Korean barbeque can be intimidating. When do you flip the meat? When do you take it off the heat? Wouldn’t it be easier if someone (or something) were there to help? Well that’s what Thomas Choi thought. His restaurant, Korean BBQ 1st, is the first restaurant in Sydney to bring micro-rotisserie-box cooking to the table.
It sounds like a cheap shot at novelty, but it’s not. In the centre of the mostly glass box is a perforated canister of flaming charcoals, flanked on either side by three removable rods. When the rods are loaded with meat and slid in they sit just next to the charcoal without touching it. Each skewer can be seen and turned from outside the box. Choi says the boxes allow the meat to keep the flavour of the charcoals while giving customers complete control over crispness and juiciness.
The box-cooking idea comes from mainland Korea where it got traction after appearing in a popular restaurant. Choi saw it when he was last in Korea. The rest of the menu shares the same philosophy, modern Korean food. Not fusion-modern, but representative of what’s popular in Korea now.
Choi’s most-proud menu entry is the fried chicken. It comes either crispy and sitting atop a lagoon of soy vinegar, or roundly doused in the house special sauce, a mix of Tasmanian honey, ginger, fresh garlic, Korean chilli powder and ox stock. Choi’s wife and business partner, Luccia, has her fried chicken with a beer. It’s called chimaek, a combination so outrageously popular in Korea there’s now hundreds of brands of chicken-beer companies that will deliver it to your door almost anywhere.
Lucia and Thomas are from Pusan, a city on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula known for its seafood. Seafood pancakes, fried with shallots and cabbage until a crunchy skin forms, are one of the city’s specialities. Korean BBQ 1st serves its crisp at the edge and gooey inside. The other Pusan dish on the menu is the incredibly delicious and textural beef tataki. Slender strips of raw meat are beautifully woven over fresh slices of pear. On top is a scattering of shallots and a single raw egg yolk. Forget about the prettiness, get your chopsticks in there and mix it about. Also worth noting is the Korean BBQ 1st kim chi. It comes straight from the kitchen of Choi’s 68-year-old mum.
Korean BBQ 1st
75 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 8937 0246
Mon to Fri 11.30am–2.30pm
Mon to Sun 5.30pm–11.30pm