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Cafe C’Ya

It’s not often that I find myself at a Korean restaurant in Sydney.

It’s not that I don’t like Korean food; I actually love it. Having grown up on Korean food, and being fortunate enough to have a mother that not only makes the best kimchee that I’ve ever had, but can also be a great cook when she can be bothered to put the effort in; well, let’s just say that my expectations of what I consider to be good Korean food are somewhat skewed from the norm.

With these rather high expectations, there have been very, very few Korean restaurants that have made the mark of what I consider to be decent Korean food. Cafe C’Ya, on the strength of their jajang myeon, is one of the few that I would consider going back to.

Tucked away in a small laneway off George St, near The Metro and The eVent cinema complex in the city, and away from the informal Koreatown of the lower end of Pitt St, you could be forgiven for not knowing that it was even there.

Once you enter the premises, the decor is rather typical of a Korean cafe. There are some cushioned seats & booths, posters of Korean movies and dramas lining the walls, which give the place more of a cosy feel than your typical western cafe. Though the place looks rather deserted, to be fair, I was there for a late lunch, well after the lunch rush.

The collection of small, complimentary side dishes collectively referred to as banchan, is the cornerstone of almost every Korean meal. Without it, a meal feels incomplete; somewhat lacking.

From my experience, the quality of a restaurant’s banchan is a fair gauge of how good the rest of their dishes are. A lot of restaurants have a rather ordinary or bland offering. Cafe C’ya, on the other hand, doesn’t disappoint.

The breakdown of the banchan (top left to bottom right) is as follows:

  • Sukjunamul – Wilted mung bean sprouts with shallots, garlic & sesame oil.
  • Musaengchae – Shredded daikon radish in sweetened vinegar, often made with chilli powder though this is a version without it.
  • Kimchee (baechu)Kimchee is a term given to a whole class of Korean-style picked vegetables of varying spiciness. It can also refer to the baechu kimchee, the most common variety of kimchee, made from Chinese wombok/napa cabbage.
  • Nokdumuk – A jelly made from mung bean starch, that’s served chilled with a soy, chilli powder, shallot & sesame seed dressing. It’s more of a textural thing than one of taste, as the mung bean jelly doesn’t have much of a flavour, if at all. If you’ve had the Japanese konnyaku jelly, it’s much the same thing.
  • Potato salad – A Korean-style potato salad which is much like the Japanese version of the salad, incorporating chunky elements like peas, carrots and/or apple, with mayonnaise into mashed potatoes.

The banchan overall is great by restaurant standards, and not bad compared to ones found in a Korean home. The balance of flavours for the sukjunamul & musaengchae is about right. The kimchee doesn’t taste store bought i.e. mass produced, and is one of the better examples of kimchee I’ve had in a restaurant.

I have no idea why the potato salad is included in a lot of restaurant banchan, as it’s something I’ve yet to see being served in a Korean household.

Jajang myeon ($16) reminds me of my childhood, as it was one of my most favoured Korean restaurant dishes when I was growing up. It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I’d found out that jajang myeon, wheat noodles in a black bean sauce that usually incorporates minced or finely diced pork, carrots, potato, onions & peas, wasn’t really a Korean dish. It’s actually a Korean version of a Chinese dish with a similar name.

I was devastated. It was like I was told for the first time that Santa Claus isn’t real; the cookies and milk left out for him were in fact consumed by my father minutes after I’d gone to bed. That the tooth fairy was really my mother; following a tradition that was not hers, so that I wouldn’t feel left out from the traditions of a country that she has since considered home, and one that I’ve only ever seen as such.

Since that time, I’ve not had a jajang myeon in a restaurant that had stood up to the flavour & consistency of my youth. This is one that closely reminds me of the times, and one that is good in its own right.

The noodles are cooked just right, with a lot of its starch washed away so that it doesn’t affect the consistency of the sauce. The sauce is flavourful, generous with its chunky bits, and not too greasy; unlike most I’ve had in recent years. Though the cost of the jajang myeon is somewhat pricey, if you factor in the amount and quality of the banchan, you could do a lot worse in the city.

Though I hesitate to recommend Cafe C’Ya as an example of a good Korean restaurant in Sydney (yet), on the strength of their jajang myeon and their banchan, I’m certainly interested in coming back at some stage to try out more of their food.

Given how I am with Korean food, I guess that’s gotta count for something, right?

Cafe C’ya
G2, 624 George St, Sydney (down Central St, near The Metro Theatre)
(02) 9264 7576

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{ 34 comments… add one }
  • Thang@noodlies January 31, 2011, 8:19 am

    Love Kim chi but never knew the names for them. Thanks for the list!

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:41 am

      I think you mean banchan. There was only one name for kimchee in the group.

  • Betty @ The Hungry Girl January 31, 2011, 8:40 am

    Wow, this place must be good if you’re willing to go back! p.s. I’m free anytime your mother wants to whip up a feast ;)

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:43 am

      I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve had a few more dishes :)

      I’m sure I’ll organise another Korean dinner sometime this year. I’ll keep you in mind, so don’t worry :)

  • Ellie (Almost Bourdain) January 31, 2011, 9:47 am

    Wow! Finally a Korean restaurant that you recommend! It’s must be good :)

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:44 am

      Whoa! I wouldn’t go far as to say recommend, yet. I’ll try out a few more before I go that far. However, there will be more post(s) to come, I’m sure :)

  • Gaby January 31, 2011, 9:50 am

    Thanks for the description of the banchan! The potato salad looks like it doesn’t belong there. The jajang myeon looks tasty! Too bad you found out it was not Korean (and that Santa & the tooth fairy didn’t exist…).

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:46 am

      Yeah, never got the potato salad thing. It’s not even something I’ve seen at a BBQ.

  • OohLookBel January 31, 2011, 10:38 am

    It’s good to know that you (tentatively) recommend Cafe C’Ya – a Korean friend is wanting to plan a meal with us non-Koreans and this looks like one for the list.

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:47 am

      It’ll probably do for a casual affair but don’t forget that there is also Madang; the only other place I’d openly mention that I’d go back to.

  • Monica January 31, 2011, 10:41 am

    I always have the jajang myeon when I’m there, and multiple refills of the jelly cake thingy ^_^

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:48 am

      Ah yeah, forgot about the refills. It was a huge amount of food for one, so it never came to mind.

      I wonder if the refills are complimentary…

  • joey@FoodiePop January 31, 2011, 10:42 am

    Is this the place where whenever there’s a concert on at the Metro, the queue from the people lining up to go into the Metro snakes around and blocks the entrance?

    I hardly ever eat Korean either, not from boredom, but from never getting the chance with so many other wonderful cuisines around!

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:50 am

      I have no idea but judging from what you’re saying, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

      I hardly ever eat Korean out too, for pretty much the same reason. Once I find enough good Korean restaurants that serve things that I can’t easily have at home, that tune may change :)

  • MelbaToat January 31, 2011, 12:27 pm

    This is another place I always see a queue of people at. I
    think your mother should whip up some Kimchee for me as I’ve never
    really had a good one and as such am not a big fan. I love all of
    the other banchan, espeically the bean sprouts. YUM!

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:52 am

      I’ll have to bear that in mind for when the kimchee is at its peak. It’s not at its best at the moment, due to the ingredients not being at their best.

  • Lil January 31, 2011, 12:53 pm

    Thanks to this entry, I finally know what the white jelly stuff is!

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:53 am

      Your welcome, though do you know what the brown jelly stuff is…? :)

  • Phuoc'n Delicious January 31, 2011, 1:03 pm

    I’m with Betty! If your mum is ever up for cooking a feast; I’ll be glad to raise my hand up to offer up to help her eat it… :P

    Good to know that this ticks the right boxes for good Korean from someone who knows best.

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:55 am

      If/when it happens, you’ll be one of the first to know about it :)

  • angie January 31, 2011, 5:43 pm

    I can empathise there, with mum being such a great Vietnamese cook at home I’m never really excited or impressed when eating out at Vietnamese restaurants. I’ve gotta admit apart from the Korean BBQ places I havn’t really had a ‘normal’ korean meal. Might have to hook me up =)

    • Simon February 1, 2011, 12:57 am

      Not even pho? I’ve had some awesome ones in restaurants. If that’s ho-hum, I can’t imagine how mind-blowingly good the home stuff is.

  • Julie February 1, 2011, 10:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing Simon. Cafe cya is also one of a few favourite korean restaurants. :) love the fried chicken there noms!

    • Simon February 10, 2011, 9:50 pm

      Had the chili pork there recently. Will have to give the chicken a go the next time I’m there.

  • mademoiselle délicieuse February 2, 2011, 5:51 pm

    I’ve walked past this place so many times and never been in. The decor reminds me of Chinese/Japanese-style cafes. Must keep it in mind when I’m next in the city wanting a casual eat.

    (I echo the above about being included on the Korean dinner bookings list please…)

    • Simon February 10, 2011, 9:50 pm

      Don’t worry, you’re on the VIP invite list :P

  • Jen February 4, 2011, 4:37 pm

    Wow, i’ve eaten out at a heap of Korean restaurants and i don’t think i’ve ever come across the Jajang myeon dish before! Will have to keep an eye out for it the next time I have Korean.

    • Simon February 10, 2011, 9:51 pm

      It’s more of a Chinese dish, so only tends to show up in Korean restaurants that specialised in Chinese-style food.

  • Jenny @ Musings and Morsels February 4, 2011, 8:10 pm

    Fabulous. I’m still searching for a good Korean restaurant (not to say I haven’t had good Korean, just that I’m looking for a place that stands tall above all others) so will give this one a go (and yes, even though you’ve only had a dish here, I’m willing to test it out).

    Also, I’ve yet to try jajang myeon and really want to see what’s the difference with the Chinese zha jiang mian. Thanks for the heads up :)

    • Simon February 10, 2011, 9:52 pm

      I’ve yet to try the zha jiang mian myself. Should give it a go sometime to see what the original is like.

  • 5ft0 February 25, 2011, 6:58 pm

    I think all Asian foods take ‘inspiration’ from each other anyway. But nevertheless, I totally agree with this Korean restaurant. I stumbled upon this restaurant w/ a few friends of mine by chance, and it was better than I expected. The location however, should probably be at a better place.

    But that’s the my two cents worth.

    • Simon February 26, 2011, 3:01 am

      Thanks for your two cents :)

      I don’t mind the location so much. It just makes it difficult to find if you don’t already know where it is.

  • Helena @ Foodyphile June 11, 2011, 1:29 am

    I agree! I like the Sundubu jjigae at CYa too :) Love the sense of adventure walking into the little alley way. I reckon the jajiang is pretty good at Arisun too.

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