June 01, 2014

Korean in The Cross

Disclaimer: I was invited to review The Gaya however the opinions expressed below are all my own, unbiased and without any favour. 

Back in the day, I once delighted at receiving emails. I remember sharing my first Hotmail email address with my friends at school and telling all of them to "email me". It was such a novelty. Fast forward about decade and a half and checking the inbox has become somewhat of a laborious task. If it isn't spam or junk it's the never ending pile of work emails that require a response, a follow up and a meeting because people can't read their emails properly. The inbox is mostly all boring stuff, so it was a nice little surprise when I received an email a couple of weeks ago from the chef and owner of The Gaya in Applecross inviting me to his restaurant. I was not familiar with The Gaya so after a quick Google to find out the essentials, I accepted his invitation and put the date in my diary. 

All that modern Korean cuisine goodness

The Gaya has been open since late 2013 and is located on Kearns Crescent in Applecross. Do not confuse The Gaya with The Gala which is also on Kearns Crescent, but on the other side separated by Riseley Street. In a previous life when I was still a young lass delaying my return to uni I started working at a pharmacy in Applecross (and no, it was not Pharmacy 777) and continued working there until after I finished my degree. To this day it remains my longest held job ever. For those not familiar with The Cross, they have a handful of good eating spots. Ohnamiya remains a firm favourite of mine; their karaage chicken is the bomb. 

Located in the little complex known as Riseley Square, you will find the Applecross post office, Sinclair's Jewellers, Il Ciao, Terrazza and now, The Gaya. It is my understanding the The Gaya's specialty is modern Korean cuisine. Fusing together the traditional elements and cooking techniques of Korean food with a modern emphasis on freshness and health. The menu proudly declares that no MSG is used in their cooking. Of all the different types of Asian cuisine, I am most unfamiliar with Korean so I was definitely keen to try something beyond the commonplace Korean barbecue and the well known kimchi. 

It was a blustery Tuesday night and there were a couple other diners when we arrived. After asking our sweet and friendly waitress for suggestions we settled on ordering the japchae, beef cream roll, Gaya chicken, 36Pork and the Gaya bulgogi. 

Rice cake appetizer

Fried cheese appetizer

We received a pair of complimentary appetizers to start with. One was a fried cheese and the other a rice pancake. Personally I didn't care too much for the taste of these. The rice pancake was quite dry and the fried cheese was really just a soft cheesy blob. I do appreciate the gesture of providing diners with these little appetizers however I felt that they weren't representative of the dishes we were soon to be served and didn't excite me for what was to come. When I have been served appetizers or amuse-bouche elsewhere, they were delightful little morsels that built the anticipation for the meal to come, but these two choices didn't add to our dining experience. 

Garnishes served with main dishes

If the appetizers failed to hit the mark, our first dish had the exact opposite result. The Gaya chicken, or better known as Korean fried chicken. Yes! I love me some fried chicken. Love it. The Gaya chicken was a delicious, sincerely finger licking good mound of crunchy morsels of chicken topped with a spicy sauce. It was so good we ordered a second serve. Food so nice we ordered it twice. The sauce is spicy. I can handle the spice level but my friend felt it was the probably as much spice as she can handle whereas if it were even spicier I would have been fine. We all have different tolerance levels for heat, but even with my high tolerance for it I still consider it to be a spicy dish. 

Fried chicken - holla!

The japchae is one of their most popular dishes and The Gaya puts a different twist on a very traditional dish. Japchae is stir fried noodle dish, and at The Gaya it is then wrapped in rice noodle paper so it somewhat resembles an Asian style crepe filled with the noodles and vegetables, or a flattened spring roll. This was our least liked dish. To me, it tasted quite oily. I feel that the rice noodle paper soaked up a lot of oil and that was really all I could taste. I would have liked to have tasted the japchae without being encased in the rice noodle paper as the flavour didn't really come through. Perhaps it was too subtle in flavour or it was overpowered by the oil taste in the rice noodle paper, but it missed the mark for me. 



On paper, the beef cream rolls were an interesting mix of flavours. Cream cheese, asparagus, enoki mushrooms, capsicum and cucumbers mixed together and rolled up in a thin slice of beef. Interesting alright, but you know what? It worked. The beef was tender and soft with a sweetness from the sauce and a slight char taste. The cream cheese with the vegetables was a happy mix and altogether with the beef it was a delight to eat. 

The beef cream rolls

The 36Pork is a super tender and delicious pork belly, and how could it not be when cooked for 36 hours using the sous-vide method. Served with a sweet potato purée and a fanciful little salad of chives, apples and radishes it was probably my favourite of all the dishes. Being a slow cooked pork, you won't find the crispy crackling that comes with many other pork belly dishes. Personally I do like the fat on my pork belly rendered off and to have a nice crunch, but that wouldn't be keeping with the style of this dish. It's easy enough just to remove the fat from the meat, and it does pull apart oh so easily, if you don't wish to eat the gelatinous blobs of fat. It doesn't feel like a heavy or rich dish, as pork belly can often be. The flavours were fresh and combined well, especially the sweetness of the purée and apples. It all went together so well with the pork belly. 

36Pork. So good.

Perfect for a cold night, the beef bulgogi was a very flavoursome and hearty stew like dish. Thin slices of beef served with sweet potato noodles and enoki mushrooms in a warming hot pot. A very comforting dish, I'd happily eat this on a cold night fishing out all the yummy bits and slurping the soup to the very end. I really liked the noodles and even without the rice it was served with, it could be a meal on its own due to the inclusion of the noodles. 

Beef bulgogi

I could not leave without trying what appears to be their signature dessert, the Red Misu. A twist on the Italian tiramisu dessert, it is served looking like a little flower pot topped with a crunchy cookie and little chocolate 'pebbles'. Not too sweet, rich or heavy, it was a great finish to dinner. I am a fan of red/azuki beans and disappointingly I did not taste much in the way of the beans however it was still a very enjoyable dessert. It's worth ordering because as it is it tastes great, but it would be interesting to have again if the flavour of the red bean was amped up. 

Red Misu dessert. Scrumptious!

For all that we ordered, dinner would have cost us a smidge under $130.  Prices at The Gaya are extremely reasonable, the 36Pork is priced at $30 which is less than what most other restaurants charge for their pork belly. The freshness of the ingredients and food comes through in the flavours, and everything was well enjoyed with the exception of the two appetizers and the japchae. I have already passed on my recommendation of The Gaya to a friend who regularly dines in Applecross at a nearby restaurant. Given the warming and comforting characteristics of Korean food, it's definitely somewhere to try out as we move into winter. 

The Gaya Applecross on Urbanspoon

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