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Just another grimy alley in the city. Or so I thought. But follow the ant march of young diners stepping off the main drag of Pitt Street and you'll discover one more of the city's hidden culinary wonders. A surprising find, O Bal Tan isn't much of a looker from the outside. But weave your way past the parked cars and metal drums to enter the domain of the Korean barbecue. All pipes and grills, the aromas of a gazillion barbecues grilling meaty morsels over hot coals will lure you in. The ground floor restaurant is a more casual affair, with a delightfully kitsch model of the Harbour Bridge blinking fairy lights on the back wall. Rather take the stairs up to the first level, past the private dining room, where you'll discover a deliciously dimmed space decked out in wood, brick and black iron flourishes. Curls of smoke disappear into silver pipes hanging from the roof, as groups sit around private charcoal barbecues, sipping soju and grilling their pickings.
The concept of "cooking your own" has interesting appeal, and has been enthusiastically welcomed by Australian diners in recent years. Opened two years ago, O Bal Tan is suitably located in a quiet alleyway snaking behind the buzzing strip of Korean restaurants and supermarkets on Pitt Street. Groups feast on marinated beef ribs, pork ribs and marinated chicken with chilli sauce, or the popular hotpot options, served with an impressive offering of sauces and condiments. The shimmering snakes hanging from the ceiling keep the smoke at bay, leaving diners to focus on their grilling techniques. Korean wine, soju, is the perfect accompaniment for the feast. Open 12pm to late every day, O Bal Tan takes bookings anytime except for after 7pm on Friday.