Talk­ing shop

A Korean pur­veyor of fine food has your toasted rock laver needs and more sorted.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - News -

For the past five years Ta­ble 181 has qui­etly sup­plied top restau­rants such as MoVida and Mo­mo­fuku Seiobo with high-end, ar­ti­sanal Korean

in­gre­di­ents. Korean-born

Paul Lee and his wife, Idylle, launched the busi­ness in Mel­bourne, but re­lo­cated to Syd­ney last year to be closer to the bulk of the de­mand. Now a move to Banksmeadow sees the ad­di­tion of a shopfront and tast­ing room.

Opened in July, the new re­tail space marks the first time the pub­lic has had ac­cess to the bou­tique goods.

“It’s some­where we can in­vite any­one who’s in­ter­ested to come and see and taste the prod­ucts,” says Lee. “I can ex­plain how they’re grown, made or fer­mented, and peo­ple can take them away and ex­per­i­ment.”

While most Asian in­gre­di­ents you’d find in gro­cery stores are made in large quan­ti­ties, Ta­ble 181 im­ports only Korean prod­ucts made in small batches or with tra­di­tional meth­ods. The prod­ucts fall into four key cat­e­gories: sea­weed, savouries, dry and semi-dried goods, and sauces, called jang in Korean.

There are nu­mer­ous jangs at the new tast­ing room – “all of them liv­ing,” says Lee

– from soy, chilli and fish sauces to sweet va­ri­eties made with fer­mented berries. Th­ese are typ­i­cally fer­mented in Korean earth­en­ware, called onggi, a process that goes back more than two thou­sand years.“Onggi breathes dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion, which is key,” he says. Also key is the flavour: “In Korean, there’s a word called ‘gam­chilmat’ – it’s equiv­a­lent to umami in Ja­panese – and com­mer­cial prod­ucts just don’t have it.”

Peter Gil­more, of Syd­ney’s Quay, was Ta­ble 181’s first cus­tomer. He’ll go to 181 for hand-har­vested sea­weed, say, the kind that can only be col­lected for one month of the year. “Kore­ans eat it as a salad with a lit­tle vine­gar and oil,” says Lee. “Peter ap­plies vine­gar, dries it again, cooks it back and uses it with lamb.”

Ta­ble 181 sup­plied The

Fat Duck and Noma Aus­tralia when they were in town, and other restau­rants in­clud­ing The Bridge Room, Bentley and Hu­bert are reg­u­lars, too.

That cal­i­bre of cus­tomer comes as no sur­prise when you browse the shelves. Ta­ble 181’s tuna soy, for in­stance (which re­tails for $75), is made us­ing tuna that’s been air-dried for six months (rather than frozen fish), and has kombu, shi­itake and citrus peel in the fer­ment. “Most other stuff in stores would take three or four weeks to make,” says Lee.

“This takes 12 months.”

“It’s like com­par­ing wine fer­mented in steel tanks for a short amount of time to a prop­erly oak-aged wine given time to de­velop char­ac­ter,” says Lee. “There’s no com­par­i­son.” Ta­ble 181, Unit 5, 17-19 Green St, Banksmeadow, NSW, ta­ble181aus­tralia.com; open Fri-Sat by ap­point­ment, 10am-4pm, (02) 9695 7111

Far left: Idylle and Paul Lee. Above, from left: two-year aged fish and meat soy ($80), 10-year aged soy ($95), four-year aged black bean soy ($75) and two-year aged dou­ble-brewed soy ($65).

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