Moon Park modestly claims to be the “2nd best Korean restaurant at 34 Redfern St, Redfern”, ceding all bragging rights and competition-beating honours to Danny’s Rice Bar downstairs. By that logic, Danny’s establishment must be category-killing awesome, because Moon Park sets the bar damn high.
You’ll find the eatery above Jason Mowen Decorative Arts. The room is simple and raw-boned – stripped of the skulls and The Smiths paraphernalia that used to furnish the space in its former life as a dive bar. Moon Park is sparsely adorned with industrial lights, timber furniture and the odd gravity-defying bouquet. You really have to lean in to hear what your companions are saying, because the sound levels can be a little harsh and uncushioned (but handy, if you want to eavesdrop on some interesting loudmouths nearby). The acoustics don’t matter too much, because it’s the food that’s worth paying attention to.
The casual set-up might misdirect expectations (one friend complained about portion size at Moon Park, but it’s a mistake to assume this is a generic address for getting cheap and cheery $10 takeout). The room might not look flashy, but the restaurant’s pedigree is high-grade impressive. Moon Park is run by chefs Ben Sears (Cutler & Co) and “his more talented partner” Eun Hee An (“she’s actually Korean”), who were both at Claude’s. On the floor is the likeable Ned Brooks (of Brooks & Amos and also a face you may recognise from his stint at MoVida). His interesting drinks list reflects the restaurant’s Korean direction (rice beer, plum wine), while the kitchen reinterprets standard dishes in expectation-twisting ways.
Bibimbap ($20) is not the usual julienned rainbow of vegies that you destroy with gochujang, but a more elegant mix of rice and pearl barley that also folds in corn, cured egg, nori and crab (you can have the crab optional, for a vego-friendly version). It’s still ready to have its spice levels dialled fiery high with the chilli paste, though. Imjasutang ($17), usually a soup, is reimagined as a broth-free chicken dish, with a flavoursome support cast of pine nut, mushroom and date. It was traditionally a specialty enjoyed by royalty and, judging from Will’s endorsement, I’m sure the court would dig this translation, too. While some diners might be happy to discover the Fried Chickpea Cake ($5) has sneaky pork elements in it, you can still order a variation of this if you’re a vego. And you should, because it’s great. The alternative has shiitake instead and comes served as crisp pillows of awesomeness that you dip into yuzu and fermented chilli sauce.
My other favourite is the Whipped Tofu ($15). A picturebook-like row of carrots, wakame and fat-hen herbs is topped with shiitake crisps, while underneath is a creamy spill of liquid bean curd and a crunchy crumb path of buckwheat. It all adds up to an inspired, flavoursome dish.
The desserts are inventive, too: there’s the (very fun to say) Patbingsu, which is a pile-up of soy flour donuts, strawberry, fig leaf shaved milk, red bean and omija ($13), and the brilliant Moon Pie ($14), which is (despite the name) not a typical pastry, but a free-form dessert with self-assemble parts for your spoon (ginger jelly, pear, maesil marshmallow and scatterings of graham cracker and chocolate).
Like Moon Park, the dessert is unassuming at first, but a real surprise once you get to know it. Someone warn Danny’s Rice Bar.