"There are hairs on the potatoes!" exclaims Mrs Pig Flyin, and we all lean in closer for a better look. She's right, of course. The tiny potato chips are ringed with fine spiky filaments that can only be seen if you look carefully. It's the kind of wacky surprise that is synonymous with Moon Park, one part Korean restaurant, two parts everything else.
Chefs Ben Sears and Eun Hee An - both ex-Claude's - are the force behind Moon Park, and they seem determined not to have you find it. The restaurant sits on the first floor above Jason Mowen Decorative Arts, but there's no sign on the balcony or at the entrance. A small printed menu by the front door is the only clue.
Complimentary rice crackers with kombu salt
The dining room is simple, understated and surprisingly roomy. Tonight the crowd is mostly in their 20s and 30s, and despite tonight's chill, many have elected to dine outside on the balcony overlooking Redfern Park.
Plates of complimentary rice crackers are brought to our table as soon as we are seated. They're impossibly light and airy, seasoned with a sprinkling of kombu seaweed salt that is way too addictive.
The menu is a modest size, with six small dishes and eight larger plates to choose from. We're a party of six tonight and go with the easiest option: "We'll have one of everything," we tell our waiter.
Cucumber kimchi $5
There's an obvious Korean foundation to each dish, but many also have an unexpected twist.
Bindaedduk fried chickpea cake $3 each
Bindaedduk, for example, is traditionally a pancake made with mungbeans, but here it's reinterpreted into fingers of fried chick peas, like edible Jenga blocks dipped into a soy dressing.
Zucchini and mussel pancake $10
Pajeon pancake skips the usual shallots and replaces it with shredded zucchini. Mussels marry well into this dish, and the surface and edges are impressively crisp. The thinness of this pancake means there's no pasty doughiness you sometimes get from other Korean restaurants.
Corn cheese $6
Corn cheese arrives as baby corn spears on a bed of black garlic aioli with shavings of provolone over the top. It's perhaps the only underwhelming dish of the evening, with the whisper of provolone too soft against the corn.
Ddokbeokki and peanuts $5
We do adore the ddokbeokki, logs of rice cake that have been deep-fried and then rolled in crushed peanuts. There's a wicked contrast between the thin crunchy surface and the stretchy chewy innards. The peanut coating combined with the rice cake reminds me of Malaysian muah chee too. They're so good we order another round later on in the evening.
We get another serve of the beef jerky as well. The strips of beef look more like prosciutto, and are practically translucent if you hold them up to the light. They snap in the mouth like crisp bacon, with a candied sugar surface that gleams. And the taste. They're intensely smoky, catching you by surprise and then reeling you in with its lingering smokiness.
Yukhoe beef tartare with kkaenip kimchi and sunflower seeds $18
We're all looking for the raw egg yolk on top of the yukhoe when it lands but are soon distracted by the petals of smoky grilled onions. Our table is divided about the flavour of this dish - some appreciate the subtle sweetness of the beef, but others can't taste much at all.
I'm not a huge fan of the sunflower seeds which interfere with the textural silkiness of the hand-cut beef, but the kkaenip kimchi - made from a leaf related to perilla - adds an unusual spiciness to the dish.
Dotorimuk heirloom tomato salad with acorn jelly and washed kimchi $16
Heirloom tomato salad feels like a strange Mediterranean blip on the Korean landscape but the star here is the dotorimuk or acorn jelly. The wobbly brown squares have a mellow nuttiness to them, accented by bright white slivers of washed kimchee.
Imjasutang royal summer chicken, pinenut, mushroom, date and pickled rose $17
Historically, imjasutang is a cold chicken soup served to royalty. Here it's reinterpreted as an artfully plated assembly of cold poached chicken, pickled rose petals and wafer thin slices of carrot and mushroom.
This is an elegant dish that feels like it should be savoured slowly and precisely, with thin metal chopsticks. I can't stop marvelling at the discs of mushroom, microplaned with precision so each is as thin as paper. The flavours are delicate, perhaps on the bland side for some, but it's worth remembering this is a regal dish, not loud-and-in-your-face street food.
Bibim rice and pearl barley, gochujang, corn, crab, cured egg and nori $20
Bibim moves more into homestyle comfort food territory, but even here, there's an elevated twist with the addition of barley and confit crab into the mix.
Mixing the bibim
We dump the gochujang chilli paste into the rice as instructed, and then toss the rainbow of ingredients together. This ends up being one of my favourite dishes of the night, balanced not only in texture, but also saltiness and sweetness. The barley lends a pleasing chewiness, punctuated with bright juicy bursts of corn.
Whipped tofu, carrot, shiitake and buckwheat $15
Whipped tofu sounds bizarre at first, but the trail surrounding a pile of carrots, wakame seaweed and shiitake crisps is creamy without being overly rich. Curls of buckwheat crackers resting on top disintegrate into smithereens with every bite.
Green beans with ssamjang $6
Our side dish of green beans with ssamjang is a heady mix with a spicy, sweet, sour, salty and umami profile. Traditionally ssamjang is used as a condiment with Korean grilled meats wrapped in lettuce. Here its pungency feels a little overwhelming at times for the beans, but it's an interesting sideshow to the rest of our dishes.
Coffin Bay baby octopus, scallion, potato and ink dashi $18
Coffin Bay baby octopus is a revelatory dish that makes everyone sit up upon their first mouthful. The octopus itself is incredibly tender, as soft as a baby's cheek, accented masterfully with splodges of ink dashi.
Textural contrast comes from shaved kombu, green-veined shards that look like reptile skin. And yep, you can spot the furry potato crisp on the right hand side of the picture above. We're still not sure how they achieved this, but we were grateful for every baby-sized potato chip.
Bulgogi beef, kimchi and pickled onion on a roll $15
The bulgogi beef is listed as "on a roll" so when it arrives on a table as a burger with chips, we're more than a little delighted. Maybe that was just me. Visually it sits a little at odds with the rest of the modern Korean menu but then who cares when it tastes this good!
The burger bun is soft and sweet without being too buttery or squishy, and the beef patty is fat and juicy, with a gentle sweetness from the bulgogi marinade. Chilli chips on the side make this a complete meal in itself.
Shrimp brined fried chicken with soy and syrup $18
And sigh. Fried chicken. They must have known to bring this dish out last. It's a jumble of chicken pieces on the bone, brined before frying so the flesh is moist. There's a salty punch from what we presume is fermented shrimp paste, and black sesame seeds give a nutty crunch to everything. The batter is every bit as crunchy as you could hope for, and the soy and syrup sauce at the bottom of the plate needs to be mopped up as much as you can.
There are about eight pieces on the plate but this dish is so darned delicious we order another one immediately.
Shrimp brined fried chicken take two
"Moon pie": plum, maesil marshmallow, ginger jelly and graham cracker $14
There are only two desserts on the menu and we order one of each to share. "Moon Pie" is a riff on the American snack, reinterpreted in Korean as the omnipresent Choco Pie. Two layers of cake are sandwiched around a layer of marshmallow and then coated in chocolate. Here the cake comes in the form of graham crackers; the marshmallow is flavoured with maesil or green plums; and ginger jelly provides a hit of spiciness.
Alas there's no chocolate on the plate, but soaked prunes give a sweet - and virtuous - earthiness. Clouds of blowtorched meringue tie everything together.
Patbingsu fig leaf shaved milk, berries, fresh donuts and omija $13
Patbginsu means shaved ice, a Korean dessert that's usually topped with fruit, condensed milk and red bean paste. At Moon Park that means shaved ice made from fig leaves, along with fig leaf ice cream, fresh raspberries and tiny donuts that taste of kinako roasted soy bean flour. At the bottom is a puddle of omija, a "five flavour tea" that's commonly served in summer for its cooling properties.
It's light and refreshing, mixing up the familiar with the unusual, a description that sums up Moon Park really.
And the prices are surprisingly affordable too. We ordered several repeats on dishes until everyone was satiated, and even then the food bill only came to about $40 per head. I'd return for the fried chicken, and ok, the peanut-coated rice cakes and octopus too.
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Level 1, 34b Redfern St, Redfern
(entrance via the unmarked doorway on Elizabeth Street)
Tuesday to Saturday 5.30pm til late
Sunday 12pm - 3pm
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1/12/2014 11:20:00 pm