You know you’re getting the real deal when the wait staff struggle to understand your English!
When eating in a new city we make it our mission to try and discover the hidden gem that even locals have never heard of. That tiny hole-in-the-wall that only opens between 10:41pm and 1:08am. That bar with a narrow non-descript door out front, but filled with awesome artworks and a cocktail menu to die for…
More often than not we fail. This time though, we picked a massive Melbourne winner!
Walking past the front door of Joo Mak at the northern end of Swanston Street, you would have no idea that it was even there. Squeezed in between what looked like a nightclub and a vacant piece of office floorspace, the front door and surrounding walls give absolutely no indication whatsoever that there is a Korean restaurant in the building!
If anything, judging by the signage you’d think you’re walking into a pagan healing temple or something…
As we stepped inside I was seriously starting to doubt that we’d written down the wrong address…until I looked down the stairs and noticed the big sign on the wall, proudly stating that this was indeed the entry to Joo Mak!
A stairway to culinary heaven…or perhaps a night we would live to regret?
As we turned the corner we were confronted by a very solid timber door that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1920s prohibition-era den of sin. Were we going to have to knock three times and give the password? What were we getting ourselves into…
We opened the door and immediately knew that we were in the right place! Tasty aromas wafted through the open doorway while the buzz of happy diners washed over our ears.
Thankfully we had booked a table because it looked extremely busy (another good indicator of a great restaurant, as this was on a Monday!).
The layout of Joo Mak is pretty cool, consisting of lots of small and large booths along the walls. Walking past the ‘welcome’ wall-o-photos we scored ourselves a very cosy little two-seater!
Unlike other ‘normal’ restaurants in Australia, at Joo Mak they approach things a little differently. Instead of playing the waiting game with the wait staff…
0-5mins – Occasional wistful glances
6-10mins – Fruitless attempts at eye contact
11-15min – Pointed glares
16-20min - Maniacal eyes like lasers, in tandem with an all out telepathic assault in an attempt to get some service…
At Joo Mak they put the control in your hands…literally! See that big red button on the wall in the photo above? That’s the service button. Ready to order? Push the button. Feel like another dish or three? Push the button.
So simple, yet so good! And they really did pay attention to it. Every time we pressed it we had someone at our table within a couple of minutes at the most.
The menu at Joo Mak is fairly diverse, and while I haven’t been to Korea the menu had an authentic feel to it.
First up was an oddity that Karen was very keen to try. I’m not a big fan of milk based alcoholic drinks, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try some bowls of fruity/milky rice wine (Soju)!! I was quite surprised at how good it was.
Together with the rice wine we ordered a kimchi pancake, which came with a spicy dipping sauce, kimchi, soy beans and a small pasta. The pancake was a lot larger than we expected and tasted great!
Press the button, press the button!!!
We then ordered a dish that’s even more left-field than you’re average Korean meal…pan fried chicken giblets!!!
I was a little apprehensive, as I have had some pretty rank offal in the past…but this was absolutely sensational! Cooked to perfection, these tiny morsels were crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and full of great flavour!
To finish off with we had to try the traditional Korean dish known as bulgogi. I think this translates to ‘fire meat’ in English, a reference to the way in which the meat is typically cooked on a griddle or brazier (as opposed to a brassiere…).
Again, this dish was delicious and was the best of the night. The meat was so tender and tasty, I could have eaten bowl upon bowl…
With a massive exhalation, we both leaned back, patted our distended bellies and declared the night a success!
Not only had we had a good feed, but we had succeeded in discovering one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets!
Taste – 4/5
Coffee – NA
Menu – 4/5
Atmosphere – 5/5
Service – 5/5
Value – 5/5
Overall – 4.5/5