This place is showing us Korean food isn’t all fiery late-night snacks and soju bombs
It should probably be said right now that Restaurant Shik is not exactly a haven for vegetarians. Dishes are mainly built on expertly cooked proteins and a strong fermentation program. Yes, ‘fermentation program’ sounds wanky, but when fennel, persimmon and beetroot are given the kimchi treatment and transformed into subtle, bitey expressions on which a cuisine is built, you know it doesn’t happen by accident.
The man behind Restaurant Shik is Peter Jo, or, ‘Kimchi Pete’, if you ever met him enthusiastically pouring wines at Belles Hot Chicken, Neighbourhood Wine or Etta. He’s a Sydney native, and after moving to Melbourne, he became fed up with the lack of Korean options. It probably doesn’t help that his family run the much-loved Madang and Danjee in Sydney’s Koreatown. But out of his frustration, Melbourne has gained Restaurant Shik.
You can tell Jo is a man who knows how to edit himself. Yes, he is confident with wines, but he has employed Josh Begbie to run the beverage list. Yes, he can cook Korean food and has done stints in kitchens like Jerry Mai’s Annam to arm himself with the skills to work a line, but he has hired a couple of Korean chefs to precisely execute the food that he envisions. Jo focuses his own energies on the pickles and kimchis that are the backbone to every dish because that is how he expresses himself. Knowing you can’t do everything is not a skill that first-time restaurateurs have, but Jo has been a part of enough restaurant openings to know that if you try to be an expert at everything, you’ll succeed at nothing.
And how successful is the food at Shik? Very. The vegetable jeon are textbook delightful. Chunky slices of dense zucchini and meaty king brown mushrooms are egg-washed and fried to amplify their natural sweetness and earthiness next to a gelatinous vegetable pancake and a piquant soy-based dipping sauce. The raw snapper comes mixed with a spicy-sweet gochujang, finely shredded white cabbage and pops of pigface, hidden under a herbaceous handful of chrysanthemum, giving you sophisticated, tartare-like vibes.
Larger dishes are either soups or grills, and you’ll have to make the agonizing choice between different cuts of Rangers Valley beef, fatty intercostal, pork belly and kimchi-marinated pork neck. We opted for the pork neck and were met with tender, aggressively seasoned, coal-kissed cuts of pork topped with kimchi that we were encouraged to eat saam-style (wrapped) in either plate-sided peppery shiso leaves or boats of romaine lettuce, soothed by a nutty saamjang and complemented with garlic chives rubbed in a chilli paste and soy bean sprouts. Order the seasonal kimchi plate for more variations on the saam theme and add some crunchy, sweet-savoury persimmon to the mix, or salty, toothsome fennel. They also go with everything else on the menu.
The gamjatang is a riff of a spicy pork bone-and-potato soup. This one gets no spice, but the typical fattiness from the back bone of the pig comes from lamb ribs cooked so tender, they no longer cling to the bone. In place of kimchi, the cabbage comes deep and salted, taking on the brothy characteristics from cooking down the lamb ribs, soaked up by floury chunks of potato, seasoned with a hefty dose of ground, nutty perilla seeds and brightened with its shredded leaves.
And that’s all she wrote. As chief editor of Restaurant Shik, Jo chooses not to serve desserts, which means you won’t need to leave space for them. Treat yourself to another drink instead or circle back to the grilled meats for maximum satisfaction.
|Venue name:||Restaurant Shik|
30 Niagara Lane
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat 5pm-11pm|