Don’t be deceived by devastatingly handsome Singaporean owner Haden Hee’s Korean boyband looks; he is very serious about his restaurant. His F&B consultant background comes in good stead. He has Korean Chef Choi Ming Chul, whose experience includes working at Ritz Carlton (South Korea, Naples USA) and Marina Bay Sands, helming the kitchen. Many cooks and servers are handpicked by Chef Choi from F&B schools in Korea.
Korean food is usually served in gigantic portions, unsuitable for singles, couples, small groups or families. Even in a big group, you can order only a few dishes. Hee’s concept is to reduce the portions, and more importantly, reduce the price. So now, small groups can order a variety of dishes. Many of the dishes are below $10.
Short ribs ($29)
A second change Hee makes to revolutionize Korean cuisine is not to serve panchan (side dishes). To be honest, we felt a little lost at the end of the meal without eating kimchi. But Hee’s rationale is two-fold: firstly, side dishes fill stomachs, leaving no space for real food. Secondly, panchan has the illusion of being free, making us feel woo hua (worth the money), but the cost is secretly factored into costs of other dishes. By not serving panchan, Kimchi Korean Restaurant can price their dishes at a lower price than other Korean restaurants. (If you’re hardcore die die must eat kimchi fan, you can pay $1 for it.)
For instance, in other Korean restaurants, you pay about $40 for normal short ribs, but at Kimchi, wagyu short ribs go for $29 (non-marinated) or $29.50 (marinated). And they are fantastic! The marbling is balanced, giving a great proportion of fats to meat, so it is both tender and has a mouthfeel. My eating companions prefer the non-marinated because you can taste the “beefy-ness.” But I like the marinated ribs, with salt bringing out the flavors of fats. My first thought when I ate it: “How can it be so delicious, almost as good as the short ribs that cost S$200 I had in Korea?” Value-for-money and delectable, a must-order.
Another BBQ item that I strongly recommend is pork cheek fillet ($18.50). The freshness of the cheek ensures that it doesn’t have a porky stench. It is crispy outside while remaining moist within, and it doesn’t feel oily at all. I ate it like fries, addictive.
A third must order is Andong jjim dak ($15). After all, Chef Choi is from Andong, which is known for jjim dak, or steamed chicken. Having been to Andong, and having tried Andong jjim dak, I find Choi’s version to be more fragrant, complex and delicious, with layers of soy sauce and spiciness. Less of the kampong feel, more refined. If you come as a single customer, I highly recommend you just order this.
Kimchi has some traditional Korean food, like dduk bok gi (rice cake in spicy sauce, $7.90), haemul pajeon (seafood pancake, $8.90, pictured above), and jap chae (glass noodles, $6.90), in “tapas” portions, all of which are done well.
For the adventurous, try crispy pumpkin jeon (rice cracker topped with Grana padano cheese, sweet pumpkin, candied walnut, $9.80), which has interesting textures and tastes that go well together; or bean curd kimchi ($8.90), a deep-fried patty of beancurd, minced pork and kimchi; or pumpkin juk ($9.80), a pumpkin porridge, soothing and comforting, great for cold or under the weather.
At the end of the meal, I asked my pals if they preferred Kimchi or Wang Dae Bak. This was an unfair question because WDB was our favorite Korean restaurant. But surprisingly, two chose Kimchi, claiming that WDB’s standards had slipped. My other friend commented–and I agreed with her–that WDB and Kimchi serve different functions. WDB is a traditional Korean drinking place where you bring your close friends to be rowdy and raucous, but Kimchi has a different concept, it has exquisite food, carefully prepared, served in “tapas” portions, that is more suited for dates, families, and small groups.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
ps: Thanks, Haden and Park, for the hospitality.