At Matkim, the yukhoe tangtangi isn’t made with live octopus – but that’s not because the chef thought it would be too challenging for an Australian audience.

“We would love to put it on the menu,” chef Noel Lao tells Broadsheet. “We don’t because we can’t get our hands on it. It’s a very special product, and I think if you wanted to serve it in Australia, you’d have to catch it yourself.”

But the menu at Matkim – the tiny new omakase from Kolture Group (Soot, Kobo, Tokki) – isn’t focused on traditional Korean cuisine. Lao and his team, overseen by executive chef Jacob Lee, recreate classic dishes using Western ingredients, with some delightful, unexpected results.

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That means the yukhoe tangtangi – traditionally made from beef tartare, dotted with still-moving, chopped octopus tentacles and topped with raw egg – is more sedate. A tidy ring of nori surrounds layers of poached octopus and truffle mashed potatoes, topped with creamy, grade-A uni (sea urchin).

The 18-course meal is an hours-long spectacle. Only eight guests are welcomed into the moody room each night to watch Lao and his chefs work quietly at the counter, arranging beef tendon and shiitake for the clear-broth take on boyang tang stew; searing dry-aged striploin on the smokeless grill; and pouring liquid nitrogen into a Kitchenaid mixer to make dashima (kelp broth) and butterscotch ice-cream, which I overheard a fellow diner call “the best dessert I’ve ever had”.

The details are impeccable. Food is served on bone-coloured, custom-made China, and fresh utensils are presented for each dish: needle-fine chopsticks for house-made buckwheat noodles, a mother-of-pearl spoon for the Abrolhos Island scallop mulhoe (seafood soup). Guests are invited to choose their own steak knife from a boxed collection, and petits fours are served from the delicate drawers of an antique jewellery box.

Chef Lao calls himself a jack-of-all-trades. In between describing the white kimchi stock used to cure the blue mackerel and finishing woodfired marron with spicy doenjang (soybean paste) and crab foam, he recommends and pours wines and chats to customers.

“When I first talked to Jacob [Lee], I was so moved by the way he wanted to express Korean culture. Fine Korean cuisine is fairly new in Australia, but around the world Korean restaurants are getting Michelin stars and chefs are pioneering a movement of modern Korean cuisine. In Australia, the market has been saturated with traditional Korean eateries – most people have had Korean barbeque, for example. At Matkim the flare and theatrics are extra, but it’s our goal to give people a new perspective.”

Matkim
Shop CQT.07, 180 George Street, Sydney

Hours:
Tue to Sun 6pm–11pm

matkim.com.au