Firstly, apologies for the fuzzy photos - there just wasn't enough light!
Fast forward to now, two weeks after the event and I'm still buzzing. As soon as we walked into Berta (their venue for the night) there was a real buzz in the air - a mingling of excitement, nervousness and enthusiasm. We were seated at the bar which suited me just fine as I got to peek over and into the kitchen to see some of the action.
|The action in the kitchen behind the bar.|
While we waited for all the diners to arrive there was a snack of "tofu crackers with sesame seeds" which were crispy with a hint of sweetness, mmm.. a good start to the evening.
|Tofu crackers with sesame seeds.... snacking on these while the team prepares the matching drinks.|
The first dish was served, "buckwheat pancake filled with kimchi, with a mandarin dressing". Our host for the night Peter Jo (founder of Seoul of Sydney) explains that this is a dish that comes from the south island of Korea, eaten at the start of spring (could it be 메밀전?). It's fabulously fresh, the kimchi is not the usual kind that you get with banchan side dishes, it's lighter and contains capsicum and carrots as well. Together with the mandarin sauce, it has a bit of a spicy kick which is balanced nicely by the nutty, earthy taste of the buckwheat pancakes. We're duly impressed and eagerly await the next dish - the bar has been set high already!
|Buckwheat pancake with kimchi and mandarin dressing.|
And we most certainly are not disappointed when the second dish arrives - it's a modern take on 육회 (yukhoe) which consists of beef tenderloin served with sesame oil, soy dressing and a dainty quail egg to mix through. There are pieces of pear and possibly mandarin along with some baby herbs and some thin slices of almond (or something similar). It's a pretty looking dish and I hesitate a moment before breaking the quail egg yolk to mix it all up. The meat was served in big slices as opposed to being diced - I'm initially worried that it will be hard to chew or overly raw-meaty in taste but it's an absolute revelation. The flavours are well balanced, hands down it's the best raw-meat dish I can ever remember eating. I get to the end and I want more.
|Yukhoe - it's so fresh. Tastes as good as it looks.|
But alas, dish number three is not another plate of Yukhoe. It's a modern take on Torangtang which translates as taro soup and is eaten during Chuseok which is a Korean harvest festival held around the Autumn Equinox. This version has an anchovy broth with daikon radish, braised octopus and taro chips. The presentation of this dish is simple yet striking with the octopus tentacles curled on top of the radish that sits in the centre of the broth. Upon cutting into the radish, there's a little surprise - a mix of diced mushrooms and something else I can't quite put my finger on. Each individual flavour in this dish is distinct and pronounced without overpowering the other components.
Next up is duck with Ssamjang (a spicy paste for Korean wrapped food), chilli and jellyfish salad. It's quite spicy with all the chilli but it's a good match for the duck which is perfectly cooked and so, so tasty. Did I mention the duck is perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious? Well, it is was. The jellyfish salad had a fresh tang to it and works well with the richness of the duck. The spicy ssamjang really gives it a kick too.
|Perrrrrfectly cooked duck!|
The last savoury dish - braised mackerel with chilli sauce and chilli powder on a bed of confit radish with kim (the Korean word for seaweed) and spinach. This is really simple and as C says, "really Korean". I love the simplicity, the fish is tasty and is cooked in a very Asian style - almost verging on dry, but not in a bad way at all. And eaten with the salad it tastes really fresh and healthy yet totally satisfying. I'm looking at the photo and I really want to eat it again now, I can taste the fish in my mind and I'm getting very hungry.
|Braised mackerel with chilli sauce, chill powder, confit radish, kim and spinach.|
Onto pre-dessert and I'm ecstatic to hear it's going to be an interpretation of Bingsoo (Korean shaved ice desserts). This version consists of a milk-based granita, which is hiding misutgaru (roasted rice powder) and fresh fruits (strawberries, blueberries, kiwifruit). It's is perfectly light and refreshing, one could probably eat this everyday in summer. None of the components are anything special on their own, but when mixed together it tastes fantastic. The fruit gives a sweetness and the misutgaru adds an earthy, nutty flavour.
|Bingsoo with misutgaru and fresh fruit - perfect for summer.|
Dessert is a real contrast to the pre-dessert which makes things interesting. It's also based off traditional Korean sweets. Presented on a wooden board, there's a plank of 'kanjang' (?) which is described as Korean praline - it includes many seeds and nuts including pumpkin seed, pine nuts and walnuts. It's sticky and nutty, best eaten by snapping segments off using your fingers, as one of the waiters tells me. I think he's right - it's much more satisfying to eat it with your fingers! On top is something that sounded like 'lun' - Peter describes it as a traditional tea snack where they take something like a fruit, desconstruct and sweeten it, then reconstruct it back again. The flavours tonight are raspberry with dried/dehydrated apricot, ginger with pine nuts, and lastly pumpkin rolled in red bean. It's a sweet dessert, although the ginger one gives some heat which might not be to everyone's taste, but I like it all and polish off my board without any problems.
|The most sophisticated "fruit and nut" I've had.|
And so the meal comes to an end. It hasn't just been a good dinner but it has been a great experience which I hope to take part in next time Koreaculum happens. It was a really good example of the variety in Korean cuisine, something I've always known and appreciated - hopefully more people feel the same after experiencing Koreaculum 103.
What: Koreaculum 103
Where: It was held at Berta Restaurant, by Seoul of Sydney as part of the Crave SIFF 2011
How much: $90 for meal only, $130 with matching drinks