Friday, March 1, 2024

Restaurant assessment of Doju by chef Mika Chae

Melbourne’s Korean-Australian meals scene is totally distinctive, and this new restaurant is about to be a number one instance.

Dani Valent



I made mates with kohlrabi in lockdown once I was delivering meals to my dad and mom’ doorstep. On their record every week, “2 kohlrabi”. What do you do with it? “Oh, we put it in salad, or Dad cuts it and eats it like a pear,” Mum instructed me. “You’ll be able to boil or roast it, too.”

I began shopping for the brassica for myself. Spherical, onerous and pale-green, kohlrabi is a grapefruit-sized cousin of cabbage. Peppery when uncooked, creamy when cooked, it’s a helpful veg to have round.

Korean chef Mika Chae thinks so, too. He didn’t develop up with kohlrabi in Jeollanam-do in his homeland’s far south, however his cooking at Doju, open since December, is constructed on elements from small-scale Victorian growers. On a pilgrimage to Coburg Farmers Market, not solely did the kohlrabi look good, however Chae additionally perceived its similarity to daikon, a radish generally braised with hock to make jokbol, sticky pork with a tart end.

Go-to dish: Ganjang-braised kohlrabi.
Go-to dish: Ganjang-braised kohlrabi.Bonnie Savage

For the vegetarian major course at Doju, the first-time restaurateur omits the pork, slowly cooking kohlrabi in ganjang, a Korean soy sauce, plus cinnamon, star anise, ginger and sake. The vegetable turns into burnished-brown, meaty and succulent and is served with oyster mushrooms.

In jokbol, the daikon isn’t truly eaten: it simply lends its qualities to the pork. Right here, the supporting participant turns into the hero: no waste, no pig. It’s a delicate, beguiling dish ($38) that I appreciated extra as soon as I understood its backstory.

In that, I believe it factors to a facet of Doju that isn’t fairly resolved: this can be a restaurant with massive concepts that aren’t all the time exhibiting up on the plate. That’s to not say the meals isn’t good, simply that it’ll get higher as Chae finds extra brave methods to create a Korean-Australian delicacies.

Salted calamari, seasoned rice, Geraldton wax.
Salted calamari, seasoned rice, Geraldton wax.Bonnie Savage

One starter is named “Salted calamari, seasoned rice, Geraldton wax” ($9). Say “calamari” to most individuals in Melbourne and so they’ll in all probability image one thing fried. This calamari is uncooked, a spin on Korean salt-preserved seafood known as jeotgal.

Doju makes use of distinctive calamari from Nook Inlet in Gippsland, cured very evenly, then marinated with fish sauce and sesame oil. Served over rice and lettuce as a wrap, it’s an incredible morsel: the seafood is clear, gelatinous, even higher maybe than conventional jeotgal, which is a way to protect protein relatively than spotlight its particular qualities. However if you happen to’re anticipating calamari rings, the dish would possibly catch you off-balance.

Wood-charred leek with cashew cream, brown butter and a crisp disc of chicken skin.
Wooden-charred leek with cashew cream, brown butter and a crisp disc of hen pores and skin.Bonnie Savage

Extra straightforwardly, leek is wood-charred till its sweetness bubbles out in a sort of smoky vegetable caramel ($22). It’s served with cashew cream, brown butter and a crisp disc of hen pores and skin to create a flavour-flexing dish that might sit fortunately in a stylish wine bar.

Like many Korean cooks working in Australia, Mika Chae didn’t arrive right here as a prepare dinner. Jungeun Chae from two-hat Chae in Cockatoo studied artwork; Sangsoo Kim, from one-hat James in South Melbourne, fell into cooking after being a kitchenhand. Mika Chae was doing military service in South Korea when he noticed a passenger airplane overhead, contemplated the vast world and ended up in Melbourne, the place his first journey was delivering pizza.

All these cooks have a Korean meals repertoire to attract upon, however they haven’t educated in it. To various levels, they’re reaching again into reminiscence. This curious context presents a possibility for Melbourne’s Korean meals to be totally distinctive. Doju is about to be a number one instance.

Cooking seduced Mika Chae in Melbourne; he did stints at Sezar and Attica earlier than shifting to Tasmania, working his approach as much as head chef at Grain of the Silos in Launceston. Chae discovered to weave his menus with crop cycles and cooked his approach by means of entire pigs and cows. He’s returned to Melbourne to string his passions collectively: numerous Korean meals types, connections with farmers, a love for the dynamism of this metropolis.

Doju has skilled palms on the ground, so eating right here feels contemporary however not shaky. The look is stylish, perhaps just a little company: flowing curtains, accents in olive inexperienced and black marble, a discrete mezzanine and vigorous counter-seating imply the restaurant can do legal-district poise in addition to night-time enjoyable.

Injeolmi ice-cream with candied walnuts.
Injeolmi ice-cream with candied walnuts.Bonnie Savage

Some dishes are so fantastic they outshine any want for narrative. Roasted soybean powder (often scattered over the glutinous rice muffins referred to as injeolmi) is infused into ice-cream to make a toasty scoop that’s served with preserved rhubarb and candied walnuts. It brings collectively Korea and Melbourne in a stellar dessert that’s additionally an indication of promise.

The low-down

Vibe: Elegant and heat up to date Korean

Go-to dish: Ganjang-braised kohlrabi ($38)

Drinks: The wine record is cleverly organised by weight (“mild and vibrant”, “deep and darkish”) however you could possibly simply match your meal to the cocktails. Bar supervisor Chris Litten’s fantastic combined drinks incorporate fermented elements.

Value: About $180 for 2, excluding drinks

This assessment was initially revealed in Good Weekend journal

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