Monday, November 15, 2010

Woo Ga

OK, I think I made a bad call.  Hyeung Jae in Hopkins St, aka "the new Korean BBQ place", is not that great after all.  I took a group of friends there having raved about it and we were all sorely disappointed.  Yes, the pork belly was good, but the portions were smaller, the seafood pancake mushy and gritty, the bulgogi soggy and sweet and the salad underdressed.  Maybe it was just that night but I really am sorry if I sent you there on a fool's errand.  Anyway, I have the cure for all your Korean BBQ cravings - Woo Ga in West Melbourne!

Woo Ga 001

I love the whole thing in Melbourne where we love to make "little" things - kind of like our revolt against the rest of Australia's obsession with big things.  Three restaurants of one ethnicity or cuisine and suddenly a strip is "Little Athens" or "Little Tokyo".  Following this logic, "Little Seoul" is along Victoria Street in West Melbourne, facing the Queen Vic Market and under the shadow of the tall city buildings beyond.

Woo Ga 004

Wooga is all wood inside, with chunky tables with dark centres scarred from innumerable charcoal braziers being placed on top.  Its specialty, you see, is Korean BBQ which is traditionally cooked semi-DIY-style at your table.  Despite going on a Monday night it was packed.

Woo Ga 014

We chose a banquet that come with marinated topside, beef brisket and a butterflied beef rib ($39).  A great stone bowl of real charcoal is placed in the middle of the table, radiating warmth, and a removable grill placed over the top.  The staff expertly place the meat atop the coals for you and any smoke is sucked up the retractable, practical yet attractive copper flue that hovers above each table.

Woo Ga 017

One thing I love about Korean BBQ is the little archipelago of side dishes you can flavour-hop between while waiting for your meat to be done.  Here we have sweet, tangy pickled onions that had a slightly hot and spicy onion kick in the tail; a riotously crunchy slaw with a light sesame and vinegar dressing; the most fabulous kim chi, fermented cabbage in a mild yet flavoursome chilli sauce; and a warm salad of gently wilted bean sprouts tossed with sesame.  As is traditional, when finished all of the dishes will be refilled ad infinitum.

Woo Ga 016

When the meat is done, you can dip it in either this Korean bean sauce (somewhat like hoi sin but with a much less cloying flavour) or sesame oil mixed with a little minced garlic and pepper.  Atop a little rice, a bit of Wooga's grilled beef is a little slice of heaven.  I think my favourite was the marinated topside, having the right amount of weight to undergo enough grilling to have both caramelised exterior, tender interior and plenty of real beefy flavour.  The thin butterflied beef rib was very good too, and the wafer-thin brisket was tasty but needed careful attention it did not overcook.

Woo Ga 019

Also included in our banquet was the "bean paste soup" - a rich, tasty, miso-esque broth with a little of that mild chilli that coated the kim chi, loaded with diced silken tofu, potato, zucchini, onion and spring onion.  Miso with benefits!

Woo Ga 021

What a lovely, social, interactive way to enjoy a meal.  It was such a step up from Hyeung Jae.  We were delighted too to get the bill and find out that it had been $39 for the entire meal rather than $39 each.  Awesome value!  The staff were delightful, there was cool jazz piano playing, and it was a buzz to walk out the door and see the city right there.  The city skyline - that's a big thing I rate wholeheartedly.

Wooga Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wooga/Woo Ga
270 Victoria Street, West Melbourne (map)
Phone:  9328 1221

Hours:  Mon-Fri 5.30pm-10.30pm, Sat & Sun noon - 3pm

Wheelchair Accessibility
Door:  Multiple steps to enter
Layout:  Somewhat roomy; could accommodate
Bathroom:  Somewhat inaccessible


  1. I been here too. it was quite good!

    "Archipelago of side dishes" - Love it! :D

  2. I haven't experienced much Korean food, is it similar to Malaysian?

  3. We just got back home from Woo Ga SO DELICIOUS :) We had a disastrous visit to Hyeung Jae a couple of weeks ago (the cigarette smoke out the front managed to out-do the grill smell inside topped off with a side of screaming child - we walked out before we ordered) we were still craving korean but couldn't decide where to go. Very tempted to get a bigger group to try some more dishes :)

  4. Bryan, thank you!

    MRM, no, it's really different. Korean food is quite plain compared to Malaysian and has just a few main flavourings such as sesame oil and mild chilli. The quality (or not!) of the ingredients themselves really stands out. Malaysian food is arguably more complex with its use of intricate spice pastes and sambals. Some of its main ingredients are belachan or shrimp paste and coconut milk. I am far from an expert on both cuisines though!

    Kat, I am SO glad!!! Perhaps it was fate that decreed you missed out on a meal at Hyeung Jae. I know what you mean about the bigger group - that's my only gripe I should have mentioned about Woo Ga, that the banquets are only available in the set portions (2-3 people, 4-5 people etc) rather than you being able to choose which one you like and just pay per head.

  5. I have come across a Japanese restaurant. Japanese-owned, serving AUTHENTIC, delicious food. Arguably one of the best in Melbourne... Chiba Japanese Restaurant, Moonee Ponds. Really worth the visit!

  6. Yeap. Love this place too. Very affordable and tasty. Cheap night out.

  7. looks great Lauren, we love korean.. we eat just about once a week... and in fact can you believe Cabramatta now has a korean restaurant too!

  8. So so happy to have stumbled across your blog. It's fantastic! I'm going to have to start working my way down the list. Hubby and I have gotten a bit lazy of late, just frequenting the usuals rather than discovering more.

    And I get so excited when I come across someone who has even heard of Maidstone, let alone finding out there's an authentic latin american cafe there! Great find!

  9. I have heard so much about this place...thanks for the wonderful review!

  10. Oh I've alwyas wanted to try this place. I've been quite obsessed with these Korean BBQs since coming back from Japan, they are really popular over there.

    I too went to Hyeung Jae in Hopkins St when it first opened. They didn't have the proper coal BBQs yet, so they used gas hotplates, which was mistake #1. To my horror they greased up the plate with an astronomical amount of butter and started 'frying' up the pork belly and veges. All I could taste was the butter ... Also they seemed to have a very limited menu.

    So far the winner for me is Dae Jang Geum on the corner of Swanston and Lt Bourke (next to ANZ). For $20 a head which included a beer each, I was absolutely full. I thought it was much better than Hwaro (King/Lt Bourke) recommended and raved by friends - I ended up getting a cheeseburger on the way home.

    - Monica

  11. Anon, thanks for the tip about Chiba! That sounds fantastic. I think it is opposite Nabiha which is a fabulous cafe in the most incongruous location.

    Penny, it is great isn't it and so reasonably priced!

    Thang, I really love Korean - I don't know that much about it compared to Vietnamese (of which I still really don't know that much!) but I like what I have had. Simple flavours and very comforting food.

    mooimadeit, we are fellow POW-ers it seems! I know R whose house you blitzed recently through POW and also through the Melbourne craft scene. Will look out for you at an event soon!

    3 hungry tummies, thanks for stopping by! I absolutely love your blog - the best recipes - you have taught me so much about Malaysian and real Asian cooking in general.

    Monica, heh heh, the after-dinner cheeseburger. I was going to take a picture for this post of my toast in the toaster when I got home and had to have another dinner! Thanks for the tip of Dae Jang Geum in the city. It's good to hear from someone who has deeper experience of Korean BBQ than me.

  12. I'm curious what the Korean restaurant on Gordon Street is like. It's been there for about a year now, but haven't mustered the will (blame the 1 year old) to visit yet.

  13. I retract my last comment about Dae Jang Geum. Woo Ga is the best Korean BBQ I've had. I've been back there about 4 times in the past 2 months. I found it to be alot better value and I really liked the set menus, they gave me a chance to sample some dishes I otherwise would not pick out from the menu.

    I rate the kim chi highly, slightly spicey and salty. Perfect to wash down with a beer!

  14. we had the "mixed veggies and sausages" hot pot. it was frankfurters, spam (spam!) with tofu, chinese cabbage, mushrooms, rice cakes, instant noodles and cheese (cheese! tasted like kraft) in a spicy slightly tomatoey broth. very ideal for winter. nicer if there were more vegies, but yummy enough.


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