Korean cuisine is one of the foods to watch this year, according to MCA’s Menu & Food Trends Report 2018. Wasabi’s sister concept Kimchee opened a second restaurant last year, Bi Bim Bap now sells rice bowls from six locations and Korean fried chicken joint Wing Wing plans to open 200 locations in the UK over the next five years.
On the other side of the Atlantic, things are moving in a slightly different direction. While New York has its fair share of Korean BBQ joints – including celebrity-frequented import Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong – the city’s Cote Korean Steakhouse has really taken it upmarket with impeccably sourced meat to throw on the BBQ.
More striking, however, is the arrival of fine dining Atomix, which opened in NYC at the end of May and signaled a significantly more creative approach to Korean cuisine.
So what makes it so special?
It's on the cards
First off, the menu is presented to each guest as a set of playing cards. The name of the dish is listed in Korean, the ingredients in English and even the ceramicist responsible for the production of each particular plate is given a shout-out. (Talk about nailing the premium authenticity, eh Sparkie?)
In the kitchen are husband and wife team Junghyun ‘JP’ Park and Ellia. JP had previously been the head chef at the two-Michelin-star Jungsik in New York, and before that sous chef at the original Jungsik in Seoul, Korea.
After those early American days, JP and his wife focused their attention on casual spot Ataboy, which also proved popular. A value-priced three-course menu focused on banchan (Korean small plates) went for $42 – a lot less than the $175 price tag on a meal at Atomix.
While we’re not suggesting there’s an opportunity for multitudes of Korean fine dining establishments to infiltrate the British Isles, the food itself offers inspiration beyond the rice-barbecue-fried chicken trio.
Food Spark's New York trend spotter, Aaron Arizpe, picks his Atomix fave three
1. Fresh cheese from Battenkill Valley Creamery with baby artichokes braised in soy dashi, Golden Ossetra caviar, pine nut milk and chive oil. Normally cheese and caviar is mildly disastrous and artichokes wreak havoc on whatever wine you are drinking, but this managed to jump over both of those hurdles. A stunner of a dish.
2. Braised whole Spanish turbot. Most frequently simply grilled, or even slowly oven-roasted, something really interesting happened with the texture after first grilling and then braising it in a seafood dashi. The lovely gelatinous bits were still prominent, but the flesh itself was as juicy and moist as could be. (Sometimes the latter is compromised with the other cooking techniques, depending on the size of the fish.) It was served with chrysanthemum, a mung bean salad and rice with radish.
3. Rice ice cream with nurungji rice pudding, milk crisp, pickled pine sprout and thyme honey. Nurungji is similar to Spanish socarrat and Persian tahdig. It's a term for the rice at the bottom of the pan that gets crispy, similar to the grains in bibimbap (Korean rice bowls). It tasted like a dish you’d encounter at Noma, but still felt uniquely Korean, with a slightly fermented flavor.