Review: KoBa

February 2013

  • John McGrath

Soup, a scattering of noodles, kim chee, chilli sauce, maybe a mussel or two, an un-cooked shaving of beef, tofu. That’s what I get on my shirt at KoBa.

A linen/cotton blend garment decorated in the exuberant Korean Jackson Pollock manner. A little more mannered and contemplative than a Pollock in full cry, swirling lines are still restrained by the feint grid of my shirt-maker, Mr Harris Scarfe. Ramrod burnt sienna sticks are intertwined with a labyrinthine squabble of noodles of a colour reminiscent of, golly, buckwheat noodles.

Pollock’s straight lines are yet to be adorned with syphilitic nubbles. It is easily seen that Jackson has yet to free himself entirely from Picasso’s rigidity of cubes‘n’sticks that marked, early, more tentative, Pollocks. A champion of Abstract Expressionism is a few bowls away yet.

The culprit in the best decorated shirt competition is me. More precisely me twirling Korean steel chopsticks. Give me wooden chopsticks and I can pick up lemon pips and terminate house-flies. Substitute steel, and I have to think what I am doing. I don’t.

When you are juggling proper Korean buckwheat noodles in ice cold beef stock with implements that have transformed themselves into a couple of nine irons it would be easy to wimp out and meekly ask for a spoon and fork. This is not the proud Australian way. Battle on. Next time, bring a large napkin. Or in my case, a large plastic garbage bag with discreet arm-holes and a larger one for my head. No one will notice.

You could have a chicken ginseng soup. Sounds simple? Not really. $17.80 brings a whole chicken in that soup. Stuffed with sticky rice laced with ginseng.

The meal, as with every proper Korean meal, is accompanied by plates of kim chee of various kinds. If you have not tried kim chee it may be best to tread lightly at first and remember that all those millions of Koreans can’t be wrong.
By your second meal you will be hopelessly addicted.

KoBa is in an ex-church. It needs all the space to accommodate the nests of seats surrounding dozens of charcoal grills that can cook almost anything. All without the slightest wisp of smoke.

Another soup boosted with seafood (I won’t list it all, you will see the night’s offerings anyway) cooks a mixture of vegetables, noodles, dumplings and lastly, rice and a raw egg mixed furiously together.

That could never, ever work, surely.

Well it does work. Fabulously well. If you had told me that the result was actually a rare risotto from a forgotten village near the Swiss border with Italy, I would have bought the story.

Except for the “forgotten village”. There is nowhere in Italy that hasn’t been over-run by crazed foodies.

The perky but kindly waitress asked which Korean wine (Soju) I would like the best. I forgot that any Korean restaurant, or anywhere remotely close to Korea, will recommend plum flavoured Soju as a beginners’ tipple and mostly they would be right. Just because they drink many times the amount of the Australian budget in Soju it doesn’t mean we should have heard of it. Oh no. As usual I was off with the faeries and had to knock off the tiny bottle before Duck Woman arrived. Not true, actually. I shared some with her. Poor darling.

Meanwhile DW was combing the wine list at top speed and came up with a 2010 Inigo Merlot from Jesuit Winemaker Emeritus Brother John May SJ (Good title for a lovely man.) To be properly accurate, the wine is made by Liz Heidenreich. I am sure Brother John does something essential, like blessing the barrels.

The Duck, normally up with these factoids, didn’t know that St Ignatius had a first name, the same as this wine, ‘Inigo’. According to her, the back label said that Inigo had devoted his life to improving the lives of others. “Defines any decent human being,” snapped the Duck.

Grill yourself into a werewolf with a large plate of many cuts of meat – presented raw – so there is no hiding faults or gristly bits. You do the timing and the flip flopping. So if something fouls up; it’s your rump. $52 for two. Less than a boring lump of steak.

After battling to spend $50 a head, all up, to wrap ourselves in and around some of the deepest, cleanest, and most imaginative food around, served by enthusiastic and skilled staff. Chef Grace stepped out in the whitest, crispest uniform outside of a television studio. And this was on our first visit. On the second visit we were really fussed over.

Get up a table of two or four or more. Re-configure those jaded taste buds.

KoBa
100 Grote Street

Hours
Lunch: Noon – 3.30pm
Dinner: 5.30pm – 10pm
(Last orders: 9.30pm)

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Photos: Tony Lewis

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