy sauce. Both cracking dishes, particularly the delicate shavings of tender pork belly.
Next we ordered one of the grilled sashimi sets ($21), the one with salmon and soured mackerel. Oh yeah, and the sashimi was grilled before our eyes by a waitress wielding a blowtorch. For all the theatre, we were underwhelmed by the dish (H in particular disliked the texture of the mackerel), and debated whether or not the grilling disqualified it from the definition of "sashimi".
We also ordered a serve of the cheese fire chicken ($16). Buldak (fire chicken) consists of pieces of boneless chicken which are marinated in chilli sauce and seared. This process is repeated several times with several layers of chilli sauce until the dish is insanely spicy. It's a recent trend in Korean cuisine and particularly popular with students. Incongruously, the chicken was covered with grilled mozzarella cheese as though it were American pizza. It sounded all kinds of Wrongtown, but the cheese turned out to be just what the dish needed - not for the faint-hearted, but strangely addictive. I'd totally order it again, though it feels like the sort of dish best enjoyed drunk.
One dish I'm not certain I can brave though is the "beondegi tang". It was the only dish on the menu that didn't have an English translation, so naturally our curiosity was piqued. Upon our inquiry, our sweet waitress gave a timid giggle and said it wasn't for foreign people. When we pressed her, she said it was "difficult to explain in English... it is... the flying people?"
We remained uncomprehending, so a waiter came over to help her out. "Oh, it's um... beef. We don't have it today." His evasive tone aroused our suspicions so we turned to the internet for enlightenment, where we discovered that beondegi tang is in fact stewed silkworm pupae soup. Which explains why they don't translate it for round-eyes. Who's game to try it with me??