By Jodi Bryant
Tucked away up the tiny lane alongside the overhead Rust Ave railway track, is one of the newest restaurants to Whangarei.
Earlier in the day at an appointment, I had half-listened as the group around me talked about the new Korean restaurant in town so when I next checked my emails and coincidentally found a request to review it, I decided this was the place I was meant to be.
The venue with its attractive outdoor seating area, was the site of several former restaurants and bars but, as it's not in view from the road, I think many forget to go there. That's when it's up to the owners to make it an unforgettable experience.
I was pleased to see the familiar layout. However, the tasteful décor popped as soon as we entered. The waiting area looked very modern but cosy and I was almost disappointed to not have a reason to sit there as we were greeted and shown to our table by the friendly waitress.
Drinks were served with a small plate of complimentary nibbles as we studied the extensive menu. To be honest, I was overwhelmed by the variety which consisted of a range under the headings: Appetizers, Traditional Entrees, Table Top Grill, Hot Sizzling Plates, Soup and Stews, Rice and Noodles, Big Pots, Set Menu and Kids Meals.
A unique feature of this restaurant is the traditional bbq grill plate in the centre of each table, where diners have the option of choosing their ingredients, having them brought out and cooking (while sitting down!) to their satisfaction.
While this would be a fun experience, I was keen for a night off the cooking and coupled with the afore-mentioned overwhelm, instead, pointed at one of the appetizing-looking images. Fittingly, it was the one the waitress had earlier recommended: the Korean Seafood Pancake with Spring Onion. My dining partner was eyeing up the image of a pile of fried chicken, until I pointed out he could get that up the road at KFC so he opted instead for Traditional Marinated Chicken with Seasonal Vegetable.
But first came our entrée. I, as usual, went for the mushrooms – Stir-fried chicken breast on mushroom with sesame dressing. This came out beautifully-presented and was exquisite, as was the Bulgogi (beef 'fire meat') on lettuce with herbs and bean paste sauce. Even the fried chicken entrée was well-presented (yes, he found a way to still get the fried chicken!)
Meanwhile, the place was filling up for a Thursday, with groups of jovial dining parties' banter joining the breezy music.
Our mains were wheeled out on a trolley by the owner herself. Not only did we get what we ordered, but several small dishes of extras, such as noodles, fancy rice and dipping sauces.
The seafood pancake is like an omelette with all sorts of ocean goodies to discover and was very good with the provided sauce. The chicken was also very tasty – two meals in complete contrast but both certainly worth a try.
Before we knew it, every single plate and dish was empty.
I loved the 'all-hands-on-deck' factor of this restaurant with owner Lisa greeting and both preparing and serving the meals while her husband, who owns a business in another industry in town, also helping out his wife front-of-house, serving diners.
This restaurant, with its pleasant venue and staff and unique menu, is definitely one to try and I think, between them, this couple will make Hann Sang Korean Restaurant at its hidden venue, one to remember.