Soul Deli review

Comes with a warning label: Korean omelette with caviar.
Comes with a warning label: Korean omelette with caviar. Photo: Louise Kennerley

185 Campbell St Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Wed-Sun 7am-4pm; closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)

When we think of "deli", we usually picture sliced meats, good cheeses and tubs of fat olives. Lox, bagels and schmear might pop up if you're in New York City. But rarely do we associate Asian small goods with this fine foods purveyor idea. 

For partners Illa Kim and Daero Lee, a gourmet Korean one-stop shop makes sense. Why shouldn't small batch kimchi and tofu be given the same pride of place as pickles and pastrami? Plus, at their Surry Hills restaurant Soul Dining, customers often inquire about the pair's house-made sauces and produce. Soon, it became clear there was a gap to fill. 

Opened in February, Soul Deli is part-cafe, part-deli, and part-art space – all promoting the work of Korean-Australian artisans. Inside the bright, spacious interior, you'll find wall art by German-Korean designers Sunny Yang and Ohyun Kwon.

Korean pork schnitzel.
Korean pork schnitzel.  Photo: Louise Kennerley

Pop-arty pictures of Shin Ramyun cup noodles and soju and grace the dining space. Near the pastry display, there are T-shirts for sale by fashion designer Stella Sin and dreamy ceramic cups care of potter Woochang Kim. 

But don't get distracted before you've studied the menu. Lee's extensive line-up will call on all your decision-making skills. One of the first things to decide is whether to go down the "modern breakfast" route or hit the soul food section. The latter contains a handful of rice bowls and, to a non-Korean bruncher's surprise, perhaps – schnitzel.   

This is where Kim and Lee's contemporary vision comes in. "When you go to Korean restaurants in Sydney, you'll often get traditional versions of dishes. Here at the deli, we would like to show what's happening on the streets of Korea, right now."

Soy bean stew with white kimchi.
Soy bean stew with white kimchi. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Donkkaseu, or Korean pork schnitzel, is a cafe staple in Seoul. Served with a Worcestershire-spliced mushroom sauce, the crumbed fillet resembles a thinner version of the Japanese fried pork cutlet, tonkatsu.

We spy a plate-sized schnitzel landing at our neighbour's table. Together with a side of rice and kimchi, it makes a handsome, satisfying-looking meal. 

For carb-enthusiasts, the galbi bowl, covered in smoky marinated short ribs, is the carnivore's dish of choice. Vegetarians get an equally umami-heavy option with the umamishroom bowl, where plump portobello mushrooms are tossed in a sweet-savoury vegan bulgogi (barbecue) sauce. All bowls come with assorted soy pickles and a jammy soft boiled egg.  

The Surry Hills venue.
The Surry Hills venue. Photo: Louise Kennerley

My heart is with the upgraded breakfast classics. Like me, you might find yourself asking things like, "Why don't we serve kimchi with avo toasts more often?" and "Is it OK to fall for omelettes that swim in beurre blanc?" 

Lee's beurre blanc omelette, by the way, should come with a warning label – it's hard to go back to the ordinary version after you've tried his gyeran mari (rolled omelette) with a touch of salty pollock roe inside. I opt for a side of rice and some house-fermented fried kimchi to go with mine. Both are welcome additions and cut the richness of the buttery sauce. 

And sure, you can go even further on the indulgence scale with a stack of hot cakes and Korean fried chicken. But just so you know, the "sensible" options are also worth your while.

Korean doughnuts.
Korean doughnuts. Photo: Louise Kennerley

A soybean stew comes with fluffy kongbiji (soy pulp) that's made on premise. This is a grainy, curd-like product that comes from the tofu making process. Simmered with a vegan white kimchi, this is a popular hangover cure and deep comfort food territory. 

Some of the deli's most exciting offerings are its pantry goods, so be sure to check out its pickles fridge before you leave. There, you'll find freshly made tofu, up to six kinds of kimchi (with vegan options), plus sauces and soy pickles that are all made in-house. How did we ever live before Korean delis? 

The low-down

Main attraction: A mix of new and old Korean cafe classics, plus surprising twists such as omelette with pollock roe and beurre blanc for an upscale twist. 

Must-try dish: The house-made fried kimchi. Get that as a side to accompany your meal or grab a jar to go on your way out.  

Insta-worthy dish: A stack of hot cakes with fried chicken; schnitzels the size of your plate or rolled omelette that swims in a golden, buttery sauce – you name it. 

Drinks: Coffee by Primary Coffee Roasters $4-$6; tea by T2 $4-$5

https://souldeli.com.au/