Saturday, August 8, 2009

Review: Shinara, Sydney CBD

Sometimes I find that walking on certain streets of the city and just trying somewhere random works out very well. Pitt St and all its Korea-Town glory are definitely high on the list. Mostly we were after somewhere we could get a drink and dinner in the same venue, not sure if we wanted to drink or eat more. Most of the Korean places looked a little crowded and then we chanced across Shinara.

We were a little put off by the number of nationalities listed on the poster, but all you can eat grill? Well we had to give it a go, especially when we spied the stocked looking bar in the bottom room.

Upon entry we were eyed a little suspiciously by the staff, it's Friday night, they're packed and we're white... they're not quite sure what to do. They're ever so polite though and place us at a table and take a drink order while they clear a table for us upstairs. Before we've even received our drink we are whisked upstairs to a table.

The whole place is packed solid with international students and families, all Korean; I'm not sure why they bother with the other nationalities on the poster, you can tell who the market is here. The whole place is very Asian from top to toe; the grill inset tables, the cups of rice tea and sujo scattered across every table, girls with long nails tapping bling covered smart phones; if you could chainsmoke in the restaurant it would be like just about anywhere in Osaka.

The premise is much like an ishiyaki - you order small dishes to grill in the table and hot or cold side dishes, desserts and drinks from the menu. To make matters better this is an all you can eat place.

There's two main "sets" the Standard Buffet for $29.50 contains a number of very common Korean dishes such as bipimbap, nori, vegetables, beef loin, pork belly, chilli chicken and the like.

The "Premium" Buffet which we go for is $39.50 and contains all of the standard items plus wagyu strip and sirloin, ox tongue, croquettes, tempura, kyoza, sashimi, ice cream and more.

Unlike a Western buffet this is more of the yum cha style approach, you press a button, the waitress comes and you order several small dishes which come out one by one. Generally by the time one set is mostly cooked it's a good idea to order the next. You have 90 minutes to order as much as you like, though unless you're drinking solidly I would be surprised if you manage to put away more than about an hour's worth of food.

There are two other Caucasians in the room, but they're with a couple of Koreans and I suspect may have been a "meeting the family" scenario. The Maitre'd is very sweet and tries to explain the system to us without being too condascending and is surprised when we talk merrily about food adventures in Asia and order plum wine. His initial cynicism immediately melts away as we enthusiastically order dishes of kim chi, dumplings and tofu in a way that defies our heritage. Our female waitresses are as easily impressed by our comfort and I see a couple of them sneaking looks at the fact that we can deftly handle the pincer like flat metal Korean chopsticks; they're all very helpful and seem remarkably happy that the Westerners were so keen on the food. All in all the service is quite rushed, but very friendly and helpful and far exceeds the speed you would expect on a busy Friday night.

Bohae Plum Wine - $22 for a bottle

I have a serious weakness for plum wine (ume-shu in Japanese). The Korean equivalent is much less sweet than the Japanese type but it's still damn drinkable, though I'd have preferred it on the rocks as I usually drink it, the Koreans only seem to understand small flat liquor glasses. If you aren't drinking alcohol then there's various cold teas and water included in the buffet.

And on to the actual buffet food...

Marinated Wagyu Sirloin and Wagyu Steak

I mostly left the wagyu steak to the boy but the sirloin strips went amazingly well with the sweet Korean soy dipping sauce.

Kim chi (of course!)

Beef sirloin and pork belly

Really the pork belly needed to be cut before cooking, but we'd worked that out by the second round.


Agedashi tofu

It's never as good in Korean restaurants and the sweet soy was a little much but I do like fried tofu nonetheless

Grilled pork neck

Buttered corn

Garlic cloves in Sesame Oil

Ice cream

There was other food but I seem to have gotten too involved in eating it and not enough in photographing it! Croquettes, chilli and shallot jeon, chilli chicken, green tea ice cream and really about 3 rounds of every dish above seemed to appear. I would have liked some sashimi or similar but not in the heat from the BBQ.

Shinara was a real hit with us, but we love authentic Asian cuisine and are used to the hustle and bustle of immigrant eateries. There are some reviews out there on the internets that are quite poor but these seem to be from the kind of people who wanted elaborate table service and loathe a waitress with poor English skills; We are not those people. If you like a rowdy good time, reasonably priced drinks, table cooked food and hearty Asian eating then I highly recommend. This is definitely going into my regular rotation of casual eateries to meet up with friends in the city.

Shinara Grill and Lounge
Shop 1, 338 Pitt Street
Sydney, 2000
(02) 9262 9218

Fully licensed
Rowdy student atmosphere
Booking not required by expect to wait on a busy night for a table


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