Si­mon & Lee

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

It was Oc­to­ber 19 and it was time for a change.

The book­seller ar­rived on an elec­tric bike. The fash­ion stylist was in an Uber. They wore mus­tard and plaid and an­tic­i­pa­tion. “Any news?” But on our phones live-stream­ing feeds from the Bee­hive Theatrette it was just limp flags and an empty stage.

We or­dered fried chicken (safe spicy, not dan­ger spicy) and tteok­bokki. The lat­ter looked like a pile of en­gorged cig­a­rette fil­ters but tasted of com­fort.

Tteok­bokki are soft, cylin­dri­cal rice cakes. In Korea, they’re a snack food, eaten with a tooth­pick. At Si­mon & Lee they are fried to a slightly crisp ex­te­rior and seasoned with enough salty, spicy tang to make you wish you’d or­dered beer. Stand down po­lenta chips: there’s a new bar snack in town.

Mean­while, out­side, fi­nally, there was a new govern­ment. In life and restau­rants and the halls of power, there is noth­ing per­ma­nent ex­cept change. Gochu­jang is the new sriracha and Korea is Auckland’s lat­est food ob­ses­sion. Si­mon & Lee, for ex­am­ple, is a Par­nell brunch stop that re­cently started of­fer­ing a Thurs­day-Sun­day mod­ern Korean din­ner. By the time you read this, Han (from the Uni-Ko foodtruck folk) will have opened just a few par­al­lel streets over.

This is not a cui­sine I’m fa­mil­iar with in ei­ther its con­tem­po­rary or tra­di­tional guise, but the book­seller used to live there (Seoul is the new Shep­herd’s Bush, etc). She pro­nounces “bibim­bap” with pur­pose and is unfazed when the chop­sticks are metal, not wood, but even she looks sur­prised when we each re­ceive a sin­gle dis­pos­able plas­tic glove ahead of that gen­er­ous plate of sticky, crunchy fried chicken ($22 — and next time, I’d try the “dan­ger spicy”).

I un­der­stand the in­tent of the glove, but I just can­not de­pro­gramme a Pavlo­vian de­sire to to lick my fin­gers. My hand gets sweaty. I keep get­ting a mouth­ful of plas­tic. Later, when no­body brings fresh plates, we stuff those sticky, used gloves with chicken bones and re­gret. It is a low point in an oth­er­wise tasty evening.

Our wait­per­son ad­vised we get a dol­sot pot apiece, and we should have lis­tened. The stonk­ingly hot tra­di­tional stone bowls, filled with rice and piled with mo­saics of pretty de­li­cious­ness, de­serve to be at­tacked with gusto, not the forced po­lite­ness of a shared plate. Also, I could have eas­ily gone solo on the tofu three ways ($19). Quiv­ery tofu in tem­pura bat­ter, pick­led mush­rooms, a firmer, mar­i­nated tofu, sea­weed, beet­root and more, com­bined to cre­ate the best veg­e­tar­ian main I’ve eaten this year.

We also shared a dol­sot of bibim­bap ($20) which, lit­er­ally, trans­lates as all-the-stuff-in-the-bot­tom-of-yourfridge plus rice. Of course it doesn’t. But mul­ti­ple ori­gin sto­ries in­clude a ro­man­ti­cised take on left­overs, eaten on the eve of the lu­nar new year, clear­ing the way for a fresh start. Very good and again, best not shared, so that when you stir the freshly cracked raw egg into the hot rice and against the hot pot, you don’t miss out on any of the de­li­cious crust that has hope­fully formed.

The metal chop­sticks re­quired next-level dex­ter­ity, but I was thor­oughly en­joy­ing my first foray into Korean cui­sine. Kim­chi ($5) was super-fresh and crunchy, those tteok­bokki ($10) were a rev­e­la­tion and if you’re wor­ried you might not have or­dered enough, just get the cheesy, chilli-y waf­fle fries ($12) and suc­cumb to a carb coma.

When the most ex­pen­sive wine is $14 a glass, there is a temp­ta­tion to linger, but aes­thet­i­cally Si­mon & Lee is still more day­time cafe than night-time res­tau­rant. There is just the one dessert (which we weren’t of­fered) and you may want to get there early to avoid sit­ting on a stool at a shared ta­ble — chicken in a dis­pos­able plas­tic glove is a dish best eaten in the com­pany of peo­ple you know.

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