We write a lot about the top restaurants around town. New restaurant openings, hot trends, fine dining; but sometimes as reviewers we don't talk enough about our favourite everyday restaurant go-tos. You know, the ones we pop into on weeknights, or rely on for takeaway on the days that we can't be bothered to cook.
One of those places is Hang A Ri Kimchi in Dickson.
"Can we make a booking for 6.45pm?"
"No" is the answer. Point blank, matter-of-factly stated. "Six o'clock," is the proposed alternative, though it is more of a statement.
Negotiations eventually settle on a reasonable time of 6.30pm. At Hang A Ri Kimchi, they take last orders at 8pm and they're serious about it too. If you want Korean barbecue, get here before 7pm, otherwise you may well miss out.
Needless to say, I come here for the food, not the service (which is actually quite good, once you make it in the door). Korean restaurants have really come into their own in Canberra over the past few years. Some specialise in just one thing - Korean fried chicken, backbone stew - but here, you can get a pretty good selection of a lot of things. And their barbecue is excellent.
There's a very limited selection of wine, none that I'd be rushing to order, but then again I find it hard to resist makgeolli, a cloudy Korean rice wine ($14 for 750ml bottle). Glasses of icy cold Max or Asahi are $10, or there's also soju or plum wine.
Korean barbecue is the thing to get here, not just because of the quality of the meat, but also because of the impressive array of sides that it comes with, much like it does in Seoul. There are the usual suspects like Chinese cabbage kimchi, pickled daikon, lettuce and sesame leaves, and some more unusual items like diced cubes of potato in a sweet soy dressing and thinly sliced onions in a vinegar dressing.
In terms of actual barbecue, there's a variety of beef and pork options, one marinated chicken option or prawns/seafood. To make it easy, we opt for beef and pork set ($72) a mix of pork belly, beef intercostal and marinated beef. While the menu instructs you to "nurse your own barbecue", the staff here are generally happy to help things along.
No Korean meal is complete without soup, and the beef soybean soup ($18.80), or doenjang jjigae, is standout here. The deep, complex flavours of fermented soybean are warm and comforting, and there's a welcome kick from the gentle hum of chilli in the background. Diced tofu, mushrooms and tiny strips of beef keep each mouthful texturally interesting. It's really all my favourite Korean flavours in the one mouthful.
Cold buckwheat noodle soup ($16.80), naengmyeon, is excellent too. It's a summer dish of chilled buckwheat noodles, served in an iced broth. Vinegar and yellow mustard are served alongside for guests to dress the soup to taste.
The seafood pancake ($19.80) is another good classic - laden with spring onions and shredded carrot, and dotted with shrimp and squid throughout. It's crisp on the outside and slightly chewy throughout.
A couple of dishes don't fare as well - for instance, the japchae ($16.80) and spicy soy fried chicken ($19 for half, $35 for whole) aren't exactly the best versions of either. The flavour is lacking in the former, and the noodles are too clumped together for my liking.
The fried chicken isn't as crisp as I would have liked but the sauce is good - slightly sweet with a solid chilli kick. I do love that it comes with deep fried rice cakes tossed in the mix, there's something very moreish about chewy tteokbokki, bubbled and crisp on the outside, covered in sauce. Bonus points if you load up your fried chicken with extra rice cake ($3). There's some puzzling flavour options such as "jalapeno creamy" and "snow cheese" fried chicken too, which I'm never game enough to order because while I'm willing to try a bite, I'm reasonably sure I don't want a whole plate of it - but hey, maybe someone else is more adventurous than I.
I can't remember the last time I swung past an ATM, but it's worth remembering to bring cash - there's a nifty little 10 per cent discount for paying in cash, which adds up to a bit especially if you're dining in a group. It's worth noting that they seemed to do a bustling takeaway trade too.
Hang A Ri Kimchi is quite the gem. It's authentic and unfussy, reasonably priced and always delicious. It's one of those places where I find that even though the table is covered in food, I'm already planning what I can order on my next visit. With more than 80 dishes on the menu, there's always something new to try though I always find it hard to go past their tried and tested favourites like Korean barbecue, pancakes and soups.
Hang A Ri Kimchi
Address: 5/55 Woolley Street, Dickson
Hours: Wednesday to Monday; lunch, 11.30am to 2pm; dinner, 5-9.30pm, 10pm Friday and Saturday
Owner: Hyun Jung Kim
Chefs: Gwangseop Shin and Junwha Oh
Vegetarian: A few dishes here and there
Noise: Not too bad