Genesin Studio’s baby-blue-tiled fit-out has had eyes widening since Ban Ban opened on Franklin Street last week.
The small, casual diner channels the ubiquitous chimaek (a portmanteau of “chicken” and the Korean word for beer, “maekju”) shops found in South Korea. It’s serving the tried and tested union of fried chicken and cold beer.
Owners Darren Song and Ernest Koong sold 150 birds in the first four days. And demand dwarfed supply. “We had to turn away a lot of walk-ins because we just didn’t have enough chicken,” Song tells Broadsheet.
He’s not kidding. When we stop by in a group of four on Ban Ban's first Saturday night we’re told it’s a two-and-a-half-hour wait. We learn from this, book ahead and re-visit on Monday. And the place is just as packed. But does the food live up to the hype?
Fried chicken is culture-specific. “American-style is often just Buffalo wings or buttermilk fried chicken that only uses the thigh,” Song says. “They never use the whole chicken, like Koreans, so you don’t get the experience of eating different cuts.”
When Song says the recipe is a secret, he means it. He and Koong mix and pre-pack the marinade (which the chicken soaks in overnight), coating and sauces. “Even [head chef Kelly Jeon] doesn’t know exactly what’s in them,” he says.
A whole South Australian-grown bird is the minimum serve, so order accordingly. Expect 14 piping hot pieces piled up and dripping in your sauce(s) of choice: hot and crunchy, “secret”, sweet and spicy, or soy-garlic. “In Korea you don’t normally get just one sauce, you get two,” says Song. Follow suit by marking ban ban – the diner’s namesake style – on your order form. It translates to “half and half” in Korean.
We choose “secret” and soy-garlic. Even after being tossed in sauce the chicken’s coating retains its crunch. Tear to expose a hyper-succulent piece of meat. Repeat.
There’s nothing elegant about eating meat off the bone, but that’s half the fun. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder with a restaurant-full of others doing the same (although boneless KFC is available). Mop up with Ban Ban-branded wipes.
Bound to be more divisive is the Panko-crumbed, deep-fried Spam fries with Sriracha mayonnaise. Yes, Spam. Koong tried a similar reimagining of the wartime ration in Southeast Asia. The ultra-crisp coating and slightly spicy mayonnaise marry surprisingly well if you forget what you’re eating. Umami fries with teriyaki sauce and bonito flakes are a non-canned (and bestselling, Song says) alternative.
You can also order a selection of “larger dishes” such as kimchi stew, fishcake soup and seafood pancake with dipping sauce.
The now-oil-spattered tiles beneath our pastel-pink plates, imported from the Netherlands, caused a lengthy opening delay. The curved, three-dimensional Dtiles were custom-made, handpainted and take corners with finesse.
Coopers pale and session ales flow on tap, and Korean beers Hite and Cass lead a bottled list to round out the chimaek’s offering.
Korean liquors such as soju and makgeolli (a lightly sparkling traditional rice wine) feature in “spin-offs” of traditional cocktails. The Sokult blends Yakult and soju in a rare opportunity to get a buzz and maintain gut health simultaneously.
145 Franklin Street, Adelaide
Mon to Thu 5pm–10pm
Fri 11.30am–2.30pm, 5pm–11pm