Soul Dining Review Surry Hills Review 2022

204 Devonshire Street
Surry Hills,
New South Wales

See the map

Opening hours Dinner Tue-Sat from 5 p.m.
Features Accepts reservations, License
Prices Moderate (dishes $20 to $40)
Call 02 8593 4957

Sorry, Soul Dining. You were on my to-do list when you opened in Surry Hills three years ago, and then, well, you know… COVID. For a while, my to-do list became nothing to do.

You even opened a casual Korean cafe and food store on Campbell Street called Soul Deli, where I ate kimchi toast and coffee from Dan Kim’s Primary Coffee Roasters, but still couldn’t make it return to the mothership.

Mind you, Devonshire Street has been an ungodly mess best avoided for the past couple of years, as it’s prepared for the light rail to run right through the middle of it.

Freshly cooked terracotta rice. Photo: Edwina Pickles

But now you have a stop right outside your little patio door, no more jackhammers, and me at table 24, trying to figure out whether to go a la carte or do the tasting menu.

Love the room, by the way, and what your owners Daero Lee and Illa Kim have done to the space, in collaboration with designer Frank Fruci of RFM Designer Projects.

With its 12-meter loop of halo lighting, blue velvet banquettes and weathered charcoal-smeared walls, it’s as dark as a bar in a distant fictional world of The Mandalorianbut I can still read the menu.

Korean Charcoal Spicy Chicken.

Korean Charcoal Spicy Chicken. Photo: Edwina Pickles

At each table taken – a Tuesday evening! – it’s as lively as a pub, but I can still hear myself thinking.

Lee and head chef Jaeyoung “Jay” Lee cook with a Korean sensibility shaped by the creative license of contemporary Australia. So the fresh, raw trevally ($26) is bathed in “kimchi water,” singing fresh and topped with white kimchi and mashed avocado.

A beautifully presented bibimbap ($42) sees short-grain rice cooked to order topped with sea trout instead of the usual marinated beef, with raw scallops, egg yolk, seaweed and flavorful soy butter.

Donut with red beans and cream cheese.

Donut with red beans and cream cheese. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Mix it up in a steamy, savory mess (bibim means toss) for lots of that rich, nutty flavor Koreans call gosohan-mat.

There’s the “bread and butter,” with a moist, fluffy, honey-flavored steamed rice bread that’s oddly halfway between rice and bread.

Rice, in fact, appears in all sorts of intriguing ways on the menu – fried and crispy, gooey and sautéed, steamed in a clay pot – in tacit recognition of its importance in Korean cuisine.

Kingfish in kimchi water.

Kingfish in kimchi water. Photo: Edwina Pickles

All this makes me feel guilty for not having arrived sooner. It’s contemporary Korean cuisine like you see in New York or today’s Seoul (hence the name). At every turn, the cuisine challenges any perception of Korean cuisine as being meaty, fatty, and cooked on the street or at the table.

Take the shrimp tteokbokki ($36), inspired by the popular street food dish of small, bouncy cylinders of rice cake with gochujang sauce.

Here, the kitchen simmers capsicum sambal and combines it with shrimp bisque and soft little pieces of Yamba shrimp until it’s like eating a luxurious bouillabaisse. Saucy, fun and bewitching in texture, it’s definitely more tteokkgnocchi than bokki.

Shrimp tteokbokki.

Shrimp tteokbokki. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Jaeyoung Lee’s Spicy Charcoal Chicken ($38) is an autumnal piece on dak-galbi, chicken marinated in lightly sweet and spicy gochujang and grilled over charcoal, sent under the guise of charred radicchio and pickled red cabbage. Small cubes of crispy fried rice cake add crunch and comfort.

To finish, fried rice flour chapsal donuts stuffed with red beans and cream cheese ($18) are westernized with a quenelle of green tea ice cream swaddled in translucent persimmon.

Floor staff are efficient without bothering each other, and wine is taken seriously, from a $58 Marlborough Hunky Dory Sauvignon Blanc to a $355 Mount Mary Bordeaux Blend.

“There were few expectations of a Korean restaurant having an excellent wine list,” notes co-owner Illa Kim. It will show them.

For three years now, Soul Dining has been quietly cooking some of the most interesting and expressive contemporary Korean dishes in town. My apologies for not bringing this to your attention sooner.

The lowest

soul meal

Vibe Dark and bright sci-fi interior filled with K-food lovers

Essential dish Shrimp tteokbokki, $36

Drinks Korean Cass beer, wacky cocktails (Kimlet, Aloe Aloe) and a thoughtful, award-winning 50-bottle wine list

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