The Kimchi Project; something a bit different
Enjoyment is at risk when your table runneth over
Dear shared-plate restaurants: If you plan to deliver six dishes over the course of five minutes, please consider bigger tables.
It is stressful, as a diner, to rearrange the tiny ornamental cactus and the hipster table marker and the bucket of cutlery, while a waitperson stands by with an oversized board of food for your table for two that already seats three plus their water and wine.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering how did The Kimchi Project get a “9” for ambience? One (occasionally-incorrectly-hyphenated) word: Courtyard.
This Lorne St eatery has a bright and modern shop front. So far, so pleasant. But follow those clean contemporary lines past the kitchen, and enter a nikau palm-fringed secret garden dripping with vines and gochujang sauce.
It’s a central city oasis of cool that opened in December, but is perhaps yet to be discovered by the destination dining crowds — busy immediately after work but by 7.30pm there were multiple spare tables.
The food? “Easy eating,” said James. “Not huge amounts of depth and sophistication, but delicious.”
That’s a good summation of the Korean-inspired Asian-fusion menu that does the expected salt-sweetspicy, but also delivers chicken with a soy-parsnip puree so rich and creamy I initially mistook it for mayonnaise, and a melty beef short-rib that tastes like a Sunday roast, albeit one that comes with shiitake mushrooms. The latter was a reasonably hefty $35, but you can take a much cheaper route to satiation.
Start with a steamed bao ($9-$10). I wish I’d gone with a colleague’s crumbed portobello mushroom recommendation because despite our pulled pork with sweet pickled cucumber and spicy ssamjang-spiked mayo being tasty, it was a fairly standard rendition.
There is a slight sameness across the menu. Pickled garnishes and green beans made a regular appearance and there is a lot of chicken and pork. In fact, said our waitperson, we’d ordered too much. We stuck to our greedy guns. She re-emerged from the pass. The kitchen had asked her to double doublecheck we wanted all that food.
And this was when things got literally sticky. Despite an assumption (based on a request) that dishes would be staggered, they arrived in a rush. Suddenly, we were up to our knuckles in soy-glazed yakadori skewers ($13.50 for a mix of protein, including prawn), multiple lettuce cups ($25) and a spicy, sweet chilli chicken ($26.50) that is a definite contender for an Auckland Top Five fried chicken list (KFC counts only if you are hungover).
We also had the kimchi waffle fries ($16), because when you’re in Kimchi, etc. Cut like tennis rackets, they were splattered with a spicy ferment, bits of smoky bacon and sriracha yoghurt — a delicious, salty snack that on a humid Auckland night gave beer an even better reason for being (choose from Tuatara on tap, assorted bottles and Garage Project cans).
“Ssam” means “wrap” in Korean and, for us, this also translated to our favourite dish. The Cos lettuce cups were stuffed with pork belly, bulgogi (thinly sliced, marinated and grilled beef) and more chicken, sticky with gochujang, a fermented Korean condiment that gastronomic pundits are picking to overtake sriracha in the hot sauce stakes. Fresh, clean and quickly demolished — partly to make table room for a heaping pile of that highly recommended deep-fried chicken.
We had no trouble getting through our order. A slightly slower delivery pace would have made for a more pleasant experience, but on another night (say one where you had theatre booking) that efficiency would be welcomed. We initiated a long pause before dessert. Waitstaff debated their favourites, but the winner, handsdown, was a very rich tiramisu piled with bitter matcha powder ($13.50). Green tea is in and on desserts all over town but pairing it with a coffee-soaked Italian dessert was genius. We took our time, and scraped the glass clean.
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