Having an incredibly common Korean name might seem like a surefire way to blend in, but Kim Restaurant in Potts Point stands out in many impressive ways.
It’s a new venture by David Ralph (Flying Fish, Kakawa Chocolates) and Tae Kyu Lee (Mr Wong, Ms Gs), who both share impressive CVs and a not-so-common denominator – these two chefs worked at Quay and also were key plotters in the Seoul of Sydney, a collective that aimed to shake up expectations about Korean cuisine.
So, don’t assume there’ll be a fill-in-the-blanks approach to the menu. Yes, there’s kimchi, but it’s seasonal and it’s cheekily described as “white boy kimchi”. The jokey title – Kojengee Kimchi ($9) – comes from slang that Koreans use for Westerners, which translates as “big nose”. Says David, “Not many people make kimchi from scratch, let alone a white boy.” And while his collaborator, Tae Kyu (TK) is pretty good at it, it’s David’s domain for the moment – fermenting spinach, cucumber and cabbage in a surprisingly traditional way.
The spicy, lip-puckering tartness of kimchi sneaks into quite a few dishes on the menu – including the Mandoo Korean Dumplings ($3.50 each) – and is one of many home-made features on offer. The Pickles ($9) are an ultra-bright medley of tastebud-cooling preserves, made from kohlrabi, pumpkin, purple carrot (to name some of the unusual suspects). Complimentary root vegetable crisps (served with addictive fermented black garlic) also have a hand-crafted touch, as does the Housemade Namool ($9) – a trio of bean sprouts, Korean bracken, and chee (a native Korean plant), all roundly seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds. The bracken, which is rehydrated and cooked with soy, is a velvety, ultra-savoury highlight that really lingers.
The Bossam ($26) totally knocked Will out, too: the rich pork belly conspiring with the firepower of ssamjang, the tart pickled onions and garlic chive kimchi (with its surprising shreds of pear), all to create a dish that hits so many flavoursome marks.
And while Kim restaurant only opened on Monday, it’s fascinating to note that its diners are pretty game – sure, the dumplings are popular, but so’s the Prawn Jang (soy fermented prawns) and Jokbal Naengchae (pork hock with trotters and jellyfish).
Alongside David and TK, the Kim team also includes Attila Turner (Yoshii, Single Origin) and manager Dane Shedden (Ms G’s, Quay) on the floor. Everyone is very likeable, observant and witty – often sneaking in lots of interesting tidbits about Korean cuisine while delivering food to your table. We were told that Koreans believe in eating 30+ different foods a day for optimal health (apparently this is why there are so many ingredient-laden side dishes in the cuisine), and that your importance can be measured by how grain-rich your rice is. At Kim Restaurant, you can order 9 Grain Rice ($5.50), which is quite a few steps up from the default fiver; grain count rises with your status – with the most abundant kind served to royalty. David quipped that eating the 9 Grain meant we were basically rolling with rich people, or big-deal private chefs. It’s surprising that a dish so understated and rustic could be such a symbol of extravagance. If 9 Grain Rice doesn’t land a name-check by Kanye soon (it’s the Korean cuisine equivalent of his Versace couch, right?), I’ll be super disappointed.
I also learnt that the Sikhae ($6), an after-dinner malt drink with fermented barley, rice, ginger and cinnamon, is traditionally consumed in bath houses; it’s also an incredibly sweet and refreshing beverage that is great after you’ve knocked off a dessert. At Kim Restaurant, you can order Patbingsoo ($12) a mountain of milk ice that’s banked over red beans, lychee jelly and kiwifruit. There’s also Hoddeok ($12), Korean donuts jammed with pepitas and teamed with cool blocks of black sesame parfait, which are sprinkled with basil seeds (or “tadpole eggs”, as Attila joked). And of course, given David also runs Kakawa Chocolates, it’s a no-brainer that you can also order Almond Pralines with Roast Soy Powder ($4) or Chilli Dark Chocolate Ganache ($4) for a small-scale, meal-ending finale.
Because Kim Restaurant is still waiting for its licence, your sweet tooth might also contend with a Korean Barley Cola ($3) – it’s surprisingly smoky and nutty and way more interesting than a Coke Zero. Plus, how can you not love a drink that demands that you “Spark up!”? When the go-ahead happens, though, expect a booze list that has strong Korean origins.
The establishment is also waiting for a license to approve night-time outdoor seating (the chairs and tables have to move in at 8pm at the moment), but shuffling inside is not so bad. You can get a closer look at the elegant Hangul writing on the wall or enjoy the closer spying proximity to the kitchen.
Kim Restaurant’s way of reprogramming expectations will undoubtedly inspire comparisons to Moon Park in Redfern, which takes on similar culinary territory. Although Kim Restaurant definitely aims for a contemporary approach, David says he doesn’t think his venture is in the same weight division as the Redfern eatery. His kitchen aims for a more casual approach, whereas Moon Park leans towards fine-diner ambitions. Regardless, both are excellent ambassadors for Korean food – and the more original takes on this cuisine, the better for our appetites.