We missed the Korean food we had such easy access to in Brisbane, and thought that Melbourne must surely also have some good places. A search turned up Chicken and Jokbal, and though it was some distance away, we decided to venture there to try it out.
Located in the Camberwell Junction area, it isn’t where you would immediately think to find authentic Korean food. The shop exterior is low-key, with pictures of their food items stuck against the glass window actually hiding easy view of the interior. Despite being named Chicken and Jokbal, the pictures of their top ten best sellers were headed up by Stone bowl bibimbap, Spicy soft tofu stew (soondubu), and Beef bulgogi.
We have been there a few times now, and timing matters. It’s not a very big place, and if you get there too late, you’ll find it already full, with no tables to spare. There also seem to be plenty of take-away orders, from the almost constantly ringing phone when it hits common dinnertime.
The interior is simple, with white tables and chairs, and white walls with cute line drawings on them. Decorative wire-frame light fixtures hang from the ceiling, and shelves on the wall hold little ornaments and empty soju bottles. It was the Korean cosy-style that reminded us of Manok Park and Nangam.
The menu is a laminated A4 sheet with food options that run over one and a half pages, and drink options that take up the other half page. It has most of the Korean dishes that we would typically look for, and more than many other Korean eateries offer. They have a range of fried chicken options, tteokbokki and other noodles (hot and cold), jokbal (which is less common), pancakes, different bibimbap, soups, casseroles, and sizzling plate dishes. Certainly plenty there to satisfy most appetites.
We have tried a few dishes over our visits there, some ordered multiple times.
Can you go to a Korean eatery and not have fried chicken? The Honey Soy Fried Chicken didn’t disappoint. Pictures don’t tend to do justice to fried chicken, because if properly done, the pieces look pretty uniform (no burnt bits). These were brought out piping hot, so one had to be a bit patient. The chicken pieces had a thin layer of crisp batter coating. The sauce was a good balance of sweetness and saltiness, and was done with a light enough hand that it delivered flavour, but didn’t make the batter soggy. Sesame seeds sprinkled over the chicken gave it a hint of nuttiness too. The chicken itself remained juicy, just as hoped.
Jokbal is a bit less commonly found, and doesn’t appear on Korean eatery menus as much as other dishes. We had found the same in Brisbane, and it tends to be because you need to know how to braise it so that you get the texture right and so the meat doesn’t smell. Because deciding between the original and spicy jokbal is hard, and ordering one of each seems too much (if you’re also ordering other things besides jokbal), the half and half option is a good one.
The dish was served with the original jokbal on one side, and the spicy jokbal on the other side, separated by a rather chunky shin bone (to remind you where your meal comes from). The original jokbal was thinly sliced, and well caramelised on the outside edges. It was neatly laid out, like a stack of deli meat. The spicy jokbal was cut in thicker chunks, and was a less organised heap. The spicy sauce it had been cooked in definitely had heat. It wasn’t overwhelmingly fiery though, especially when eaten with other components. It was definitely better jokbal than what we had from another Korean eatery in Docklands.
It was served with mustard sauce and black bean sauce, and a plate of fresh salad leaves to wrap the meat with. We could smell the sesame oil dressing drizzled over the leaves, and when eaten, the dressing carried spicy, salty, and faintly sweet flavours.
You can get Cold spicy noodles to go with the jokbal dish. These were (as stated) cold noodles, in a tomatoey, slightly sweet sauce with heat in the finish. They were a good contrast, in both temperature and flavour, to the jokbal.
The Kimchi and Calamari pancake is one of our repeat orders. It is one of the better ones we have had, with a soft batter inside and plenty of tangy, spicy kimchi and calamari pieces, and a crisp outside.
Stews are a pretty classic Korean dish as well, but different places have different flavour balances to their stews. We had the Kimchi and pork stew (kimchi jjigae). This was served bubbling hot in an earthenware bowl. It had plenty of kimchi pieces in it, and thinly sliced pork, rather than being mostly soup. The stew was not too heavily tomatoey in flavour, or too sharp, and had enough of a meaty base note to give it warming richness.
We did order the Noodle tteokbokki with Deep Fried Set just once, in pursuit of the rabokki experience we had at a Korean eatery in Brisbane. That had been quite the textural experience of different types of chewiness from a combination of tteokbokki, extra springy ramen, and fishcakes. The Noodle tteokbokki set here was served as a hotpot, the ingredients readied together in a soup and placed on a portable stove to be cooked at the table. The soup base was an ominous red. A plate of battered and deep fried vegetables was brought out with it, wisely kept separate from the soup so they wouldn’t go soggy.
When it was cooked and mixed together, it definitely had a fiery kick to it, as the gochugaru redness warned. It had that distinct sweetness that tteokbokki sauce typically has, the combination of sweetness and spiciness that makes a comfort food for Koreans who have grown up with it, but takes some getting used to for less familiar palates. We have had it a few times, but it hasn’t really grown on us in the way other Korean foods have. The tteokbokki had a good chew to them, but the noodles were more typical instant noodles than the specially springy ones we had had elsewhere.
The deep fried vegetables were alright, hot and not too oily. They weren’t seasoned in themselves though, and it was the rest of the soup that gave them their flavour.
We have found that Chicken and Jokbal tends to be thin on the ground with waitstaff (usually one person looking after all the dine-in customers as well as managing the takaway orders), but staff have been efficient and friendly.
Overall, Chicken and Jokbal is a place we have found consistently good for Korean food. We would definintely recommend the jokbal and pancakes (jeon) here, and the other dishes we’ve tried are at least up to the standard of other Korean eateries around.
Price point: Prices vary depending on the serving sizes for many dishes. Jokbal $32 to $61. Fried chicken $18 to $45. Noodles, soups, bibimbap and tteokbokki $16 and up. Pancakes $17.
Address: 467 Riversdale Rd, Hawthorn East
Phone: 03 8529 3117
Website: Chicken and Jokbal