I loved living in Manchester. Despite the north of England’s reputation as a grim realm of dismal grey skies and endless rain it actually has many highly redeeming qualities. These include a vibrant nightlife scene, brilliant people with fantastic northern accents, quality real ale and an abundance of proper pubs to drink it in when the weather turned nasty. Yet despite its many charms there were a few things I definitely missed about home, in particular the array of affordable and tasty South East Asian food available to us here. Don’t get me wrong, the extremely cheap beer and plentiful curries went some way to filling the void, but then again they never really stacked up to a big bowl of fresh Vietnamese Pho or a properly good Malaysian noodle dish when you’re in that particular mood (you all know that I’m talking about right?). Thus, being back amongst all of this wondrous SE Asian food a couple of weeks ago I rounded up some friends and headed out for some. However, this time round I was in the mood to explore a cuisine that I’d not experienced much of before and thus decided on Korean BBQ at Tong 86 on Beaufort St in Northbridge.
For those of you who’ve not experienced the delights of Korean BBQ (or “samgyupsal” as this particular style of Korean dining is known), I’ll give you a bit of a run down. Basically, as with a lot of SE Asian cuisine, food is ordered and shared communally amongst everyone at the table. The twist here is that not only do you order and eat together, you also get to cook together too! The place is littered with stainless steel tables that have an inbuilt gas burner and ceramic hotplate in
the middle, so you basically order what you want to cook and what sides you want to go with it, they bring it all out, and then you go for it. Tongs and scissors are provided to make the cooking/sharing of food a bit easier but you also want to be pretty handy with a pair of chopsticks as it involves a lot of reaching for food and passing things about all over the table. Also, as is tends to be the case, the more people you go with the better as you get to order more food and thus get to try a greater variety of things. It does end up being a little chaotic, with a lot of people passing food about and throwing different things on the hotplate, but I really like that and think that it adds a level of fun that you just don’t get with a lot of western cuisine.
Being as there were 9 of us I decided to take the reins and order a bunch of food for the table straight off the bat. I went with the pork belly, cheek meat, neck chain, brisket, scotch fillet and
mushroom set with several kimchi pancakes, seafood pancakes, eggroll with cheese, rice and cold spicy noodles on the side. Now I wish I could be a bit more helpful as to which cuts of meat were the best, but like I said before things do get a bit chaotic, so it was a little hard to keep a track of what was what amongst the various morsels flying about the place. Some were certainly better than others, but all were definitely tasty. In terms of the side dishes both kinds of pancakes were great and I especially enjoyed the contrast of the cold yet spicy noodles. The eggroll was essentially a cheese omelette rolled up with ketchup on the top, which seemed a little strange to this white boy, but what the hey, it was pretty good so I rolled with it. On top of all this you also get a few extra sides including chopped spring onion and chilli, kim chi, chilli sauce and this sort of Korean horseradish sauce for dipping in. Overall it was brilliant, and at only $21 per person for the food it was excellent value too.
On top of the great food I really like the vibe of the place too. It’s in this huge, warehouse type building decked out in a minimalist, urban style. They have video screens showing video clips of inevitably awful K-pop songs and the walls are white but covered in permanent marker writing
and have strange collections of Korean soda cans and bottle tops strung up over them. I don’t know if this is the norm in Korea or just the whacky nature of this particular place, but either way I think it gives the place a fantastically unique, kooky ambiance. So if you’re in the mood for a bit of SE Asian fare and also fancy trying out something a little bit more fun and different then by all means head down to Tong 86.