Gotta love a bit of soul. Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Aretha Franklin they took us to new places of happiness, challenged the cultural boundaries and were ahead of their time. We think Soul Dining does the same.
This isn’t an ordinary Korean restaurant, nor is this an ordinary dining experience. It a fusion of souls and Seouls. Its the first restaurant for Australian-Korea owners Illa Kim (grew up in Germany) and Daero Lee (grew up in Korea and worked at Critinis). It’s a groove armada of Korean, German and Italian influences. Sounds bonkers but it’s brilliant.
The trams might be gliding past this Devonshire hub of decadence, but it just adds to the atmosphere. Its a sexy space with moody distressed concrete walls, rich royal blue banquets to the left and more intimate tables and chairs to the right. Phillipa is their knowledgeable, warm front of house and seemingly glides over tables overseeing everyone’s experience.
Cool tunes are spinning in the background as our ‘amuse bouche’ arrives as surprise plate of two perfect squares. It is steamed rice bread served tummy toasted side up with a smoky whipped salt crystalline butter. Two freshly shucked Merimubula oysters are downed in nano seconds, the frozen kimichi gazpacho is balanced with the pop of finger limes and aromatics of herbacious dill.
The wagyu tartare makes you feel like Al Green was worshipped. Ceremony is everything. Illa prepares it in front of us. A free range egg yolk surrounded by miniature Scrabble pieces of pickled singo pear is tossed with bulgogi dressing. We scoop it up with seaweed crackers delivering a umami hit so good we just want a bag of them to take home and munch on.
It’s a brave chef that takes on (and attempts) to improve a caprese salad. It’s dangerous territory. Yet, it is one of the dishes of the night because of the originality, understanding of flavour profiles and use of local produce. A hand crafted Marrickville Vannella burrata is circled by meaty chunks of heirloom tomatoes – all standard stuff. But add crushed laver (dried seaweed), parsley oil and red kimchi dressing and its off the charts good – no, great.
We take a breather with a ‘smoked old fashioned’. Its drama, theatrics, flavour and aroma in one. The coaster lifts off the glass wonderful wafts of maker mark, bitters, orange and hickory fill the air and our noses.
Having navigated the ‘RAW’ section of the menu, we move to
‘EARTH’. A party of roasted cauliflower, honey apple curry and toasted almonds are no rival for a hero dish named after Kim. This halved eggplant would make Ottolenghi jealous. It’s grilled, silky interior gives way to savoury tomato jam with a mighty fine soul afro of manchego cheese. ‘SEA’ gives us dishes of Yamba Prawn Tteokobokki – a traditional dish with cylinders of korean rice cake tossed in a slow cooked capsicum sambal, prawn bisque with fresh prawns. On national Barramundi Day it feels rude not to order the claypot. Cooked to order its a fun filled romp of green pea, ginko, enoki mushrooms. The theatre and drama continues as a clear teapot of barramundi stock arrives and is poured into little glasses for us to consume. It’s the Korean equivalent of Peking Duck. Use every part, honour the animal, and don’t waste flavour. Two dishes in one. We hope this stays!
‘LAND’ is the ikon – Korean Chicken, but not as we know it,. Soul Dining gives you a dish which is how their mums, and grandparents would cook it. What a treat of history, family, soul/Seoul. Free range chicken is slowly cooked and given a Korean chilli glaze. Australian radish can’t be used as its too bitter, instead pickled pear recreates the flavours of their childhoods.
If you can make it to deserts, try the ‘Snow Bingsoo’ thanks to a new snow machine that arrive recently from Korea! Baked Mango is twined with a mango sorbet, honey, nuts and of course a flurry of milk snow you just want to lie down and make snow angels with.
This is the kind of experience that when a friend calls you and asks “Hey, I need to take my wife/boss/tinder-date/husband/friend/partner out, any recommendations?” We all want to give the perfect answer; somewhere not on the radar, but is so ‘effing awesome it should have a neon sign outside. This place should have a hat. It might not have a celeb chef, but it’s got everything we value; food which challenges us, takes our dining experience to new levels, honours producers, has a story to tell, combined with attentive service, wines and ambiance. The address 204 Devonshire is more than a number…its got a lotta Seoul.
204 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Hours: Tue – Sat, 5pm – till late, Sunday & Monday CLOSED