For a chef who’s trained in some of the country’s top kitchens, the small beachside suburb of Milford on Auckland’s North Shore might not seem the likeliest location to open a venue. But even before its doors open tomorrow, modern Korean restaurant Tokki looks at home on Kitchener Road.
“It’s really nice setting the place up and having so many people pop their heads in to see what’s happening. People are really curious,” owner Jason Kim tells Broadsheet. He’s well known in the industry thanks to a CV that includes experience at The Grove, Clooney, Cassia and Sidart – and he’s also currently part-owner of wildly popular Commercial Bay restaurant Gochu.
A North Shore local, he’s always wanted to build a community around a restaurant and is very excited about this new venture. The success of Gochu still astounds him – but it has also given him the confidence to take the next step. “I feel like Gochu was entry-level Korean, but with Tokki I want to encourage people to learn even more about our cuisine. I want them to know it’s more than amazing fried chicken and kimchi.”
He’s also keen for people to know that Korean food can be elevated and served with premium wine from all over the world – and doesn’t always have to be about “cheap and cheerful food to be eaten while getting drunk on cheap soju and beer”.
Taittinger Cuvee Prestige is available by the glass and the comprehensive wine list was compiled by well-known sommelier Hiro Kawahara. It features several organic and minimal intervention drops, as well as classic styles, chilled reds and sipping vermouths. There’s even a whisky digestif trolley complete with traditional Korean lacquered boxes containing delicate petits fours.
The 26 seater’s decor is unfussy and chic, with a slatted wooden bar matched by curve-backed wooden chairs and square tables. A deep sea-green banquette lines one wall, below a series of framed prints of stylised hand-drawn rabbits, referencing the Korean Zodiac sign Tokki is named after. (Tokki’s street number is 87 – 1987 being the Year of the Rabbit – which is also Kim’s own sign).
The menu centres on sharing plates, and though the food is refined, Kim wants diners to feel like they’re eating in his lounge at home. “I want them to feel really comfortable – like a more intimate, community-type feel.”
There’s a beef short rib with black-garlic jus and house-made white kimchi (without chilli); raw fish with Korean mustard and minari (also known as water celery); round toasties filled with mortadella and oiji (cucumber kimchi). Kim’s take on popular knife-cut noodle dish kalguksu might well become Tokki’s signature. It consists of a single metre-long wide, flat noodle stir-fried with mushrooms and Korean-style chilli pork, and piled artfully onto a plate. “We say the longer the noodle, the better your health, so I love the idea of people enjoying the eating experience as well as living long, healthy lives.”
He’s even making his own sesame oil because he couldn’t find one that truly represented home. “Sesame is the smell of Korea, so it needed to be right,” he says.
There are many other traditional cultural elements woven into the story of Tokki. “Korean culinary history is so long and interesting. I feel a strong duty to really show what our food can be.”
Tokki opens officially on Tuesday August 30.
87 Kitchener Road, Milford
(09) 488 0888
Tues to Sat 5pm–late