Once you arrive at the address – 407-409 Swanston Street – there’s no sign actually letting you know that you’re at Joomak. You have to enter an office building, go down a staircase and pull a heavy wooden door to find this gem. But once you’re inside, there’s no doubt you’ve arrived at your destination: it’s busy, it’s loud and there are a lot of happy customers.
“When I bought the place, I knew people wouldn’t notice it from the street because it’s in a basement – so I’ve decided to keep it hidden. People come and they talk about it with their friends. But everyone else passing through, they don’t know we’re there,” says owner Youn Joon Nam.
“In Korea, joomak is like a haven. Back in the old days, people travelling would need a place to sleep, rest, sit down and eat food. These days, it’s more of a drinking and eating place,” says Nam. Melbourne’s Joomak is open late during the week and even later on Saturday, until 5am, which makes it the perfect pit stop during a fun night with friends.
Start off with a few bottles of beers and soju for the table, but don’t miss out on the makgeolli. This traditional cloudy rice liquor is slightly effervescent and complements punchy Korean flavours with its tanginess. While it’s always been widely consumed in Korea, it's recently become trendier with young people in the south.
While drinking is part of the Joomak experience, food is not an afterthought. “At the beginning, we were doing more traditional Korean food like pancakes, chicken giblets and cheese egg rolls, but we’ve added new dishes like the LA-style beef ribs, the spicy squid, and the corn with cheese. People love it,” says Nam.
Order from a few sections of the menu (soup, larger dishes, pancakes and sides) and call your waiter, by pressing the service button, if you’re stumped. For something traditional, go with the fish roe soup, the beef bulgogi or the spicy pan-fried marinated pork skins. For something modern, get the LA-style barbecue beef ribs. The meat is cooked with garlic and soy and thinly cut across the bone, which makes for perfect little bites. Add a plate of fried chicken drumettes and a massive crispy kimchi pancake.
“When I bought the place, I knew people wouldn’t notice it from the street because it’s in a basement – so I’ve decided to keep it hidden."
By now, you've probably realised Joomak is not the place to go for a dose of greens; the vegies are scarce here. But one of their must-order dishes is actually corn … covered in melted cheese.
If you’re still hungry for a dessert, you won’t find any on the menu, but you can buy a sweet corn ice-cream for the road.
Be warned that despite being hidden, Joomak gets busy – so try calling ahead to book a table (and ask for a booth). Take note: it's a cash-only venue, too. You’ll only get the table for one hour and a half and the staff will politely, but firmly, let you know when your time is up. It’s not the instance to be fashionably late, as you’ll want to make the most of that hour and a half.
Basement, 407-409 Swanston St, Melbourne, Vic
Mon – Tue 5 pm – 1 am
Wed – Thu 5 pm – 3 am
Fri – Sat 5 pm – 5 am
Want to discover more great places in unlikely locations? Watch Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jnr Wednesdays 8.35pm on SBS from September 12 then on SBS On Demand.
Pork belly and kimchi are the stars of this one-pot ultimate Korean comfort bowl.
Think about this like a Korean stir-fry: chicken marinated in a spicy Korean sauce gets cooked with veg and served on a sizzle plate!