If you’re going to be gun-shy about anything, don’t let it be garlic. That’s a principle Yunji Kim and partner Hayden Smith live by at their new restaurant, Gunbae Chicken & Beer, which opened on Union Street last month (replacing Jekyll & Hyde).
The menu is blissfully simple: order your chicken with or without bones, then choose a sauce: soy and garlic, double-brushed sticky soy, or yangnyeom (a spicy sauce). Kim was inspired by her childhood memories of Korea when developing the concept for the restaurant. “In Korea, [late at night] we had Korean fried chicken. We call it yashik, which means after dinner,” Kim says. “There are all different types of fried chicken [in Korea]. It’s a culture, I grew up with it.”
Kim made trips back to Korea to perfect her fried chicken recipe, including a visit to the famous “chicken street” in Suwon. “I met all different people, and went to all the famous places in Korea. One of my good family members taught me how to make a good sauce, how to treat the chicken, how to cut it… everything. I got lots of help from Korea, then I developed the recipe.”
Kim brines the meat for more than 12 hours and makes the batter from scratch. “The texture isn’t heavy or oily. It’s really light, and really crunchy,” says Kim. “We’re literally doing everything from scratch,” adds Smith. “It’s labour intensive.”
Sides include kimchi pancakes, mandoo, salad with yuzu dressing and joomuk bap, a rice ball with crunchy seaweed, cucumber and carrot. There’s a focus on lighter beers to complement the chicken, including both Korean lagers and local brews. There’s also patbingsu (a Korean shaved ice dessert) and a range of cocktails.
The couple themselves are behind the fit-out. They’ve paired the heritage-listed building’s exposed brick with dark green booths and plenty of wood, as well as long tables intended for large groups. And it’s already proving popular. “People are just relaxed, even on the really hot days,” says Kim. “It’s been a really good vibe.”