Walking into Kong, what first strikes you is its size – it’s a compact restaurant, but with big personality. 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.
The Kong team was cooking for an entire year to perfect the menu before opening day, and it shows. Benjamin Cooper is the head chef and he and his fellow 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.
On the menu are “rice crackles" with edamame salsa and walnut jam, super-fresh variations on kimchi and bao, pillowy steamed buns with pork belly and soft-shell crab and 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.
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.