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?
G2, 624 George St, Sydney (down Central St, near The Metro Theatre)
(02) 9264 7576
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