Every few weeks or so a catch up gets organised with a few friends from my old pro bono workplace, which inevitably falls onto a Friday evening after work. Our usual go-to (for about the last year) has been Taste of Shanghai in World Square Shopping Centre. We start with buying a few six packs of beer or cider, taking advantage of the BYOB restaurant policy, then taking our seat and proceeding to order every variety of dumplings on the first three pages of the menu. I always insist on the shallot pancake, because fried goodness! I think one time we accidentally ordered a few bowls of dumplings in soup and were a bit mystified as to how we would share them, as we were a table of about 12 people. Somehow we managed. At the end of every dinner everyone is bursting to the seams with beer and dumplings, and with the split bill, it ends up being less than $25 per person (not including the purchase of alcohol at the start). A bangin’ bargain.
As satisfying as dumplings are though, it’s always good to change it up a little. Myself, Brother Bear and a good mate had gathered at The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room for some Happy Hour $5 beers and gin and tonics and discussed what we felt like for dinner. Brother Bear decided that he was going to introduce our mate to some Korean food, and I was happy to go along as long as I got my first taste of Korean Fried Chicken.
What? I hear you say – first taste? That’s right – it was going to be my first taste of the fried chicken trend that everyone is raving and madly Insta-gramming about these days.
Brother Bear took us to Drunken Rice, a Korean establishment located in one of the slightly dingy-looking alleys off George Street across from Event Cinemas. In case you weren’t aware, the area around that side of Pitt and George Street is what’s casually known as a mini “Korea-town”, filled with little Korean supermarkets stocked high with instant noodles with dehydrated kimchi, Korean barbecue joints leaching fragrant smoke out onto the street, and restaurants like the one we were about to step into.
I hold up three fingers and we’re ushered upstairs where there’s plenty of seating; a few booths for groups, and a couple of free-standing small tables for two. The lighting is rather harsh up here. The room is cloaked in darkness except for bright white spotlights over each table
All tables are equipped with a silent buzzer which calls the waitstaff when you’re ready to make your orders or to collect the bill. I haven’t seen this system very often in Sydney restaurants (more overseas), and while it feels a little impersonal service is always so much more prompt and efficient than when you’re sitting there for 10-15 minutes trying to get someone’s attention for a water top-up.
We order a few beers first while we peruse the menu. Brother Bear gets three OB Golden Lagers, at the bargain price of $5 each. I’ve only recently started drinking beer, so I’m no beer connoisseur, but I quite enjoy pale ales and dry beers such as Asahi. OB is quite clean and refreshingly crisp with a heavy malt flavour. A steal at $5. Apparently if you buy more than one the deal is two for the price of one, although that may be just within happy hours.
Brother Bear also decides to order some rice wine, which comes in a variety of flavours. He chooses the honey rice wine ($12), and it arrives in a teapot and bowls with our little dishes of complimentary snacks – as is the tradition of Korean establishments.
The rice wine is an acquired taste, having quite a lingering, milky and sour flavour that tastes a little strange after drinking the lager. I wasn’t particularly a fan of it, but one of our friends who arrived a little later on through the dinner loved the stuff and guzzled it down.
We get our Korean Fried Chicken ($13 for seven pieces).
It arrives with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. The chicken is piping hot, the batter crisp, and the fried batter gives way to a gloriously spicy, tender and marinated juicy piece of chicken thigh. It tastes like there was curry powder either in the batter dusting or the marinade. Angels were singing at this point. There are no bones in any of the chicken pieces, which means peace-of-mind and utter-bliss chewing. It’s so good we order another plate immediately.
At this stage our hot plate arrives and is set up by the waiter, before he returns with the ingredients for our Chilli Chicken, Rice Cake and Cheese ($35). It’s a whole heap of chopped white cabbage, spring onions, other vegetables, sliced up rice cakes and half-cooked chilli-sauce coated chicken thigh pieces. And a plate of tasty cheese of course.
I stare mystified at the cheese – not something I’m familiar with seeing in Asian cuisine at all. Brother Bear explains to me later that this is like the honey chicken equivalent of Chinese food – it’s the “white” version, so to speak.
He takes over the helm and sets about cooking the whole lot, stirring the sauce around and making sure the veges simmer down.
And on goes the cheese at the very end, right before serving so it sits on top – an oozy, cheesy, creamy mess.
The chicken is tender with just the right amount of sweetness to balance out the chilli. There’s a glorious amount of sauce that has infused the cabbage and allowed it to simmer down into a flavoursome heap. I’ve never really been a huge fan of white cabbage but cooked with this sauce it’s pretty incredible when had on top of a bowl of steamed white rice. It’s still a little bit crunchy, lightly spicy, and so good with the strings of cheese.
The Seafood Pancake ($20) comes along while we’re digging in. It’s a big eggy omelette filled with calamari rings, some prawns, and – of course – white cabbage. There’s a light dipping sauce to accompany it, quite similar to a tempura dipping sauce.
The pancake is crunchy, stuffed with calamari and you actually feel quite healthy eating something so packed full of flavour.
What a gem. We may have found a new favourite for our Friday night catch-ups. I’ll definitely be back again for more of that fried chicken!
8 Central Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9261 0111