Address: 5 Lorne Street
Phone: (09) 379 4040
Cuisine: Korean, specialising in Barbecue
Walking in, I felt as though I'd entered a sci-fi movie. Hanging low over each table were strange looking tubular chrome pipes that disappeared up into the rafters.
Knowing that Faro Restaurant specialised in traditional Korean barbecue, and possessing an overactive imagination, I concluded these must be flame throwers for blast grilling one's food. The idea sent a thrill of excitement through me. I love dining dangerously.
As it turns out, their function was for quite the opposite. Portable table top barbecues are brought to each table and there they sit for the duration, hot coals glowing, while you grill your various meats and vegetables. The pipes are part of the fancy exhaust system designed to suck up excessive smoke, should you get so caught up in eating that you forget to keep an eye on your grill.
Choosing a Korean barbecue house from the many within central city Auckland could have been problematic, there are so many to choose from, but I had it on good authority that Faro is considered one of the best by the local and international Korean community, so that was good enough for me.
Ordering was easy, too, for this first timer, I simply deferred to the expert I'd taken with me. She suggested that a great introduction was to choose from one of the combination barbecue set menus which involve a mini banquet of dishes and meats for the grill. I heard the word "banquet" and I was in.
First to arrive was a dinky little plate of jeon, Korean style pancakes served with a tangy dipping sauce of soy and rice vinegar.
These were heavenly with the only issue being that there were two of us and three of each of the delectable little pancakes and I felt I had to be polite and offer the third to my dining partner each time. You see there are a few rules to Korean dining and the ones I managed to grasp were; never pour your own drinks; and offer your dining companion food before you serve yourself. I was on my best behaviour.
Next to arrive was ojing-o salad which I may not have ordered based on its menu description - boiled squid doesn't sound too appealing to me - but it was fantastic. Tender pieces of chilled squid were scattered over fresh herbs, a lettuce mix and topped with a Korean staple, the bright red cho-jang (red pepper) sauce with a spicy kick.
I was already feeling good but the next arrivals made me feel even better. A collection of condiments and side dishes were set out, transforming our table top from a blank canvas into a colourful edible mosaic. Little dishes of pickled and fresh vegetables, glass noodles, sesame salad, spicy kimchi, slivers of ginger and garlic and dipping sauces lay in wait to be combined with our barbecued food.
Next to land was the hot coal barbecue, with our tray of meats and seafood items.
The waiter got our cooking started with the beef short rib followed by the pork scotch. The short rib was magnificent. It comes rolled up and is unfurled on the grill to reveal a ribbon of meat, at the end of which is the rib. After it's cooked the rib is cut off and the meat cut with scissors.
The menu has recommended cooking times for each cut and staff are on hand to hop to with the tongs should they notice that things are getting out of control. Snip snip with the scissors and we had bite sized morsels of mouth-watering meats to fold into sesame and lettuce leaves and spice up with the various sauces and salts.
We overcooked both the beef and pork, because we were having such a good time cooking and sucking up the smoke with our vacuum tube, but the marinated chicken and salted tiger prawns were perfect.
Our banquet concluded with green tea ice cream and as we sat back, I reflected on how it was a small wonder Korea can boast such a low obesity rate. Even though we'd polished off a veritable feast, the food is very clean and healthy and we were well satisfied without feeling weighed down.
I suggest that if you're feeling sad you've put the barbecue into hibernation for the winter, head to Faro - it'll cheer you up no end. The staff are young and fun, the food quality is high, the ambience bustling and I guarantee you'll come away feeling invigorated.
From the menu: Ara combination barbecue, $40pp.
Drinks: Fully licensed including Korean spirits.