“I love ju. Anju ... anju, too.” These are the words you might slur into your mates' ears after a few too many hours inside the city's newest Korean restaurant. Whereas most places match alcohol with food, Anju does things the other way around.
“Anju is the Korean word for tapas – food you consume with alcohol," explains owner Young Choi. He's been living in Melbourne for 13 years, keenly watching the rise of his native cuisine. But, he says, "When I go to the Korean restaurants, they're all the same; barbecue, that kind of thing."
Such was his desire to showcase a different side of Korean food that, despite a career spent selling jewellery and handbags, Choi opened his own restaurant. His initial concept was based entirely on fusion; Spanish, Mexican, Japanese. But after a while, patrons at the sharp, monochromatic eatery started asking after traditional fare. So a split menu was devised.
Now, visitors can enjoy juicy bulgogi pork sliders alongside bibimbap, or kimchi with a side of barbequed, Mamasita-esque corn. "The thing is,” Choi says, “the way we make fusion food, is we still use the old Korean ingredients."
Booze, of course, is nearly mandatory in this salty, spicy environment. And there's plenty to choose from, ranging from two-litre servings of Little Creatures, to pomegranate, quince and strawberry cocktails made with makgeolli, a beer-like drink derived from rice and wheat. And when the weather comes good again, slushy, freezer-prepared shots of soju (“Korean vodka”) are sure to be a hit.
It sounds more like a bar; an idea reinforced by the venue's lines of tall stools. “At this stage, we're just concentrating on being a restaurant,” Choi says. “But later this year we'll open a bar upstairs with very traditional food. And street food, too.”
Anju Bar & Restaurant
18 Little La Trobe Street, Melbourne
Mon to Thu: 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-11pm
Fri: 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-late