2/1 George St
North Strathfield, NSW 2137
Like the next person, I love a good freebie. Nothing gets a restaurant into my good books like a quality serve of bread and butter, or a complimentary nibble served before a meal. And one thing that completely won me over in Korea was the generous varieties of free banchan that came with free refills, or better still, the self-serve station at the airport where I totally gorged myself on pickles and fish cakes.
Being used to Melbourne’s banchan situation – that’s to say, 2-3 small dishes with each meal – I was already rather impressed with Sydney’s offerings, which usually ranges between 3-5 options. But when I heard about Meyongdong Korean Restaurant, my mind was completely blown. 12 banchan with every meal? It seemed way too good to be true. Yet it was no hoax, and there was no catch – it really was just banchan heaven brought to earth.
Having heard horror stories about the lines that form even on a weeknight, I opted for a very early dinner at 5:15pm. We arrived to a half-full restaurant, but it quickly filled up over the next 20 minutes until the entire space was heaving with large clusters of families and friends, with more waiting in the entryway for their turn. The group-oriented nature of Myeongdong was reflected both in the setup of the restaurant and the menu – not only are all the tables for groups of 4 or more, most of the dishes on the menu are also designed to share.
Despite it not having been very busy when we arrived, service was inexcusably patchy. The call button on each table seemed to be routinely ignored, and it was only by practically tackling a waiter that we managed to get our order taken. It was another 10-minute wait for banchan after that, but once the boggling array of colourful side dishes came out, I was feeling rather more forgiving.
There were so many options that I didn’t know where to start. The classics were of course all there – kimchi, bean sprouts in sesame oil, fish cakes – but there were also many lesser-seen options. My particular favourites were the chunks of potato glazed in a sweet and spicy sauce, a refreshingly crunchy zucchini kimchi, and a fragrant dish of marinated eggplant.
Best of all, everything came served on generously sized plates, meaning that there was more than enough for everyone to have a decent serve of each. They apparently also offered free refills, but I found that we didn’t really need it.
I had heard amazing things about the Spicy Pork Bone Soup ($17), and sure enough, you’ll find it on most tables here. Piled ridiculously high in the bubbling pot, the pork bones were actually satisfyingly meaty, providing a good serve of tender meat even for those who don’t like to pick the bones clean. Despite reviews promising that it was ‘unusually spicy’, I actually found this to be rather tame. But that’s not a bad thing – in fact, the mildness meant that you could really taste the rich meatiness of the broth, and to have a few good sips without the spices becoming overwhelming.
Compared to the pork bone soup, the appearance of the Premium Beef Rib Soup ($18) was distinctly underwhelming. Yet flavour-wise, it was more than a match. Hiding under the clear stock were three generous beef ribs, cooked until the meat literally fell off the bone. Unctuously tender and full of big, beef flavours, the meat held its own even without any accompaniments, though it was undoubtedly improved by the complimentary side of rice, and of course, the variety of banchan.
I have a small, and slightly embarrassed confession to make – I wasn’t as impressed with this meal as I had expected to be, but that was no one’s fault but my own. I was so excited by the prospect of a near-endless parade of banchan that I had hyped up the entire experience in my head to unattainable levels, conveniently forgetting that they are still, after all, only side dishes. But with that said (and my expectations readjusted), this was still one of the better Korean meals I’ve had – all the food was on-point, and the banchan was of course unparalleled. My single gripe would be that due to the group-oriented nature of the menu, many of the more interesting dishes are too impractical to be shared between two. But once again, that’s no one’s fault but my own.
Rating: 13.5/20 – all my fault.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.