We needed a speedy city dinner before hitting up Cherchez La Femme and finally managed to resist the lure of Shandong Mama to follow through on Hayley's gushing recommendation of Warra Warra Korean Kitchen. It took us less than a year, which I'm claiming as a win.
Warra Warra is tucked away at the back of the Tivoli Arcade off Bourke Street - it's got a few big outside tables and a stylish, exposed brick industrial-ish interior. The menu is long with plenty of vegetarian options, basically one for each menu section: a soft tofu stew, bibimbap, tofu bulgogi, a grilled tofu green bowl, spicy vegetarian hotpot, veggie tofu with kimchi, kimchi pancake, sweet potato noodles and a few others - you've got choices is what I'm saying.
I got there early and the super friendly staff plied me with free nibblies and not so free beer (the waiter helpfully pointed out that Hite beer is pronounced like 'height' not hit-ay).
When Cindy arrived we quickly negotiated our orders - I couldn't ignore the rave reviews that Hayley gave the bibimbap ($13.90), while Cindy was intrigued by the tofu bulgogi ($17.50, served with rice, salad and seasonal fruit).
The bulgogi comes out in five dishes - you get some leafy greens and a couple of bits of fruit, a seasoned rice bowl (the staff checked in with us as to whether we wanted fish flakes and/or egg on top of the rice, so it's probably worth being clear that you're vego/vegan when you order), a little pan of saucy tofu, kim chi and pickled oniony bits. The tofu was grilled and coated in a sweet sauce with a bit of soy saltiness, served on a bed of cabbage, carrot and onion. Cindy was happy to enjoy it as it was, but I'd have added a dash of hot sauce or mixed it with the kim chi to give it a bit more zing.
Thankfully, the bibimbap is designed to be self-sauced to your satisfaction, so I could happily squeeze on as much of the house made chilli sauce as I wanted (hint: a lot).
The dish itself was excellent - a good mix of tofu, veggies and rice with a squishy egg yolk on top that you mush up and stir through everything else. The stone bowl is super hot and everything keeps on cooking while you eat, so the rice gets crunchier the longer you go on. It's not heavily flavoured - just a drizzle of a sweet soy sauce on the tofu - but the staff are clear that you're meant to self season (there's a mild sauce as well as the chilli, but I was never going to make that mistake).
Warra Warra is a good CBD restaurant to have in your kit bag: fresh and delicious food, a quiet and relaxed atmosphere and plenty of vego options. The prices are reasonable (although not as cheap as the various dumpling houses we usually fall back on in the city) and the service spot on. They do cheaper set dishes at lunchtime, when I think things are a bit more chaotic. We'll definitely be back - I'm keen to try the kim chi pancake ($14.50) and the veggie tofu with kim chi ($19.50).
We were inspired to try Warra Warra by the write-up on Ballroom Blintz. There are more positive reviews on Mon's Adventures, Where Adles Eats, Blogs and Thoughts, new international students, The Food Society and Barley Blog, while The Weekly Foodie, Doughnut forget me! and Peach Water had more mixed experiences.
Warra Warra Korean Kitchen
Shops 19 & 20, Tivoli Arcade, 235-251 Bourke St, Melbourne
Accessibility: The entry is flat, but things are a bit crowded inside. The toilets are up a small step, are gendered and of standard dimension. You order at the table and pay at a high counter.