Bornga Korean BBQ is located on Harbour Street in Haymarket right in the middle of Chinatown. It's busy and loud with wide spaced booths and a menu full of Korean barbecue meats and stews. It's one of the international outposts of the South Korean chain started by Korean chef Baek Jong-won.
There were three reasons that I chose Bornga for dinner with Monica and Marco. After stalking ahem scouting their Instagram account I could see that the tables were somewhat decently spaced out. There was also the ability to book.
We also figured that between the air vent above each table and the searing heat of the charcoal, it would be a safe-ish indoor restaurant to eat at.
We arrive at 6pm and Monica and Marco are already seated. They have told them that there is a 1.5 hour window to eat (which wasn't mentioned in the booking process so avoid being late). For that reason it's a slightly panicky process as I peruse the menu that looks a bit different from the one we saw online that had plenty of explanations. This is more abridged.
"Have you ordered yet? You must order now," says the waitress smiling broadly and then exiting. She seems used to wrangling customers and I bet that comments and criticisms just glide off her shiny, broad smile.
"Arrrgh okay," I say looking at the menu confused. We try and get another waitress's attention but she looks terrified of us but then another one helps us. All ordering is done by a QR code and within 2 minutes of hitting "SEND" several waitstaff converge on our table covering it in banchan, vegetables, water and drinks.
Banana Makgeoli $15
I love makkeoli rice wine, especially the banana flavour one (I'm not a huge fan of banana flavoured things but this is the exception). We toast to that and seeing each other's faces.
There aren't the usual banchan items like fish cakes or bean sprouts. The selection of banchan or complimentary appetisers is an interesting one with slightly different items like sausage and capsicum, kani crab salad, potato salad, kim chi, lightly dressed lettuce salad, chilli pickles and a cucumber soup which is like drinking pickling juice and cucumbers.
There's a large platter of lettuce leaves to wrap your grilled meat and salad in as well as sauces on the side of the table.
Chadol Doenjiang-jjigae $18
The bibimbap arrives in a pot with a bowl and they ask us if they can mix this for us. They add in some spicy soybean paste stew with beef brisket and chilli sauce. It's quite mild in flavour and needs a lot more flavour added to it. I also prefer bibimbap in a hot pot so you get the crispy bits.
Bibim Naengmyeon $17
The cold noodle salad arrives with a pair of scissors. These are very fine thread noodles with slices of beef, radish and a boiled egg on top. It's nice with a spicy sesame oil flavour to it but I think it needs a bit more meat as there are only a few slices on top.
Woo Samgyeop $23 (bottom left)
While I found the non meat dishes fine but not overly exciting I really enjoyed the barbecued meats. Mr NQN and Marco put some meat on the bbq but then Monica takes over. The Woo Samgyeop, their signature item, is paper thin beef that crisps up like thinly sliced bacon. This beef loin is where the fat meets the lean and is highly marbled so that it resembles pork belly. You do have to watch this as it cooks quickly and you want it so that it is crisp and melts in the mouth. You can eat it wrapped up in the lettuce leaves with the spring onion salad and garlic or with a mix of the banchan vegetables.
Wagyu Yangnyeom Kkotsal 160g for $36 (the centre top meat), Mansingchang Samgyeopsal pork belly 200g for $24 (right
Unless it is a really top cut I prefer the marinated meats because of the added flavour. I chose the Wagyu Yangnyeom Kkotsal because we all love beef short rib and this is a marinated boneless short rib that is delicious and so flavoursome with a nice chewy, fatty texture. However above all my favourite is the marinated pork belly. Oh that sweet, caramelised edge and melting meat. They make tiny cuts in the meat to increase the tenderness and for the marinate to penetrate. I stuff lettuce leaves with this and some kani salad and munch away.
1 hour later after they clear our plates and food away, the smiling waitress returns and places our bill in the centre of room. "Please pay now," she says smiling and directing us towards the pay counter before whirling away. We marvel that with this much action and so many hot coals that no accidents ever occur.
For dessert we cross the road to Bengong Black in Darling Square and have dessert-a fantastic mango, coconut and sticky rice sundae, a mango coconut, pearl and pomelo shake and a brown sugar mochi bun. It's only then that we can really talk and relax!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have a preferred cut or meat at Korean BBQ? And do you like places where you can talk and relax or do you prefer to get in and out?
Level 1/78 Harbour St, Haymarket NSW 2000
Monday to Thursday 5–10:30pm
Phone: (02) 9304 0390
91 Harbour St, Haymarket NSW 2000 Open 7 days 11am–10pm bengongstea.com.au