Hwaro BBQ is located on Little Bourke Street. Dennis had stumbled across it one time and said the food was good. A previous attempt to go there without a booking meant we were left disappointed. This time, we smartened up and made a booking. Luckily we made the booking a bit earlier on in the week, as another friend tried to book and was told it was all full. After a confusion with the staff who had the booking name as Janice instead of Dennis, we were seated at a communal table that was separted by a bamboo curtain.
The interior is rather dim in lighting and spacious. Luckily, each table has its own lighting so its bright where you are eating. Otherwise, I can see a lot of fingers getting burnt on the BBQ. The BBQ at this place is better than every other Korean BBQ I've been to because it's an actual coal fired BBQ. A waiter wearing some strong gloves brings out a BBQ with flaming coals. It's really hot and you can definitely feel the heat from it. He then pulls down the extraction system to remove all the fumes. The extraction works very well, and we leave with the smell of BBQ meats in our clothes, but our hair and skin isn't all oily.
The menu is very simple, just a selection of meats, some soups to share and some side dishes. We decide on the meats and soup we want. We asked about the BBQ selection A and B and what those were. After some very confusing back and forth, we think that you can order 3 meat dishes for a slightly reduced price. Some of the waiters and waitresses seem to have very limited English. We resort to hand signals sometimes or they would call someone else over. We tell the waiter our order, which he doesn't write down. We end up getting the wrong meats, but weren't too fussed as all the meats were good.
First things to arrive is the Panchan. I love kimchi. I even made my own but found it too much hassle. Just go buy it from a Korean grocery and theirs is much better anyway. The kimchi here is very good. It's spicy enough but the marinated flavours just taste right, with enough sourness, saltiness and a hint of ginger. There are other panchan that we have never seen. There was the marinated bean shoots, that Dennis really like. The marinated onions, marinated spring onions and sugar coated soy beans were all different. There was also a bowl of complimentary sour soup to cleanse the palate. Patrick said it tasted like vinegar. However, when he retried it at the end of the meal, he said it was nice and took away some of that richness of the meats we had been eating. I totally agreed.
We ordered the Prime Beef (of which apparently only 3 pieces are obtained from a cow). It's the thinly sliced meat on the block in the far back. We also ordered Beef Ribs marinated in sweet sauce (right), Pork marinated in spicy sauce, Chilli Chicken but instead got Pork unmarinated. Finally we got the extra Chilli Chicken that we wanted, but it was the dish that pushed us over the edge. There was only three of us after all and we still had a soup and steamed rice.
The Pork Soup with Potato was quite spicy with the aromas of lots of herbs. With the flavours from the pork, it was a delicious soup that I had four bowls of. We all picked out the meat from the pork bones and put them into the soup, making for a very hearty soup.
Here we are cooking the meats on the BBQ. Despite our insistance that we cook our own meats to one waiter, every other waiter that walked past kept taking the tongs from us and started to help us cook it. Maybe that's how it works in Korea but it was a bit strange. Every time a waiter would stand there, we would stop talking. It's just not how we are used to dining. They all did a great job in keeping the meat from burning and cutting stuff from bones and into smaller pieces. The one time a waiter didn't come and do it, we ended up burning the pork. So it's probably a good thing, but maybe if they just come by less often. It was weird and we kept stop talking each time. Maybe if we got used to it, we would continue talking next time.
If you are going to eat Korean BBQ, this place is definitely the place to go. The ambience is good and service very attentive. Some other lame Korean BBQs aren't even run by Koreans (not that there is a problem with that) but the food doesn't taste as good in terms of the marinade and cooked on a gas hotplate. At A Ri Rang for example, they didn't even give us kimchi for free. At this place, we got 3 refills of kimchi.
The cost is good. For all the food that the three of us had, it woked out to $40 each which included a tip. I would go back to this place if I want to eat Korean BBQ.
Overall Rating: 15/20, Korean BBQ done at its best. Ambience and service is good.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.