Saturday, October 20
Darac Grill & Bar
After more than a year, I've finally revisited my favourite Korean restaurant. Please excuse me for grainy quality photos from the old camera, and my inability to remember details of the dishes from last year.
Location: 51 A'Beckett St, Melbourne - between Swanston and Elizabeth St. Darac is surprisingly inconspicuous and I've missed it on multiple occasions, despite knowing where it is.
Website: no website but a ton of information and reviews on urbanspoon
Price: we generally spend $15 to $20 per person for dinner. See full menu below:
Sides - my friend was complaining that they didn't serve the small sides (banchan) that usually accompany Korean meals. In the end we were given this plate of kimchi when he asked for sides.
Pork shabushabu sausage stew - $28 (medium, without rice), nicknamed Korean army stew (budae jjigae). We wondered whether this was a popular dish in the Korean army, but turns out that the dish originated after the time of the Korean war; out of limited supplies, Koreans created a fusion between traditional flavours and ingredients given by the US army, such as sausages and spam.
Every time I have this, I love the spicy, rich flavours of the stew, and how deliciously it accompanies a plain bowl of rice. On the bottom of the pot, there is a generous mound of hot pepper paste for the soup base (gochujang - a sweetish, red chilli, fermented bean paste commonly used in Korean dishes and readily available at Asian groceries). As you can see, other ingredients included a variety of sausages and spam, macaroni, soft tofu, kimchi, zucchini, rice cakes, Chinese cabbage and cheese. I'm no fan of plastic cheese or spam, but they work really well to add flavour to this stew. The pork shabushabu (thinly sliced marbled pork) was tender and juicy, yum.
Seafood sausage stew - this is the large sized pot for $36, not sure if it's that much bigger!
Prawn salad - $9 "deep fried 3 prawns, green salad with sweet chilli sauce".
Crab meat salad - $8 "crab meat on green salad with sweet spicy dressing".
Grilled sashimi set 1 - $22 "seared fillets of salmon and eel sashimi prepared on the table". Cool flame torch! Doesn't this remind you of the Bunsen burners in high school science labs?
Seafood kimchi pancake - $15 "pancake comprising of fresh seafood pan fried over a bed of kimchi and spring onion". I love Korean pancakes (pajeon) - usually the base comes with a light batter, which becomes soft and crispy when pan fried, and lots of spring onions or chives.
Isn't it interesting how similar dishes can taste so distinct? For example, 葱油饼 (scallion pancake) in Chinese cuisine uses similar ingredients but the flour is made into a dough, which makes the pancakes stiffer. Or for お好み焼き (okonomiyaki) in Japanese cuisine, flour and cabbage are used to create a pancake base, seafood or other ingredients are layered in, and the okonomiyaki is topped with a distinct taste of mayonnaise, a BBQ-like sauce, and bonito flakes.
Bibimbab - $14 "assorted vegetables, egg and selected item on rice in a hot stone pot served with Korean chilli sauce". Can't remember whether this was chicken, pork or beef, oh well!
Bibimbap (or bibimbab, or a variety of other spellings) is one of the first Korean dish I got into, and is probably my default option at Korean restaurants. It's a simple idea, piling meat and various cooked vegetables on top of rice, completing the colours with a bright yellow egg in the centre and bright red chilli sauce. Simple, but it's delicious and I especially enjoy it in those hot stone bowls which keeps the dish hot for the whole meal, and makes the rice on the bottom dry and crispy. It's like the perfect fried rice, with plenty of what Chinese people call 锅巴 (scorched rice).
The interiors are typical of a Melbourne brunch cafe, with exposed interiors and cute but quirky decorations. For example, near the counter there is a moose head made of white carboard slices. Water was served in what looked like ceramic watering cans!
Rating: 4.5/5 always enjoy my meals here, the stew is heartwarming, and I like how the interior design is thoughtfully cute, warm and cozy. Not all items on the menu are really worth ordering though; for example the salads, or grilled sashimi sets are expensive for what they're worth. One of these days, I would love to try their $10 lunch menus too!
Special addition: one of the decorations Darac uses are instant film camera photos from groups of diners. During mum's "surprise" dinner for me last year, they took one for our group too; keeping one for themselves, and giving us the other copy.
To my friend who keeps insisting that my readers have requested a photo of me along with food pictures (which I know is untrue!) here is a deliberately unclear photo of myself and my fellow diners.