Marble isn’t an easy restaurant to categorise. On the menu there’s monkfish-liver parfait, rice-wine sorbet, rare Korean seaweed, and noodles made of tuna served with a side of bacon aioli. Then there’s a bar serving equally creative cocktails, small-batch Australian wines, and a clean and approachable (in flavour more than price) sake list. All of this in a striking Kengo Kuma-inspired timber and concrete space by Studio MKZ.

Owner David Bae and restaurant manager David Ashby describes the newly opened Marble as a casual eatery with fine-dining technique, an izakaya with Korean influences, and a restaurant without fuss, but with linen napkins.

Bae has done casual and approachable before – first with hip fried-chicken-bao-and-beer joint Tokki, in Surry Hills, and then with upmarket but traditional Korean-barbeque eatery Kogi, in Haymarket. Both were successful ventures but not entirely unique in the Sydney food scene. With the group’s new eatery, Marble, you get the impression Bae wants to make a bigger mark – and to do that he’s relying on ex-Sokyo chef Jacob Lee and his team. “I said to Jacob, ‘Be explosive, be creative, do whatever you want to do’,” says Bae.

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For the first time in his career, Lee has carte blanche to do whatever he wants – which is why you see him using rare ingredients and serving dishes like nabak kimchee (fermented cabbage with ground sunflower seeds and kelp butter) and ssam gamtae (a soft, savoury and salty seaweed with a fairy-floss consistency, wrapped in more seaweed). They sit alongside Seoul-meets-Tokyo dishes such as pork-belly bao, whole flounder with a sweet white saikyo miso, and Wagyu strip loin with garlic butter and wild sesame.

Lee says the full breadth of Korean cuisine is not well represented in Sydney, so he’s pulled back on its more familiar acidic and pungent flavours. “I tried to adapt the flavour for Western people,” he tells Broadsheet. “I tried to take out the more spicy and sour flavours and focus on more of a European taste.”

Bae is also looking to Ashby (ex-Riley Street Garage), who has built the wine list and runs the floor, to guide his vision, while American import TK Moyo (Momofuku and The Varnish in Los Angeles, and Coal Vaults in London’s Soho) is behind the cocktails and bar. “This was the first time we’ve had to import things and run around in Asian grocers to find all the stuff [for the cocktail] list. He’s an artist,” says Bae.

All of this during a pandemic. Incredibly, Bae doesn’t seem particularly stressed about it. In fact he’s thankful he and Lee have had the extra breathing room. “This quiet period has given us a lot of time,” he says. “Jacob has worked his butt off with the menu, David as well to get a really solid team together.” And although things are quiet now, he’s confident that if the product is good then people will come. “We don’t want to appear to be fine dining, but we have that ambition and we want to make some noise with our food.”

Shop 5, Tower 1, 100 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo
0415 890 701

Tue to Thu 5pm–10.30pm
Fri & Sat 5pm–11.30pm