When you live in a city like Sydney, you’re never pressed for choice when it comes to trying different cuisines. A simple walk down the right city street will take you on a culinary adventure from Europe to Asia to the Middle East to the Americas and back again.
One particular cuisine that has had roots in Australia since the first waves of Asian immigrants is Korean. And recently, Sydney has seen a rise in Korean eateries that are reimagining and reconstructing classic Korean dishes in modern ways. Redfern has Moon Park. Surry Hills has Seoul Food. Potts Point has Kim Restaurant. But a little further north west, Ryde has introduced a new restaurant that is bound to please many people of different palates.
The latest restaurant to hit the scene is Smokkim Modern Kitchen, which opened in early March along the new terrace section of Top Ryde Shopping Centre. Although not the first to offer Korean cuisine with a contemporary twist, Smokkim’s dedicated and passionate team, led by head chef James Son (pictured below), invites people of various backgrounds and tastes to enjoy their carefully considered, unforgettable dishes.
The Grill Bar Degustation Menu ($75pp) is perfect for those wanting to experience the restaurant at its best. The menu is an amalgamation of around seven months of taste testing and fine-tuning by Smokkim’s kitchen. All aspects of every dish in the restaurant have undergone close scrutiny and experimentation to bring the highest quality to the table.
Chef Jay Hun says the creative process for composing dishes has sparked some healthy disagreement between Smokkim’s chefs, who have backgrounds in an array of different cuisines. Whilst Hun has experience mainly with Western cuisine, Son’s expertise previously lay with Japanese food. It is this diversity of experiences and expertise that allows the restaurant to showcase such a modern combination of flavours in its menu.
The Chef’s Selection begins Smokkim’s journey of flavours. The creamy pumpkin soup is an instant winner, with a combination of simple ingredients producing a far from simple flavour. Although most people, myself included, are more accustomed to croutons in their soup, Smokkim shows that softened Korean rice cakes are an ideal substitute to get that little crunch. The full flavour of Korean pumpkin is coupled with the sweetness of the classic red bean in order to deliver a sweet, creamy textured soup that leaves you yearning to lick the bowl.
For the seafood lovers, the flame-grilled Barramundi marinated in Saikyo Miso is also sweet and creamy and delivers a melt-in-your-mouth experience. This works well with the semi-poached spinach in black sesame dressing, which offers a strong but nevertheless delightful contrast to the fish. Lastly, the raw Coffin Bay oyster is coupled with white wine jelly and a dash of mild soy sauce, which makes for a smooth texture and a perfectly balanced flavour – with not one ingredient overpowering the enjoyable dish.
In the middle of the degustation menu is the Beef Tartare, followed by the Homemade Tofu with Summer Salsa. These two cold, light dishes provide the perfect lead up to the much heavier meat that is to come.
The beef tartare isn’t too spicy, making it rather welcoming for people not accustomed to Korean food and spicy cuisines. The egg yolks give it a smooth texture, while pear adds a delightful tinge of sweetness.
I’ve never really liked tofu because of its texture, but Smokkim’s tofu dish changed the way I’ll see tofu in the future. It has a very soft, pleasant texture – almost like a pudding.
The Wagyu Tasting Plate is where all the action happens. An assortment of house pickles, lettuce leaves, kimchi and a collection of different sauces line the table while you watch a Smokkim chef prepare the meat and seasonable vegetables to your liking. The tasting plate features four meats: sirloin, oyster blade, ox tongue and short rib.
Of the four, my favourite was definitely the oyster blade, which is wonderfully soft and tender – the result of being aged for approximately 28 days for maximum flavour and the ideal texture.
The sirloin, aged for approximately 40 days, is also incredibly soft and tender whilst the ox tongue (traditionally served thinly sliced) is thick and juicy. The short rib, having been marinated in a modern teriyaki sauce, bursts with flavour. Each of the four meats is of high quality and great flavour. Individual favourites are likely to differ, and that’s part of the wonder of Smokkim’s menu – it caters to so many different palates!
Smokkim’s reinterpretation of the classic Korean dish, Bibimbap, comes after the meat. This version of the rice dish appeals to seafood lovers, with spanner crab and flying fish roe being notable features of the dish.
Smokkim’s decision to serve these dishes in this order is the result of careful deliberation. The degustation menu begins with a number of small but pleasing dishes that entice you into the flavourful journey. The beef and the tofu, as I already mentioned, are appropriately light, making for a great transition to the heavier meats. And the decision to serve the bibimbap after the meat instead of before ensures diners are not too full to enjoy the superstars of the menu: the meats.
Finally, no dining experience is complete without dessert. In fact, I’m a firm believer in having a separate stomach specifically for dessert.
Smokkim’s dessert selection does not disappoint. The Green Tea Panna Cotta is a testament to the classic combination of matcha and red bean, but with the delightful addition of raspberry. The sweet ingredients perfectly match the strong flavour of green tea; a flavour which I’m openly biased towards as a matcha-lover.
For those too full for a heavy dessert but who nevertheless want something sweet, the Rice Wine (or sikhye) Sorbet is the perfect option. Sikhye is a traditional sweet Korean beverage made from rice. In this dessert, it is presented as thin shards of ice. We were told that sikhye has an unexpected flavour that most people enjoy, so we lifted our spoons with a bit of caution. But once the sweetness of the sikhye hit my palate, I couldn’t put my spoon down. The rice wine sorbet is very refreshing and light, and the subtle trace of alcohol is pleasant and not overpowering at all. With the creamy sorbet mixed in with the thin ice shards, the rice wine sorbet provides a dessert experience that you definitely won’t get everyday.
However, for me the true dessert winner was the Pumpkin Cheesecake (available on the a la carte menu, $15). This is heavier than the rice wine sorbet, featuring a rich cake with cream, biscuit crumbs, raspberry coulis and a sprinkle of green tea powder. Sometimes in life you’re lucky enough to find a dish that speaks to you on a whole other level. Smokkim’s pumpkin cheesecake was one of those for me. The flavour was completely unexpected but absolutely unforgettable. The pumpkin provides an enjoyable sweetness that is only magnified when the taste of creamy cheese hits you. Add the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the cake to this and you have perfection on a plate.
Overall, Smokkim’s diverse menu is a definite standout. The dishes use simple ingredients but unite them in interesting ways to produce flavour combinations that make dining at Smokkim more about experiencing the food rather than merely tasting it.
The atmosphere of the restaurant further adds to this experience. Smokkim Modern Kitchen radiates a warm glow with oriental-inspired wallpaper, hanging pendant lights, tealight candles and potted plants. The wide open space is thoroughly inviting and showcases Smokkim’s prime positioning above the shopping centre’s outdoor terrace. It’s easy to imagine how amazing the space must look at night, especially along the restaurant’s balcony, encased by the lights of surrounding restaurants and positioned directly across from Top Ryde’s large viewing screen.
With a unique and delightful menu, friendly service and a luxurious interior space, Smokkim Modern Kitchen offers something to please everyone. By serving its own modern twist on traditional dishes, Smokkim makes the rich flavours of Korean food more accessible to those unaccustomed to the cuisine. At the same time, Smokkim also invites those familiar with Korean cuisine to experience classic dishes in new and exciting ways.
Smokkim Modern Kitchen
Top Ryde Shopping Centre, Shop 4003
Corner Devlin St and Blaxland Rd, Ryde, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9809 5703
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Smokkim Modern Kitchen