With the capacity to seat 60, Kong BBQ doesn’t match the physical size of its well-known gorilla counterpart. However, it more than makes up for it in flavour, supplying a saucy slice of Korean and Japanese barbecue to hungry Melburnians
After living in Japan for three years in the ’90s, infamous restaurateur Chris Lucas was keen to treat Melburnians to a taste of authentic Asian BBQ. As the brains behind South East Asian eateries Hawker Hall and Chin Chin, and Italian pizzeria Baby, it was only a matter of time before he unleashed a just-as-successful BBQ culinary concept.
Walking along Church St, the first part of Kong you’ll see is the line creeping out the front door. The walk-in policy that Chris’ venues are known for continues here, so get in early, or be prepared to wait. It’s worth it.
Once inside, there is no trace of the predecessor Pearl Cafe. Clean, white brick walls, timber tables, stainless steel kitchen workspaces and green rod lighting keep the design simple, giving the food room to shine.
And shine it does. Executive Chef, Benjamin Cooper, and the kitchen team use pits and ovens with natural, chemical-free charcoal and sustainable hard wood. This allows them to create dishes that replicate the traditional Korean and Japanese flavours using some American pit BBQ smoking techniques.
Start small with wood-grilled edamame with chilli and sea salt, or the cold smoked beef tataki with baby cress, yuzu, soy and black bean dressing. Move onto larger plates like soft shell crab with salted duck egg relish and coriander, or sample a skewer or two of yakitori: the grilled dark soy braised pork belly with spring onion is so delicious that you won’t want to share.
Whatever you do, save room for Kong’s collection of buns. Peanut butter is reinvented when combined with a salt and pepper tofu bun and burnt chilli mayo, while the soft shell crab with salted duck egg relish will have you wishing you could eat one every day.
If you can only fit one more thing in, make it one of the bo ssam trays. Choose between the BBQ Cape Grim Black Angus sirloin marinated with walnut ssamjang and served with kimchi and lettuce, or the 16-hour smoked Riverina Angus brisket with sansho pepper and grilled chilli.
As if all that food isn’t enough to satisfy you, the cocktail menu is just as hard to turn away from. The classics are available on request but now’s your chance to try something new, like a mix of brown sugar plum wine, honey water, Amaro Montenegro, lemon juice and orange bitters, or raspberry wine with vodka, fresh lemon, pomegranate and pink grapefruit.
Trying something new is the name of the game at Kong. With a diverse menu that is inspired by all the best bits of Japanese and Korean BBQ, as well as a drinks list that takes you to the unknown, it’s the perfect place to go for a delicious culinary adventure.