I never knew Koreantown existed until last night. Comic corners, gadget stores and Asian grocers line this end of Pitt Street, Sydney.
After hopping off at Town Hall station, we walked straight into another district, another country, without even noticing. On our hungry hunt to find the infamous Korean BBQ restaurant O Bal Tan, my partner and I became lost and very frustrated even with the aid of our mobile GPS. Sure, Pitt Street is as easy to navigate as a straight line but not when looking for this tiny treasure. After almost giving up, we stumbled upon number 363. But, where was 363A? In this apartment block?
Half the dining experience of O Bal Tan is finding it. After entering the building, we happened upon a dingey alleyway with a young crowd of city-goers mingling. We make our way in to the restaurant with hesitance. Don't be put off by the lack of decor and warehouse style, once you're led upstairs by a friendly waiter, you'll change your mind. Alas, the upstairs of this restaurant is lined with lacquered timber floorboards and brick-clad walls creating a warming interior.
You'll first be intrigued by the hanging smoke ducts drawn from the ceiling which are worth a buck or a million. They help extract the smoke as you cook your own meat over charcoal ignited from the centre of each table. This system doesn't take away from the atmosphere of the venue, but in fact adds to it. It makes the traditional Korean BBQ sophisticated and as usual, exciting.
A bunch of young waiters gather around the top of the stairs, taking note of when diners are ready to order, finish, pay etc. We make our order of marinated pork ribs and beef. The waiters instantly arrive at our table with our raw choices and an extensive variety of condiments. It can be a little daunting if you're not used to eating Asian cuisine like me, but it's all part of the experience.
The meat was particularly tender and the marinade was as rich as it should be while the pan-fried dumplings we ordered managed to balance the traditional softer texture with crunch, as well as having tang and edge.
For a total of $52.50 for two meats, dumplings and a beverage, you won't be disappointed. Don't bother so much if you're going for something on the intimate side, it can get a little loud with the hissing of coals and echoing chatter. But if you're up for something fast, a little fun and a very satisfying meal, O Bal Tang may be for you (we were in and out within 40 minutes).
Find O Bal Tan at 363A Pitt Street, Sydney.