When Reynold Poernomo, dubbed the “king of desserts”, was eliminated from reality TV show MasterChef in 2015, he quickly channelled his national popularity into a series of dessert pop-ups around Sydney.
So emphatic was his success that six months later, in January 2016 the ribbon was cut on his multi-storey dessert bar and fine-dining restaurant, Koi Dessert Bar, which he opened with his brother Arnold.
While the thriving patisserie on the ground floor continues to showcase Reynold’s signature sweet masterpieces (now mostly made by his mum at the business’s Ryde headquarters), the upstairs dining room has remained relatively secret among Koi’s heavyweight neighbours on Chippendale’s food-rich Kensington Street (including Automata, Mekong, The Clare Bar).
“People think we just do desserts,” Reynold says before taking a sip from a cocktail made in his neighbouring bar Monkey’s Corner, which he also runs with his brother. “But that’s actually been a blessing in disguise; it’s given us the chance to learn as we go.”
Now, as Koi enters its third year, the lessons the self-taught brothers have gained about operating a restaurant are being channelled into a shake up of the menu.
“We’ve decided to change how we approach the dining room,” says Reynold. “We used to do a six-step dining menu, but we got feedback people want more flexibility, so we’ve changed how we go about it. It’s made it harder for us, but it’s much better for our diners.”
Diners can now select whichever dishes they want for a three-course meal (entrée, main and dessert) or five-courses (two entrees, main and two desserts).
Because the brothers aren’t bound by culinary traditions the new menu combines classic techniques with the South East Asian flavours the boys grew up with. That equates to dishes such as bone marrow with sambal and lime served with a brioche bun; and chicken wings stuffed with rice and seasonal mushrooms.
Some of Koi’s dessert favourites have also disappeared as part of the refresh. “I took the moss dish [which Reynold invented during MasterChef, and which he says was inspired “by the earth”], which has been our signature, off the menu. It was a tough decision, but I get bored easily. I don’t want to create the same thing over and over again. I’m still working on the replacement,” he says.
Plates remain tightly focussed despite the broadness of the influences at play, highlighting wonderful produce that’s been treated with skill and whimsy. The same masterfulness that continues to make Reynold’s sweet creations so appealing is also at play in Arnold’s savoury dishes.
While the menu changes are significant the ethos driving Koi remains unchanged. “We want people to feel spoilt without blowing a hole in their pocket,” Reynold says. “It’s casual fine-dining. That’s a trendy thing to say right now, but it’s what we’re doing. A nice, quiet room with good food.”
The serenity of the dining room is also reflected in the kitchen, though it wasn’t always the case. “There have been plenty of fights along the way,” Arnold says. “Outsiders see us and say we work well together, but that first year there were plenty of fights. You’d walk past and see a fish flying through the dessert counter. Now we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses perfectly. We’re in sync.”
Koi Dessert Bar’s new menu launches on April 6.
Koi Dessert Bar
42–44 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Tue to Sun cakes and coffee 10am–11pm