Smart casual may be a confusing dress code, but we know it when we eat it. It’s in a bowl of pippis that have opened their little pearlescent shells in order to be anointed with a juicy, umami-bomb of XO sauce and a litter of green onion with a burn-your-fingerprints-off hot puck of fried bread to soak up the broth that remains. A wedge of soft, sweet Chinese cabbage, cooked until it’s almost translucent and bathed in a rich, chickeny schmaltz, also adheres to the theme. But it’s a Trojan horse, delivering concealed pockets of spanner crab meat between its layers in the most delicious of tricks.
A great casual diner has you considering a return visit before the bill is paid for this one, and Paper Bird is a double threat to your savings account because they also do brunch. Sure, all the cool restaurants are doing it now, but where else can you get a shallot pancake given savoury cred from shiitake and draped in jamón so that it looks like an impasto still life? There are other reasons to make it a day visit too: namely a Katsu sando and breakfast Negronis.
What chefs Eun Hee An and Ben Sears are slinging out of a tiny kitchen in what was once a fashionable bakery is nothing short of miraculous. And it’s also the most dynamic, exciting Korean dining in the city. The banchan you love at barbecue restaurants is reimagined here as a salad of pickled fennel, shredded lettuce, sesame seeds and a soft boiled soy-marinated egg. A little digging reveals a hidden payload of dashi-spiked cream, exposing this fresh and acidic salad as a calorie smuggler impersonating lean cuisine.
Do you define casual dining as the ability to binge on carbs? We present to you a braised beef cheek bibimbap fairly thrumming with savoury notes from black bean, enough nori to conjure visions of the Yellow Sea, and an egg yolk as the rich tie that bind it all together. It’s almost a high-end eating challenge, but if you like it hot the gentle heat in the kohlrabi kimchi might not cut it – request more gochujang to turn up the spice.
If dessert is a WWE wrestling match then your mouth is the sprung floor, bouncing between grapefruit’s decisive half nelson of sharp bitterness and the glam slam that is a boozy condensed milk ice cream. It’s a rolling battle, but the cleansing citrus is the last triumphant flavour, though we are the ones taking home the championship belt, even if it does fit a bit snugly.
Time Out Awards
2018Best Casual Dining Restaurant
2017Best New Restaurant