I remember when I first visited Korea with my parents – we had a tour guide explaining the nuances of the culture, and telling us little anecdotes and stories, to illustrate what makes Koreans, well, Korean. Fast forward 17 years (eep!) and I’m still utterly fascinated with the culture, and not only because the boys in Big Bang are so stylish and pretty!
I’ve always been a firm believer that food is a gateway into a culture and history of a country, and for that reason, the food needs to sometimes be varied in order to make it slightly more accessible, because you can’t always expect people to go straight for the fermented funky fish. Smokkim Modern Kitchen seems to be trying to achieve that, with a Korean style influenced menu set amongst casual dining surroundings. Located next to Oliver Brown in Top Ryde City, this cosy restaurant has lovely ambient lighting, and a large balcony area if you prefer al fresco dining.
First order of the day – buns. Soft, sweet, milky white buns that are the cornerstone Asian pastries. There was a trio of them on the menu – Marinated Beef, Pork Belly, and Soft Shell Crab. The Marinated Beef – my favourite of the three – was generously filled to the brim with sweet soy cooked wafer thin slices of beef, and just the right amount of kimchi and greens to balance the kick of salt and sugar. Yum. The Pork Belly came a close second, but it really was much better in the Bossam (below), and for that I’d go for more beef buns if I had to order again. Not quite the standard of Pu’er or Belly Bao, but tasty enough to support the menu.
The Deep Fried Stuffed Jalapeño is great as a bar option, and because, #fryday. Stuffed with pork mince and crumbed in panko, these give off a satisfying crunch followed by requisite juiciness upon the first bite. A very grown up Jalapeño popper, these bites bring a touch of sophistication to the urge to pair fried food with alcohol. Quite lovely, but needs more mayo.
Everything can always do with more mayo.
I was first introduced to bibimbap in its searing hot stone bowl by my dad at age 12, and the mix of rice, vegetable, egg, sauce and the delicious crust down the bottom of the bowl has been an expectation of bibimbap ever since. This however, was a cold version, with crab, seaweed, radish, and what looked like scrambled eggs. Like a chirashi almost. And while I can appreciate the concept of the interpretation, I can’t really say that I enjoyed this one. The sauce that came with it wasn’t quite enough to moisten the bowl, and the spanner crab was a little light on flavour. And it made me a little sad, because then I just wanted a chirashi bowl, but it wasn’t socially acceptable for me to have two lunches in a row. /sadface.
But for what the Bibimbap gave in disappointment, the Bossam made up for it. Thick slices of braised, tender pork belly are laid on a plate with kale leaves, pickles and ssamjang – a fermented bean sauce that typically goes with the dish – and you’re meant to make little wraps that are mouthfuls of bliss. I especially enjoyed the structure that the kale gave to this, even though it isn’t a traditional choice of green, and the sticky sweet soy that coated the pork belly just had me licking my fingers. Favourite of the day, and so light on the belly too!
And of course, a burger, because Sam must order a burger when he sees it on the menu. It was a really nice burger, but again, not quite in the league of the burger giants in Sydney. The zucchini chips also provided a lovely crunch to me (Sam wasn’t a fan), but somehow it was sorely lacking a type of dipping sauce that usually goes with a side of chips. For me, anyway.
I think Smokkim is a fantastic first date option – you know that you’re getting decent food and attentive service (we were the only people sitting on the balcony and we still didn’t get neglected), with just enough culture to make it interesting, but not enough to potentially leave you smelling like smoke and hotpot while walking out of the restaurant. No, that, you leave for date 3 or 4. I much preferred the small bites to the large, although I can very well see me treating myself to a Bossam plate for a leisurely lunch.
Mmmm. Pork Belly.