Dining / The Girl’s still got it

IT had been ages since I popped in to dine at Soju Girl on Northbourne Avenue in the historic Melbourne Building and I kick myself for waiting so long since this continues to be an amazing food experience.

Wendy Johnson.

Wendy Johnson.

Chef Derek Brown, who has worked in classy operations and lived in Thailand working with locals, creates exquisite dishes that are a feast for the eyes as well as for the palette, delicately combining ingredients on the plate to form individual pieces of art.

And then there’s the flavour. No boring food here. None whatsoever.

Soju Girl’s menu celebrates influences from all over south-east Asia, fusing Korean, Japanese and Thai cuisine. You’re encouraged to explore by sharing and plates come in two sizes – large and small.

The restaurant is named after the Korean rice spirit – Soju – which was first distilled around the 13th century and means “burnt liquor”. Korea is famous for the signature cocktails it makes with Soju. The spirit will blow your head off if you’re not careful.

We adored the Bibimbap of the day, a signature Korean dish, with this one featuring black sesame Tasmanian salmon, rainbow radish and pretty violas.

My friend, who had dined at Soju Girl about a month earlier, wanted more of the cauliflower florets, a delicate dish served with light horseradish foam. You can’t go wrong ordering this option.

The chef is experimenting with a “rice bowl of the day”. Ask if it’s on the menu on your visit because it’s worth every mouthful. Ours was created with slow-braised pork, aromatic herbs, and chard kimchi. The flavours packed a punch.

So did the smoked trout from the pristine waters of the Snowy Mountains, served with fresh green papaya, wasabi leaves and cashew chilli. This has got to be the best-quality trout available in this part of the world.

Soju Girl is celiac heaven in many ways, with Derek offering many dishes to suit. The tofu is popular with the crispy chickpeas adding texture and the house-made, yellow-bean sauce adding a touch of glamour.

Curries are equally popular with the kitchen using quality ingredients and putting heaps of tender loving care into creating them (if done well, curries are labour intensive).

Soju Girl has a cocktail lounge as you walk in and then elegant dining areas to the right and to the left – perfect spaces for larger functions. It was knowledgeable service with a smile throughout our visit. What a great place to dine.

The restaurant is part of the 2617 Group, with other members being Ellacure and Versatile.

Soju Girl, 41-43 Northbourne Avenue, Civic, open Tuesday to Saturday, call 6257 5328.

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