If your dearest wish is to listen to some lovely piano music while you eat but have a hankering for Korean food, then I've got this little dilemma sorted for you. In the middle of Circular Quay, in a tall grey office building sits a small Korean restaurant serving delicious food alongside some wonderful classical piano pieces played by the muscly Korean owner! Not something you'd expect at all.
Finding it is a little tricky, its tucked away in the building and even though I rang ahead and the owner gave me very specific directions, we still find ourselves wandering around a little until my husband spies their sign. We're greeted by the friendly waitress and even though we've come a bit earlier than when they're officially open (as we need to make a movie at the nearby Dendy Opera Quays), she's friendly and accommodating and assures us that the pressed time will not be an issue.
The restaurant is all sleek black backed chairs, shiny spotless wooden floorboards and of course, a glossy black baby grand right in the middle of the restaurant. The walls echo what I've been told: that I should definitely order the Chicken and Ginseng soup-a dish that Koreans are said to partake of in the hot summer to help invigorate themselves and give them the "strength of a bear". Browsing through the other items, I see Dolsot Bibimbab, one of my favourite dishes with rice, beef, vegetables, chili and raw egg yolk served in a hot stone bowl so that the egg yolk cooks while being stirred around with the other ingredients.
Shortly after we order the owner arrives and he is chatty, friendly and charming and makes you feel even more welcome. We get our side dishes of kimchi, shredded potato, konyakku with chili and soy, sesame bean sprouts, and pickled radish. He tells us that they're all made fresh in the morning and anything not eaten is discarded so that its fresh every day. The shredded potato is firm and buttery, the konyakku is fabulously soft and luscious (and impossible to pick up with chopsticks!), the pickled radish is similar to Kimchi but with a different texture and the sesame bean sprouts are good although they could be more sesame-y. I leave the Kimchi as I am not a big Kimchi eater after overdosing on it one evening only to have ferocious nightmares all night.
Chicken and Ginseng soup $25 (whole small chicken stuffed with rice, ginseng root, chestnut and jujube in chicken and ginseng broth)
Our Chicken in Ginseng arrives to give us the "strength of a bear"and its a whole small chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, ginseng root, jujube and chestnut with red jujube's (like dates) outside. The owner is eager to show us what's inside so I'm afraid there's no picture of the whole bird floating in the soup. It comes with salt and pepper on the side and you're meant to taste the soup first and then if needed, add the salt and pepper mix and when eating the chicken add the mix to it too. Taking a sip of the soup, its a very mild chicken broth with a subtle but pervasive ginseng taste to it although it never verges into the too bitter territory thanks to the red jujubes that give it sweetness. I add the salt and pepper and season it to my taste. Its a restorative broth most certainly and the chicken is so incredibly soft its even possible to eat all of the bones, even the largest ones as they crumble in the mouth giving no resistance at all. We're told that the chickens are pressure cooked to make them very soft. Its an enormous bowl and would be enough for 2 to share.
Our sizzling bowl of colourful Bibimbab arrives with spinach, beef, mushrooms and carrot on a bed of rice with a sunny egg yolk in the centre and the owner offers to mix in the chili for it. I tell him I'll have it medium heat just in case the chili is very hot and he adds in half of the chili and stirs until the whole bowl is mixed together thoroughly to make a vividly coloured bowl of flavours in the traditional hot stone pot.
I taste it and its delicious but I feel that I can take more heat and mix in the rest of the chili sauce which makes it perfect. I especially love the crispy fried bits of rice at the bottom of the bowl. Whenever my mother used to make us fried rice or noodles, I would always jump up after finishing my plate and scrape the crispy bits off the bottom of the pan as everyone knew that they were mine. I was even rewarding myself with cook's treats back then, even when I wasn't the cook!
Its during our meal that he takes to the piano and the room fills with gorgeous classical piano, his fingers flying over the keyboard skilfully. We had expected decent piano playing but are a little surprised as he is rather excellent at it. We break out with applause at the end, not just for the fabulous piano playing but for the lovely food and genuinely welcoming atmosphere.
Shop 601, 1 Macquarie Place
Circular Quay NSW 2000
Phone (02) 9241 3317
Monday-Friday 12:00-3:00pm 6:00-9:00pm