Walking into Kong, what first strikes you is its size. The enthusiasm for The Lucas Group’s latest offering has at times seemed so outsized that it’s a surprise to find such a compact restaurant behind it all. On the site of what was once Pearl and just a block from Baby, the Kong dining space seats 60 at a mixture of long communal benches, bar stools and smaller tables in blonde wood. The bustling open kitchen evokes the restaurant’s older sibling, Chin Chin, and the large windows make the most of Kong’s site on the corner of Church and Newton streets.
Standing in front of a Kong dining room packed with MyBroadsheet competition winners last night, general manager John Kanis explained that the Kong team had been cooking for an entire year to perfect their menu, and it shows. The day before launch, all kinks and creases had long since been ironed out, and the team was humming.
“We’re going to execute the entire menu,” promised Kanis at the beginning of the evening, and true to his word, all 55 items made their way onto the tables from a kitchen overseen by Kangol-topped executive chef, Benjamin Cooper. Chefs wear red baseball caps emblazoned with three-letter slogans, either ‘KIM’, ‘CHI’, or ‘BBQ’, and it’s these elements that make the place sing.
With each table receiving a different array of dishes, “rice crackles" with edamame salsa and walnut jam were an early highlight, along with super-fresh variations on kimchi and bao, the pillowy steamed buns hitting tables with pork belly and soft-shell crab, or a peanut-butter tofu piled with fresh coriander.
Though it leans toward Korean, Kong isn’t about a strict adherence to traditional cuisine. One of several barbeque chicken dishes on the menu is the peanut-butter wings with gochujang and pickle, which was inspired by a dish thrown together by Cooper for his sister. “I was at my sister’s place and wanted to cook something for her birthday,” he explains. “She was apologising, saying she didn’t have much in her kitchen, and I opened the pantry and thought ‘Wow, you really don’t.’ But she had peanut butter and a few other things in the cupboard that I was able to use for a marinade, and once I’d finished, I thought, ‘Yep, that’s definitely going on the menu,’” he laughs.
Other highlights include wood-roasted salmon with crispy skin and seaweed salad, a 16-hour smoked brisket and some barbecued corn with chilli salt and miso butter that will undoubtedly earn a place alongside Mamasita’s Elotes Callejeros in the pantheon of Melbourne’s great maize experiences.
The MyBroadsheet competition to win a table at last night’s preview was as clear an indication as you could get that this cuisine will strike a chord with this city. Run in association with Mercedes-Benz, the competition to win a table for four had seen 6,000 entrants keen to experience The Lucas Group’s latest. Now, you can grab a seat any time you like.
599 Church Street, Richmond
(03) 9427 1307
(Dinner service only until Monday June 2)
(Regular hours after June 2)