Very cheap eats: Kimchi Grandma BBQ

Asian food has always been a mainstay of cheap eating and about 80% of Kimchi Grandma BBQ’s menu meets our criteria of a “very cheap eat”. Sure there is a wagyu dish or two for more than twice that price but pampered beef meals aside, the vast majority of the dishes on offer provide a satisfying and enjoyable meal on a budget.My first Grandma Kimchi experience was at their flagship Carnegie restaurant. It was late on a weeknight, the staff were looking forward to their shift ending and while they weren’t over friendly, the service was prompt. Perhaps because I was tired my inaugural meal was not that memorable but I remember my partner chowing down with relish, pleased to share his favourite local restaurant.The empire has since grown to Box Hill, Hawthorn and for the last couple of years, the CBD. The city restaurant looks a little snazzier, yet has the same butchers paper tablecloths and anonymous white tableware.

The menu comes in a large black plastic insert-style book. Many of the dishes are illustrated, perhaps as a result of too many questions from the uninitiated in the early years of the chain. For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, it could crudely be described as similar to Japanese but with liberal doses of chilli paste. Other than the spice – tofu, cabbage and chilli oil are frequent inclusions. A recent episode of ”Food Safari” provides a good primer on the subject. Grandma Kimchi BBQ, has a range of meat, rice, noodle, seafood and soup dishes but purely vegetarian offerings are thin on the ground. It is possible to create a vegetable based meal out of entrees and side dishes though.

While I’m told the traditional bulgogi (marinated thin strips of beef, pork or chicken) brings many loyal fans back to Grandma Kimchi, after repeated visits my favourite remains hae mul chon gol, a seafood steamboat dish. A pot of seafood, tofu, mushrooms and other vegetables simmered in stock with lashings of chilli paste and powder, is cooked at the table. It is a meal for 2 (or more) people and comes with rice and of course kimchi – usually between 5-7 small dishes of pickles including the eponymous cabbage dish. It is a fun meal to eat and suits itself to a long meal grazing and chatting with friends. The chilli level is enough to make your nose run and warm your mouth without burning, without obliterating the delicate flavours of the star ingredients. Tea also comes free with all meals. At $36.90, this meal fills you to the gunnels for less than $18.50 a head.


Ready to cook

Hae mul chon gol – ready to eatWhile service is usually efficient in getting you seated, regardless of it being a quiet or busy night for some reason drink service seems to be uniformly slow. After half a dozen or so visits the meals have always been of a consistent quality and with each experience my fondness for kimchi grows.Kimchi Grandma BBQ145 Bourke St (between Russell and Exhibition Sts), MelbournePhone (03) 9650 0384Also check out the cheap lunch set meals and special deals.

This entry has been cross-posted on confessions of a food nazi