If you’ve spent time in Orange recently you may be familiar with Mr Lim – the Korean-Chinese fusion restaurant and karaoke bar that’s been dubbed the town’s “best night out” by besotted diners. At Diana, owner Sunny Jeon is intent on bringing the fun from out west to his new digs: the old Billy Kwong space in Potts Point.
“When we opened Mr Lim, I had been living in Orange for six years,” Jeon tells Broadsheet. “I was getting bored and I wanted to have fun, so we bought a karaoke machine. I sang Uptown Girl on the first night – everyone was looking at me like ‘What the hell is going on?’ I was so embarrassed. But the next song, As Long As You Love Me, by The Backstreet Boys, set the place off.”
So how does a karaoke machine go down in sophisticated Potts Point?
“They love it,” Jeon says. “People sing You’re So Vain, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, anything by Madonna. After a while someone always does Girls Just Wanna Have Fun or Sweet Caroline. And The Horses [by Daryl Braithwaite]. I fucking hate that song. We have two rules here. First rule: we don’t take requests. The second? I’m not going to play any Horses.”
Jeon, who operates four restaurants in central-west NSW, says that many young chefs feel pressure to do something “different” with their menus. The focus at Diana is traditional, bold Asian flavours. Hwae moochim, a South Korean dish of tossed raw fish, is assembled at the table, and is a party of sashimi-grade salmon, tuna, kingfish and abalone in a dressing of sesame oil, gochujang (a mild Korean chilli paste) and apple vinegar. KFC (Korean fried chicken) is a twice-cooked chicken breast seasoned with chilli paste, spring onion and almonds. But it’s the bulgogi, or Sammy’s Quick Tossed Scotch Fillet with spring onion, garlic, and chives that Broadsheet will be making return visits for.
“Not many Australians understand that Korean food can be very healthy,” Jeon says. “They come in, sit down, and ask for a spring roll. That kills me.”
The location had excellent bones. Jeon, a die-hard Kylie Kwong fan, overlaid the existing fit-out with an eclectic collection of Chinese and Korean art and artefacts, including five large hwa-tu (a Korean card game) cards, hand-painted Korean door frames, and a Japanese garden. Overlooking the expansive dining room and the buzzing open kitchen is a large portrait of Diana Shaw, the matriarch of the Shaw wine family, and the restaurant’s namesake.
“If I had to say what the biggest turning point in my life was, it would have been meeting Philip and Diana Shaw,” says Jeon. “She is my mentor. She’s the one who introduced me to Australian wine and food.”
Jeon, who is from a tiny South Korean island, was a backpacker looking for work picking apples in Orange when he knocked on what looked like a door to a factory.
“Philip opened the door. I had no idea who he was. I asked him if he had any work. He said no,” says Jeon. “The next day I went back and asked again, and again he said no. Eventually he asked me to do some whipper snipper jobs around his Koomooloo vineyard. A week later he asked me over for dinner. Diana sat down next to me, we started talking, and soon we became very good friends. She took me to Quay, China Doll, Cho Cho San, Mr Wong … It was a great journey for me. So when I was thinking about what to call the restaurant, it was obvious to me. It’s not an Asian name, but it’s a meaningful name.”
In homage to the region where Jeon earned his wine chops (Jeon ended up becoming the Shaw family’s cellar hand), Diana’s wine list features mainly drops from Orange. “The area produces such great wine,” he says. “I don't want to forget where I came from. I want to give back to them.”
The karaoke machine comes out on Friday and Saturday nights only. Play it safe and don’t ask Sammy to play anything by Daryl Braithwaite.
1/28 Macleay Street, Potts Point
(02) 8114 9919
Wed & Thu 5.30pm–9.30pm
Fri to Sun 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–9.30pm