Madtongsan II Review
I love going to restaurants that do authentic Asian food. There’s always something on the menu that I haven’t tried, and it’s a great opportunity to explore. It’s only in the last 12-18 months that I’ve started mentally separating out the different Asian varieties – Chinese from Thai, Indonesian from Vietnamese and my new found favourite…Korean. There’s actually quite a few Korean restaurants in the city, but it’s a variety of food that I’ve been introduced to by friends and haven’t sought out on my own. I wish I had.
Madtongsan I and II are a pair of Korean restaurants on Elizabeth St. They serve fantastic, cheap food and after only a couple of visits have secured themselves as my favourite place to get Korean. Madtongsan I is tucked away in Elizabeth Arcade and is where the craziness started. At some point they realised that their popularity warranted expansion and thus Madtongsan II opened just a few doors up. Madtongsan II is the nicer of the restaurants in my opinion; it’s more spacious, has better décor, and is less of a hole-in-the-wall. I’d even go so far as to say ‘stylish’ when compared to other restaurants in their price range.
Both are extremely popular with Team Asia but appear to remain largely undiscovered or appreciated by those of European descent. I’ve never see more than three or four other ‘Aussies’ dining when I’ve been in there. I really don’t understand this, as Madtongsan is one of the most accessible foreign restaurants – the staff all speak English, the menu is full of pictures and is written in multiple languages, and everything has a price next to it, so they’ve removed the barriers to entry that normally intimidate. Oh well, your loss is my gain.
Recently we strolled into Madtongsan II a bit after 7pm and were seated immediately, which was a surprise as it’s not uncommon to have to wait for a table to become available. The wait is definitely worth it, but if you’ve got a group bigger than four people call ahead or be prepared to have your patience tested.
The menu is big. Close to 80 dishes are available and I always have a lot of trouble working out what I want to try. Entrees include dumplings (above), pancakes and salads. Mains cover stir fries, soups, sizzling pots, and a raft of special dishes including ‘hot pot’, which is ideal for groups and is the Korean cultural equivalent of the Aussie BBQ.
Everything on the menu is good and there are options that should cover everyone, from picky vegos to those wanting to play it safe, right out to cowboys who are looking for a culinary adventure.
We started with kimchi pancake ($6.9 / $9.9, above), which is made from spiced pickled cabbage, battered and then fried. If kimchi is a little odd they also do seafood, beef and vegetable versions. The kimchi one was quite spicy and just a little softer than I would of liked but that may have been because kimchi is quite a ‘wet’ ingredient and it was never going to be as crispy as the vegetable version I’ve tried previously.
We also ordered sizzling spicy squid ($17, it’s the same as calamari) and Be Bim Bop, which is mixed vegetables with rice. Ordering at Madtongsan II is done by pushing a ‘call’ button on your table. It’s a great system as the staff are very prompt and it means that they will leave you alone until you need something. I wish more restaurants did this as it means you get great service – although it probably sends the staff crazy.
The food arrived promptly and was delicious. A word from the wise – when a Korean menu uses the word ‘spicy’ they mean it. Our sizzling spicy squid was at the very top of my tolerance and left my lips tingling for a couple of hours after the meal. It was chock full of chillies and garlic so those with delicate internals be warned.
Our Be Bim Bop was an excellent accompaniment and helped to break down some of the spiciness of the squid. It’s served in a big stone bowl that is extremely hot and continues to cook while it’s on your table. All the ingredients are segmented out and the idea is you mix it yourself. You can get a variety of versions like the one with egg (pictured). They are a great ‘base’ for a meal and will leave you very full.
Finally on the food front, one of the great things about Korean is that you get a variety of small complimentary dishes served with your meal – kimchi, tuna pasta salad and glazed sweet potato in our case. It’s not uncommon to find your table very crowded with plates and bowls, as everything is served in it’s own little cup or plate and it really adds to the presentation.
There aren’t too many places I can think of where two people can eat great food for less than $35 and walk away very satisfied. Madtongsan II is a shining light that is fantastic value and puts many places to shame. I’d highly recommend heading along.
Lvl 1, 85 Elizabeth St
07 3003 1881
Open Tuesday – Sunday from 11:30am to midnight