Yeonga Premium Grill & Bar

Posted on May 20, 2013

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It’s only been happening in the last couple of years, but the Victoria Street precinct just opposite the Queen Victoria Market has gradually been transforming into a thriving hub for Korean cuisine. Particularly of the barbeque variety. Every time I’ve driven past the area, I’ve made a mental note to eat there and finally, I have done that. The intention that weekend was to eat at Wooga (270 Victoria Street, North Melbourne VIC), but we left the planning too late and couldn’t secure a booking. Our backup plan led us to Yeonga Premium Grill & Bar (1 Cobden Street, North Melbourne VIC); a newer venue that’s slightly tucked away on a side street.

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The characters for Yeonga is in written in Chinese script and translate to ‘smoke house’ which I’m assuming is a good approximation for what the Korean meaning of Yeonga is as well. In any case, based on my translation, it’s not too hard to deduce that Yeonga is a Korean barbeque house.

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And what a fancy one it is. There a few booths in the front of the restaurant and towards the back are larger tables which can be separated by pull-down screens to accommodate smaller groups. Ornate screens, dark wood and pretty oriental paintings on the walls help create an intimate ambiance. Yeonga also has the coolest smoke extractors I’ve seen. They are little cylindrical units that retract into light fittings! When cooking, the extractors come down only inches away from the action and extract the bulk of the smokes/fumes produced. Possibly one of the least smoky charcoal barbeque houses I’ve visited! These little extractors have quite good suction as you can see…

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The menu offers a range of meats for barbequing with a keen focus on beef. On that note, their beef comes from Black Angus as well as wagyu cattle with marble scores of 7-8. Servings of meat are priced from the teens through to nearly $40, depending on the meat and the cut. A small selection of entrees, mains, soups, rice and noodle options are available with pricing more in the teens. Banquets are also available, and these are about $40-50ish a head. Even though we didn’t go with a banquet option, we had a good giggle at their creative banquet names, Lord of the Cows or What the Pork for those interested ;).

No barbeque experience is complete without some booze. We opted to go for some kiwi sochu (also romanised as soju, ~$20 for 500mL). Sochu is a distilled alcohol; vodka is a good proxy for it but sochu tends to have a lower alcohol content. The kiwi sochu comes mixed with plenty of kiwi pulp and is a bit dangerous given how easy it is to down. I also love the little flask it’s served it; there’s a little cavity through the bottle that houses ice cubes, that way the sochu stays chilled without the risk of being diluted. Genius!

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Starters was the yukke (can’t remember the price, but suspect ~$15), which is a beef tartare with raw egg yolk. The serving was generous and the marinade delish. Apologies for no photos of this dish or of the barbeque meats, we were too preoccupied with cooking and eating!

For the barbeque we ordered the ox tongue ($18), wagyu short ribs ($34), pork belly ($14) and spicy chilli chicken ($16). The beef and pork cuts came without marinade, and were superb. Can definitely tell they use quality meat here. The chicken was coated in a lightly spiced marinade which was tasty enough but could have been more spicy and flavoursome in general. To accompany the meat, 4 different types of kimchi are offered as well as 2 sauces; a soybean sauce and a garlic sesame oil.

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You would think that after all that meat, we wouldn’t need carbs, but I can never visit a Korean venue without ordering jab chae (also romanised as jap chae, ~$18). This is a dish of sweet potato noodle stir fried with vegetable strips and beef. A very tasty version if a touch oily.

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The bibimbap ($15) needs little introduction. It’s a mixed rice dish of sliced vegetables, beef, raw egg and a side of chilli served in a hot stone bowl. Good flavours, great mix of veggies and an all round yummy dish.

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As a sweet finish to our meal, we went for the new addition to the dessert menu, the cheesecake with a base of chocolate rice bubbles (I’m guessing it’s priced in the low teens). The cake was light and the crunchy base was a nice textural contrast.

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Yeonga provided a great night out. The staff was fantastic, service was excellent and the venue is great. It looks good and it’s very clean. Halfway through our barbequing when they noticed a bit of build up on the grill, they gave us a new one.  We even observed the staff cleaning out the smoke extractors after each sitting – now that is attention to detail! But most importantly, the food is good and is priced reasonably for the quality you get. It may not be as well known as some of the other Korean barbeque houses with prime real estate opposite the Vic Market, but it will only be a matter of time before more people discover this little gem hiding behind Victoria Street. Our party of 4 left with full tummies, smiles and a promise to visit again soon. And really, what better place to warm up during winter than in a ‘smoke house’?!

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