I have a theory about Donwoori, a Korean restaurant on Victoria Street, North Melbourne (across the road from the Queen Victoria market). It has almost zero online presence: it’s not in the white pages and it’s not listed on Urbanspoon. (Update: it’s there now! But it wasn’t at the time of posting) The only places that I could find Donwoori mentioned was at blah blog blah, a comment that Erwin left on my Wooga post, and on Foursquare. Details are scant though, and I couldn’t find a phone number anywhere.

So my theory about Donwoori is that it doesn’t actually exist in real life. Sure, I’ve been there and eaten there, but it must’ve been because we crossed a portal into an alternate universe. That is surely the only explanation possible – who has zero online presence nowadays?

So how did we find this portal into the alternate universe? Alastair and I noticed it one night when eating at a restaurant a couple of doors down. Our meal was quite disappointing, and Donwoori was busy when we walked past, so I kept it in my mind to try another time. This week, we finally made the trip there for dinner, taking Bro with us.

It’s only a small restaurant, with about eight tables set up for Korean barbeque, and a long wooden counter to one side that can comfortably seat four couples. When we arrived, all tables were taken apart from a space at the counter. So the three of us squished together on a bench that’s really only meant for two. Fortunately the food was good, and worth the squishiness.

We decided against Korean barbeque for this meal, and ordered other items to share. Soon after ordering, three plates of banchan were brought to us – assorted pickles, pickled daikon, and kimchi. The banchan were EXCELLENT. I particularly loved the pickled daikon, which reminded me of Chinese pickles, all crunchy and sweet, and the kimchi, which was fantastic.

Throughout our meal, the staff kept asking if we wanted (free) refills of the banchan – yes, they asked US! And even after we refused, they still checked periodically. You could gorge yourself on kimchi and pickles if you wanted to!

We tried the seafood pancake ($12), which is a mixture of vegetables and seafood in batter, that’s then pan fried, and sprinkled with spring onions. The piece I ate seemed scant on seafood, but to be honest – I didn’t care. It was really pleasing, soft and doughy on the inside with a slightly crispy crust.

Whenever we eat at a Korean restaurant, I always love ordering a stew. The soft tofu kimchi stew ($13) was great, a bit spicy and fishy, and full of slippery silken tofu and clams. It came with a bowl of rice.

The pork bulgogi ($16) also came with a bowl of rice, and wasn’t bad. I did find the sauce on the sweet side, but the pork was nice and tender.

And finally, we shared the tempura skewer set ($18). On the skewers were slices of pumpkin, sweet potato, and zucchini, plus a couple of prawns and rice cakes, which had been crumbed and deep fried until the coating was crunchy.

Did I mention that beer is only $5?

We enjoyed our meal at Donwoori so much that we returned… the following evening! Yes, we went there for dinner two nights in a row – hah!

This time we decided to have Korean barbeque. You can order meat for the barbeque separately, but they also have three sets available (A, B, C). Sets A and C are for two people, and set B is for four people. Naturally, we chose set B, and assured our friendly waiter that the three of us could cope with a set meant for four. (We totally did too – we smashed it!)

Just like the previous evening, we received three plates of banchan – pickled vegetables, kimchi and pickled daikon.

The owner came out for a chat, and it turns out that they make all the banchan themselves. He makes a new batch of kimchi everyday, normally about 4-5 Chinese cabbages worth. That’s a lot of kimchi! I told him that his kimchi is fantastic (it really is). He modestly told me that it’s good because he makes it. πŸ˜€

For Set B ($64), we received top grade beef rib, top side beef (with salt and pepper), marinated flank beef, scotch fillet, kimchi hot pot and rice.

It cracks me up that you get given token vegetables along with the meat.

Like the previous night, the kimchi hot pot was delicious.

This version had tons of cabbage, tofu, mushrooms and rice cakes. Salty, sour, spicy – swoon.

The marinated beef was almost too pretty to put on the barbeque.

Meat, meat and more meat. Their barbeques are quite interesting – they bring out a bucket of coals, but underneath the coals is a gas burner. Best of both worlds! From the meat, my favourite was the top side beef with salt and pepper, though they were all pretty good. I really enjoy it when the edges get all charred and chewy.

I’ve now eaten at all four Korean restaurants on that stretch of Victoria Street, and Donwoori is my definite favourite. The staff there are really friendly, prices are reasonable, the banchan is top notch, and so is the rest of the food. The only downside is walking out smelling like barbeque – ventilation is not that great.

As mentioned previously, it’s a small restaurant so I’d recommend not going in a large group (ie more than 4 or 5) as they don’t seem to take bookings. When we spoke to the owner, I asked him about a phone number, and he replied, “No, no phone. Just show up!”. So just take your chances and hope that you get a table. It’s totally worth it!

[googleMap name=”Donwoori” width=”600″ height=”300″ directions_to=”false”]276 Victoria Street, North Melbourne, VIC, Australia[/googleMap]

276 Victoria Street
North Melbourne
Phone: None as far as I’m aware!
Opening hours: Open from 5.30pm every day of the year (thanks to Thanh for scoping out the opening hours!)
Web: Zilch.

Donwoori on Urbanspoon