For those in the know about Korean barbecue, going to a BBQ restaurant is just another dining out event. For those not familiar with this barbecue style it is a very entertaining and fun experience.
We tried the Ssam Korean barbecue in Newtown and really enjoyed it.
Newtown is a bohemian, chic Sydney suburb that boasts a huge number of eateries, lined up all along King Street.
So how did we end up in Ssam with so many choices around? Not sure but that was a very good impulse decision.
From the outside, the Ssam Korean BBQ looks like a takeaway shop, nothing spectacular. When you step inside you are taken aback by its rather tired look and start wondering why it is full of diners.
And then comes the experience, especially if you haven't tried it before. So we might be subjective here, those used to the Korean cuisine may have different views but for us the experience was really great.
Here we go.
If are not familiar with a Korean barbeque you would be looking puzzled at the steel tables with huge rangehoods above. At least that's what we did. Look puzzled.
They are not your usual tables, they are tables with built-in charcoal grills.
Table with charcoal grill in the middle
The waiter invited us to sit down and it didn't take long for him to understand we are newbies.
So in came the menu full of choices which were meat, meat and more meat. It was a barbecue shop, right?
Verbal instructions followed. We were supposed to choose the meats, cook them and eat them together with small bites of various side dishes.
The meat assortment included pork, beef, chicken, squid, prawns. For someone who didn't know what to choose we went for the banquet menu. Smaller portions but larger variety so you end up tasting a bit of everything.
Once we were seated the cook came in carrying a basket full of hot coals and sat it in the middle of the table, then covered it with a sparkling clean grill plate. It looked as if no one had cooked on it before. Very inviting.
Soon small plates with radish, kimchi, bean paste, bamboo sprouts, pickled vegetables, chilli sauce, plus rice bowls topped our table.
A basket of lettuce leaves followed and then a plate with thin chicken fillets, another one with squid and two more with marinated pork cuts and the famous (...we learnt) bulgogi, which are fresh cuts of beef marinated in soy sauce and other traditional ingredients. Plus tongs, scissors and a basting brush.
Cutting the squid
We looked around and saw everyone busy turning the meats on the grill and suddenly remembered the instructions of the waiter: you have to bother cooking it. So bother we did.
The chicken fillets were on the grill waiting to be glazed with the chilli sauce, which we forgot to do.
The waiter didn't need any other hints that there were no connoisseurs around the table so he came and grilled the chicken for us, cut it into pieces and popped the squid on the grill, while bringing us up to speed with how to savour the lot.
To eat you are supposed to take one of the crispy lettuce leaves, spread a thin layer of the sticky rice, add the meat and bean paste and then manoeuvre the chop sticks around the bowls of kimchi, radish and bamboo shoots.
Once we got into the mood and jumped on the band wagon, the meal was divine.
Or was it just because it was a first for us?
Don't know but if you are not used to Korean barbecue we highly recommend this restaurant. It is excellent value.