With a raft of TV series, 5.2 million Youtube subscribers and more than 2000 restaurants worldwide, Paik Jong-won could be South Korea’s most famous celebrity chef.

He’s built his fame around comforting traditional dishes like kimchi pancakes, budae jjigae (a spicy war-era stew) and jajangmyeon (thick noodles in a subtly sweet black-bean sauce). But at his eatery Paik’s Bibim, which has opened its first Australian outpost in Melbourne, he takes a different approach. “We focus on healthy Korean meals,” says managing director Iris Cheng.

The health-conscious approach not only distinguishes Paik’s Bibim from some of its competitors, but also restaurants within Jong-won’s own hospitality group. And though it’s a chain with outlets all over, the Melbourne location is the first to trial a lightened-up menu. In that way, “we are the flagship store for the whole world”, Cheng says.

Naturally, bibimbap (which translates to “mixed rice”) is the primary focus. “Bibimbap is one of the representative dishes in Korea,” says Cheng. “Normally, it’s served in a hot stone bowl and cooked on the stove with different vegetables, protein and eggs.”

At Paik’s Bibim, you’ll find a similar set-up – bowls are served on a base of rice with assorted, colourful vegetables and your choice of protein like soy sauce-marinated pork, beef bulgogi and tofu. But the team has mostly nixed the stoneware (with the exception of two dishes) as a way to lighten up the offering. “When [bibimbap] is cooked in the hot stone, it needs more oil to make sure the rice does not stick to the bowl,” says Cheng.

The sweet and spicy sauce that usually accompanies each bibimbap has been subbed for a house-made version with less sugar, salt and oil. And in the near future, the team plans to extend its healthier offerings with the addition of brown rice and plant-based meat.

That said, if you’d rather forgo the whole grains for some of Paik’s more standard fare, there’s also Korean fried chicken (available with chilli or yuzu sauce), japchae (stir-fried noodles), and various types of jjigae, or stew.

Paik’s Bibim
Shop 2, 262 Spencer Street, Melbourne

Hours:
Mon to Sat 11am–9pm

@paiks.bibimau