Korean food is not something that I’m intimately familiar with, but I am always very interested to try new things, especially at a place like The Gaya, which strives to use Korean flavours and techniques in a modern way. “Fusion” has become somewhat of a buzz word in the culinary space as of late, and is a word that describes accurately what The Gaya tries to do. Sometimes a little odd, and sometimes downright delicious, The Gaya has on offer what I’d certainly call an interesting collection of dishes.
I’ll sometimes have a detailed look at a menu before dining at a new place, and other times I’ll go in completely blind. Tonight was the latter; although I knew that I should expect Korean sounding dishes, I didn’t really know much more. When we received the menu we spent about 5 minutes choosing some dishes before the waitress arrived to take our orders. Like usual, we asked her to recommend some dishes – her favourites. I find that I generally get one of two responses to this question: the waiter will be quick to jump to 2 or 3 dishes on the menu, or he will hesitate a bit and then end up recommending just about everything on the menu. In this case the waitress was very quick to pick out a few dishes for us, which, thankfully, were not all that different to the ones we had selected.
For entree we ambitiously selected three plates (both of us foodies, we wanted to try as much as possible): Salmon gravlax, beef cream rolls and the kimchi jijimi pancake. As we waited for the entrees we were brought an appetiser, unexpectedly. I always think this is a nice gesture, especially when I’m not expecting it. In all honesty it was an unusual dish – crispy potato chips (I think made in house) with fried cheese and a sweet jelly – though it got my mouth watering and waiting for more.
It had been a long week of hard work for both of us, so we thought it’d be nice to get something to drink. In keeping with the Korean theme, we opted for what is Korea’s most well known alcoholic export – Soju.
Next were the entrees – all three of them. The beef cream roll was one of the dishes recommended by the waitress. I found it to be quite different to anything that I’d eaten before – thinly sliced beef encasing a cream cheese filling with asparagus, capsicum and enoki mushrooms – though I really enjoyed it. I think I would have preferred the beef cooked a little less (rare would be nice) because it was a bit tough, however it really was a great way to start the meal and certainly a dish that I’d recommend.
I’m not sure how traditional the beef rolls were to Korean cuisine, but the next dish, Kimchi Jijimi, was more along the lines of what I was expecting before seeing the menu. In the form of a pancake and served with chili soy sauce, this is a pretty common way to eat kimchi, or fermented cabbage. I haven’t really been a huge fan of kimchi in the past, however this dish was great and has certainly changed my perspective on the Korean staple. I’d go as far as to say that this was my favourite dish of the evening.
The third and final starter was the salmon gravlax. Although a nice dish, it was my least favourite of the three. It was pretty much what I expected, but it wasn’t as exciting as the previous two. This is probably a result of me ordering salmon sashimi almost every single time I go to a Japanese restaurant…Still, it’s a great dish if you are looking for an entree on the lighter end of the spectrum.
For the main course we ordered two dishes to share – the tteokgalbi beef (the waitress must have been mildly amused by my attempt to pronounce this), and the slow cooked “36pork”. Soon after we ordered we were given some side dishes to go with the mains. Each had some spiced potatoes, some kimchi and some thinly sliced fish cake. All three elements were very good, though it came out quite a bit before our mains (maybe it was not intended as a side dish, but instead as an “interim” dish), and probably not needed from a “quantity of food” perspective, although this is our fault for ordering too much.
Eventually the mains came out and they looked great. I think the more traditional of the two was the tteokgalbi, which is a Korean beef patty spiced to give it a full flavour. It was made into quite a heavy dish with the addition of a fried egg. In hindsight I would not have ordered so many entrees knowing that this dish was coming, but it was quite good. Accompanying the dish were some pieces of fried rice cake, spiced with what I think was cinnamon. These had quite an unusual texture, and were actually very chewy. I found them to be an odd condiment for a dish like this. Also served with this dish were some pickled mushrooms. These were great, and really helped cut through the heavy nature of the dish.
The second main was the 36pork, or, as the name would suggest, pork cooked sous vide for 36 hours. It was served on a potato and pumpkin puree. By this stage we were feeling very full, and there were no doubts that we had ordered too much. Of course we still ate the dish, and we enjoyed the dish. The pork was extremely tender – though there’d be something seriously wrong in the kitchen if it was still tough after 36 hours – and very flavoursome paired with the puree. This dish felt less traditional than most of the others we’d eaten, and something I’d expect in a “modern Australian” type restaurant. Again, quite heavy, so I’d stick to a lighter entree if I were to choose this dish again.
By this stage we were both extremely full, and I was questioning whether I could eat another ounce of food. Then, the dessert menu came out, which changes everything. As full as we were, there were no arguments as to whether we’d get dessert – there were some interesting looking dishes on the menu. Without much of a second though, we ordered the “Red misu” and some green tea icecream. The waitress seemed to approve of our choices.
The red misu is the perfect example of fusion – when Italian meets Korean. The dessert was an Italian tiramisu made with red beans, which are often used in East Asian desserts. While quite a nice dessert, it was probably a bit too much on the Italian side, with less of a Korean kick. The taste of red beans didn’t come through as much as I would have expected.
The green tea ice cream was great, and exactly how I like it – not too sweet and with a very obvious flavour of green tea. It was a good way to finish what turned out to be quite a heavy meal, and will be my choice of dessert in the future (once I’ve tried everything else on the menu, of course). The ice cream was served with what I think was a rice cracker of some sort, however I’m pretty sure that it was not made in house, and it felt like a bit of an odd element that we didn’t particularly want to eat. I love the idea of giving the dish texture with some kind of biscuit, but I think The Gaya would be better served by making this in house, just like the ice cream itself is.
We finished up with some yuzu tea. I was half expecting a standard tea bag with some kind of yuzu flavouring, however I was pleasantly surprised to see actual pieces of real yuzu in the tea pot. The tea was quite sweet (maybe a little too much added sugar?), though it was a nice way to finish the evening. We ended up eating the yuzu from the teapot…we couldn’t help ourselves.
My dinner at The Gaya was one of the more unusual meals I’ve had recently, but I really did enjoy most of it and would happily go back to try some of the other dishes. In the end I did prefer the entrees we ordered to the mains, and they were much better for sharing, so perhaps next time if I’m with a group of people that are more inclined to sharing dishes I’ll stick to a few entree dishes instead.