Prepare to get in line if you want to see what Korean-American barbecue tastes like
Kong is Chris Lucas's latest queue-magnet, this time in Korean, Japanese and American barbecue flavour, and it’s everything you come to expect from the group who brought you Chin Chin and Baby. Fluorescent lights shine down on blonde communal tables, cooks are in baseball caps, and cutesy panda icons line the walls. Yes, the toilets play language tapes; there's more checking in than eating happening; and no, you can't book.
What you can do is get in line at 6pm whence they'll take your name, party number and send you away with an ETA – just like a booking, only you get the bonus of up to three hours of pre-drinks in. Win? Lucky for you, Kong delivers exactly the sort of high-octane sweet-and-spicy dumplings, buns and ribs you want after knocking back Prosecco for a couple of hours.
Chef Ben Cooper officiates over the culturally ambiguous menu. It might be a vegan snack of crunchy iceberg lettuce rafts mounted with yuzu-infused eggplant, fine threads of fried onion and sesame seeds – refreshing, if a little heavy on the sweet miso dressing. Sadly the soft shell crab in our steamed bao is a little on the fried-to-a-hollow-crisp side of things, and we can’t taste the alleged salted duck egg in the mayo, but it’s tasty drinking food regardless.
Speaking of, there are house-made sodas if you’d rather refresh your palate with a tart passionfruit and lemon fizz than Asahi Super Dry, sake or the compact list of local wines. You could also get a rum-charged frosty whip of frozen coconut water and orange juice. Bracing.
Moving to the large stuff, go for the fried rice: a bastardised saucy Korean bibimbap of rice, chilli paste, peas and spinach, topped with a fried egg and punctuated with smoky strips of beef brisket. From the pit-smoked meats section, the barbecue tray is $28 and gives you tastes of everything you want including kimchi, pickles, sweet-and-spicy walnut paste and cos lettuce for making little wraps. The pulled pork and thin slices of beef brisket are a little dry on our visit, but pork belly hunks are soft and juicy and crowned with perfect fingers of crackling.
Next time, we’d probably order in waves. They process orders like it's Saturday yum cha at Box Hill, so everything arrives at once. Our wood-roasted chicken roti packed with mayo-wet slaw becomes a sad soggy mess as we try to power through eight dishes.
Thankfully we can give all our attention to the apple pie – buttery shortcrust and tender apples swamped in a walnut crumble, with caramel cutting dark rivers through the icecream on top. Sadly, our iced confectionary doesn't taste like Japanese whisky as promised, but we'd stick a spoon in it again regardless.
So is it worth the wait? If you’re all about subtle flavours and hate queuing, you may struggle. If you love the energy of a packed restaurant, set to the tune of Pharrell Williams, Moby and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, go forth and get in line. Or beat the system and just order take-away to go.