98 Fitzroy St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 11.30am-3pm; Tue-Sat 5.30pm-9pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, BYO|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9331 5175|
My lunch is singing to me. There's a sizzling sound like radio static coming from the hot stone dolsot pot of Korean bibimbap ($20), as the rice at the base scorches into a crisp golden crust.
It stops singing when I start tossing the colourful toppings of shiitake, bean sprouts, seaweed, cooked beef and raw egg yolk with plenty of spicy gochujang sauce, mixing it through the rice. What I can still hear, however, is a very loud siren call to come back for dinner.
Had I brought 19 of my closest friends, I would have filled this tiny hole-in-the-wall joint in Surry Hills, but as it is, two of us squeeze onto the end of a table for eight and keep our elbows to ourselves.
I wouldn't usually review a restaurant with only two communal tables and a few counter stools, one cocktail and a grand total of nine wines on the list. And yet there is something a bit special about Sang, a collaborative family effort with self-taught chefs Seung Kee and Jin Sun Son in the kitchen, and their son, Kenny Yong Soo Son, and his partner, Youmee Jeon, out front.
An arts college graduate, Kenny also runs Studiokryss, designing metal and wooden objects of desire, several of which add charm and elegance to the dining experience. The slender wooden spoons and chopsticks and simple copper pendant lights bring a thoughtful aesthetic to the cookie-cutter Asian cafe space.
The kitchen has an equally sophisticated aesthetic, lifting what is essentially humble Korean cooking to a new level. Little yassam radish rolls ($15) of crisp nashi and cucumber are smooshed into a light cream, catching the back of the throat with pickly juices.
A bamboo basket-load of four half-moon pockets of steamed jjim mandu dumplings ($14) are filled with a gentle mince of pork belly, glass noodles, garlic chives, bean sprouts and tofu. Add a modest platter of banchan ($6) for greater interest, and you might get sprouted beans, cucumber and radish salad, and chilli beancurd.
A pretty dish of gujeolpan ($32) is a hands-on, do-it-yourself sharing event. Pick up a glossy beetroot-tinged mini pancake (with a texture somewhat similar to silicone) and add any of the eight toppings, from cucumber strips to omelette shreds. Repeat.
Without wishing to start any Korean fried chicken wars, Sang's KFC ($28) is gold-standard craving material. Both the middle wings and drumsticks start with an almighty crunch, and finish with a steamy softness.
Jokbal, a much-loved Korean dish of soy-braised pig's "trotters" ($28), is actually chunky, slow-cooked hunks of pork hock in almost caramelised, sticky juices. Three to four hours of cooking leaves the meat with almost Christmas baked ham flavour and the sauce is excellent with rice, although I would have loved something fresh and bright on the side.
Like the food, the labels on the wine list give more than would be expected for the price, like a fresh, mouth-filling 2017 Walsh & Sons Rainbow White ($9/$38) from the Margaret River.
The dining experience may be minimalist but those who put food first will love Sang's clean, direct flavours and personal, natural style. Nothing is extravagant – the rice isn't milled daily, the herbs aren't gathered by monks from dewy mountain tops – but everything speaks for itself. Some of it even sings.
Vegetarian Plenty of dedicated vegetarian nibbles with some dumpling, noodle and rice dishes available meat-free.
Drinks Three beers, two shochu, one Cheongju rice wine and a pointedly small list of diverse wines from Jed Wines.
Cost About $90 for two, plus drinks.
Go-to dish Gujeolpan, pancake wraps with nine delicacies, $34
Pro tip You can BYO for just $4 a bottle corkage.