"Fusion" food for me involves breathing life into tried and tested cuisines through the implementation of contemporary or differing cooking techniques. I'll applaud any restaurant who does it well; it's not easy to marry contrasting cuisines together, let alone reinvent trademark dishes. It may not always be clear to diners what a chef's true vision is, even after the meal has finished. This is a good and bad thing, as either the food was truly so avant-garde that it left you thinking, or the flavours left you feeling lost. At Gaya, I have to admit that after sampling a variety of dishes throughout the night, I left feeling a little bit of both.
There's a healthy number of entrees and mains to choose from - there are no real rules on what to order; M and I even saw a few people enjoying solely entrees, tapas style. Chef Leo was quick to introduce himself after we had settled around our table; he was very eager to explain how he wanted to do Korean food differently and give Perth diners a whole new experience. We got a few recommendations on dishes from both him and the wait staff before deciding - I especially wanted to try dishes that were remnant of traditional Korean cuisine and also experience Chef Leo's take on contemporary food representations.
I always do find it very gracious when Chefs send out extra courses to begin the meal and in the lead up to dessert. It is a generous gesture and also an opportunity I think for the Chef to exhibit a little fun - it's some extra personality and creativity that will tend to really connect with customers.
With a torn wedge of my steamed cake, I mopped up the last remaining remnants of the luscious, buttery honey. I personally thought that it was a delectable mouthful which reminded me a little of the light and spongey Chinese Fāgāo (发糕) Cake. The aftertaste had a slight metallic tinge to it; possibly due to just a tad too much bicarbonate soda. It was M who pointed this out as this taste is relatively masked if your square is drenched in that delicious honey. When done right, this is probably something that I'd easily eat a few more squares of!
The Fish Jijimi was highly recommend as a light entree that was extremely popular thus far with their customers. The texture reminded me a little of a delicate Boudin Blanc (a white sausage) or even a pastier Korean pancake. However these thin jijimi pieces were a little too eggy and overseasoned; all in all, it didn't leave us with much of a positive impression.
I do love a good Arancini ball and I appreciate it when chefs don't just put it on the menu for the sake of using up leftover rice. These risotto balls were taken right to the edge; extremely crispy, borderline cut throat. The berry sauce and the kimchi components did both feel a little insignificant on the plate. It was a tasty dish, but I was really hoping that the kimchi would come through. The thought of deep fried kimchi flavoured rice is practically heaven for comfort food lovers - so it disappointed me that the dish wasn't taken to that potential.
I love KFC - being Korean Fried Chicken; it's one of life's great food wonders that I've had the privilege of enjoying at grotesque hours of the morning, which I highly recommend for any other tourists visiting Seoul! It was served along with slithers of traditional Korean rice cake that were unfortunately, tough as leather! The namesake chicken likened more to a Chinese style sweet and sour pork - the batter was extremely heavy and soggy after being smothered in the sweet and spicy sauce. For the same price with crisper results, I'd rather put my money where Golden Fried Chicken from Vons is!
Put a combination of beef and cream cheese on a menu, and I'll tend to order it (Aisuru Sushi especially do it extremely well with their Tank Roll). It must be really well balanced to ensure that the cream cheese doesn't overpower the delicate beef. I think that this was the most well done entree that we sampled; the crispy garlic chips were a much appreciated contrast to the melt in your mouth beef cream rolls.
This was my favourite dish of the night - I've talked a little about how much I like broths that have been lovingly braised for hours and hours, which tastes of such pure heartiness. Chef Emeril Lagasse of Top Chef and a slew of successful American restaurants once said that he judges a great restaurant or a great chef through soups and I highly agree. A good soup can take hours to build and it's about layering a lot of great flavours that go together - the seafood stew really pulled that off for me. I was happy to let my crunchy rice cakes soak inside the soup; by the time they softened, it was much like a savoury cereal.
As far as fair pricing goes, the pork belly gets my vote - a large serving like this could easily have been marked up much higher elsewhere. It's ideal for sharing between two and extremely tender. However, the crackling could have been crispier, regardless of how it was aided by those addictive garlic chips and the slightly crunchy apples.
Since we didn't get any sides of rice, M and I split a bibimbap between the both of us. It's a little harder to notice the contemporary remoulding of this dish; Chef Leo kept Gaya's bimbimbap true to it's traditional image. However, the inclusion of lettuce is definitely a new one!
The bulgogi beef is probably one of the better ones I've tried around Perth and the rice itself that was nestled well under all the vegetables was extremely fragrant. Although it's not the best bibimbap I've had in Perth, it's still an earthy, aromatic dish.
I feel inclined to give housemade Green Tea ice creams a try in hopes of finding a true matcha kick, embodied by a smooth and creamy consistency. It did miss the mark and after seeing delightful photos and great reviews of Gaya's Ho-Tuck dessert, I am really wishing that we got that instead!
As expected a No 4's Chocolate Garden replication has cropped up amongst our local dining scene. The "stones" are actually chocolates that you can find at some Chinese grocers; this may not have the "wow" factor of being as realistic as the original's, but it is much more affordable and still has some of that Heston-esque wow factor.
It was a great idea and I love that Chefs are still putting a spin on one of my favourite classic desserts. However, I'm just not fond of overwhelming boozy desserts! Although I thought the use of red bean was delicious, I was hoping there would be more of a coffee flavour than liqueur which suffocated the originally creamy, airy sponge.
The Risely Street dining hub is my local eating spot and I'm always very supportive of and interested to try restaurants that pop up in my area. I think Chef Leo truly believes in his vision of delivering something different to the local Korean dining scene and I did see some aspects of Korean food that truly haven't been presented quite so in Perth before. Although there were more short comings than dishes that really impressed - things could be improved through a little more care taken in the cooking process or even by pushing that unique vision further in some of the dishes. The restaurant is at the very end of a small arcade on Kearns Crescent and I'm hoping that the Gaya will retain the attention of the Perth food scene for longer than the shop's 10 predecessors. I wish Chef Leo and his team good luck - welcome to the neighbourhood!
Tuesday - Saturday, from 11:30AM - 2:30PM for Lunch.
Dinner from 5:30PM - 10:00PM, closed Mondays.
Disclaimer: My partner M and I enjoyed this dinner courtesy of The Gaya. I hope that this restaurant has a chance to really settle in and take their dishes further with regards to Chef Leo's vision - every new place has growing pains and I wish The Gaya my very best.
I'll be writing up my thoughts on blogging ethics, following reading up on all the discussion posts from Eat Drink Blog 2013. I do like to support my local food scene and work with PR, events and products that are a right fit with my own food philosophy and where I like to take my own blog to, however I will never not disclose or use this space as a means for circulating opinions that are false or not 100% my own.