24-30 Springfield Avenue Potts Point, New South Wales 2011
There are lots of Kims in Korea. Ten million, in fact, not including the odd North Korean president. So you would expect a new Korean restaurant in Sydney named Kim to be opened by a Kim. Nope. There's a David Ralph, co-owner of Kakawa Chocolates, and a Tae Kyu Lee, formerly of Mr. Wong and Ms. G's instead. Perhaps they just went for it because kim means gold in Korean? Nope. In fact, they named it after one mum, two friends, and kimchi, the traditional fermented vegetable said to stave off SARS and prolong life.
Best to order the kimchi, then. Three of the nearly 200 different kinds of kimchi made in Korea appear on the menu as kojengi kimchi ($9), translated here as "white boy-made". Tonight, it's long furls of angry-red cabbage kimchi and little tumbles of cucumber and crisp Korean moo radish. Lightly crunchy little punching bags of flavour, they are searingly hot and yet feel a bit light in terms of salt, which would add some depth to the heat. Or is that a bit white boy of me? No such issue with the complimentary anju (salty snack), of little root vegetable crisps served with minerally Korean grey salt and black garlic.
Like most of the cafes and diners that line this recently revitalised laneway linking edgy Kings Cross with polite Potts Point, Kim is tiny inside, relying on its broad expanse of alfresco terrace to do decent numbers. That's fine when it's fine, but it could be a bit bleak when it's bleak.
Ordering can be a struggle if you don't know your jokbal naengchae from your yangnyum tang ramyun. Drinks-wise, it's easier - just go for the Hite beer, soju (rice-based, distilled and vodka-like) or fresh makgeolli (milky rice wine) although a short and sweet all-NSW wine list runs to a savoury, supple Wimbaliri cool-climate Pinot Noir ($47) from NSW's Murrumbateman.
If you're going meat-free, ''kim'', a seasoned and roasted seaweed, adds oomph to ogok bap, or nine-grain rice ($5.50). Otherwise, mackerel (godungo) is a great order, the single, long, fleshy fillet cured, grilled and crisp-skinned ($12). Plump, floppy, boiled mandu dumplings are fun, filled with blandish pork, beef and tofu ($3.50 each). Fried chicken (TKFC, $18) is drool-worthy, the chumpy wings sticky with barbecue sauce. Fermentation is a constant refrain, most memorably with the prawn jang ($18), three jumbo-sized raw prawns, soy-fermented for three days until the flesh is lightly sticky and translucent. The idea is to then toss and turn the prawns into the accompanying bowl of nutty rice, rich with the umami notes of toasted sesame and seasoned seaweed, dried anchovies, Korean soy and raw egg yolk. And a very good idea it is.
For more hands-on action, hit the ssam ($26), a platter of barbecued chicken thigh, tangy pickles, a brilliant garlic chive kimchi, and spicy ssamjang paste, ready to wrap in lettuce leaves and roll into fat bundles.
To finish, it's all about the patbingsu ($12), a shaved-ice milk dessert similar to Malaysian ice kachang that comes with buried treasure of red beans, lychee jelly strawberries and kiwifruit.
Once a hermit cuisine, Korean food is making up for lost time, getting modern with it at Redfern's Moon Park and George Street's Danjee as well. It is only two chefs, one tiny kitchen and a handful of tables in a laneway, but the selective editing and graceful, lightly seasoned interpretation of Korean food make Kim's a top little spot to launch your palate on its Korea path.
Best bit Earthy, wild, fermented flavours.
Worst bit What happens when it rains?
Go-to dish Prawn jang: soy-fermented prawns, yolk, rice, $18.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.