When I arrived at 6:30pm, the restaurant was already lively and customers inside were chatting away animatedly. In fact, it was so lively that my companions had managed to nab the last table. Unfortunately, it was also the worst table as it was the one closest to the door and we felt every icy gust of wind as more customers continued to come into the restaurant. The clientele appeared to be made up mostly of other Asians. I could hear various Asian languages being spoken from the nearby tables. I had a good feeling about this place. I didn't think Arirang had been open in Civic for very long. Sure enough, when I had a look at the menu, it looked like it had been taken straight from the Gungahlin shop as there was no mention of the Civic address. We decided to order the Special Beef Soup ($40) and the Pork Bulgogi ($17) to share between the three of us.
The accompaniments arrived first. I was impressed by the kimchi. To be honest, I have no idea what authentic kimchi is meant to taste like, but I thought this had just the right amount of chilli, no odd smell from the fermentation process and the vegetables tasted extremely fresh and crisp. It had the perfect balance of flavours between sourness, saltiness and sweetness. The pickled radish was delightfully moreish and I could have easily eaten a whole jar of it. From what I could tell, the third accompaniment was dried tofu that had been lightly pickled.
Next, a portable stove was delivered to the table, with the beef soup placed on top of the stove. The aromatic, steaming soup was extremely comforting on such a cold night. It was a robust soup with strong, well-balanced flavours. Korean food is famous for its marinated meats and this was no exception. I could tell the beef had been pre-marinated before it went into the soup and it added another dimension to the hearty soup.
The pork bulgogi arrived shortly after, sizzling on a hot plate. It had also been pre-marinated and was covered with a sticky, barbeque-like sauce. I loved the punchy, intense flavour of this dish. It went down very well with the steamed rice!
On a particularly cold and windy Canberra evening, this Korean restaurant made me feel warm and cosy as soon as the food arrived. I no longer noticed the gusts of wind that was let in by the opening and closing of the door - I was too preoccupied with the delicious food!
Arirang Korean Restaurant is open only in the evenings. By day, it is a normal coffee shop called Blend Cafe. I wondered if this meant there were two vendors cleverly renting out the same space. However, a quick question to the wait staff confirmed that the owners of Arirang were also the owners of Blend Cafe. I think it's a very inventive business model - capitalising on the needs of the office workers in the surrounding area during the day, and then servicing the night crowd of the nearby ANU students in the evenings.
The wait staff were very responsive and friendly. The food tasted amazing and was kept constantly warm through a portable stove or a hot plate. I can't wait to come back and try more dishes from this restaurant.
Food Avenue Rating: 9.5/10