Monday, 17 March 2014

The Gaya, Applecross, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Starting The Ministry of Gluttony, I knew that there are bloggers who get VIP invites to openings and complimentary meals, but I thought any chance that I would enjoy such a perk would only come after years of writing - if it even came at all. So when I received an email from Leo of The Gaya in Applecross inviting me as a 'power blogger' to come in for a complimentary meal and give my honest feedback, I was surprised and flattered to be asked. Given that I was not obligated to give a glowing review if the meal didn't warrant it, I accepted the invite and made plans with Alissa for a Thursday night dinner.

The Gaya is a Modern Korean restaurant located on Kearns Crescent in Applecross, just south of the Riseley St and Canning Hwy intersection and very close to local favourites Pacific Rim Mix Plate and the similarly named Gala Restaurant. Having seen the Koreatown episode of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, I was aware of Modern Korean's increasingly popularity in the US. However with even the stereotypical Korean Barbecue joint being somewhat alien to most Australians (Alissa included), this is a restaurant operating in largely untested and uncharted Perth waters.

Arriving via their left side entrance, we were invited to sit wherever we liked, and we chose a well lit table towards the right - all the better to take blog photos from!

The restaurant's interior features a fairly standard Modern Asian design aesthetic - bamboo highlights, screens, lantern shade lighting, and calligraphy works on the walls. Stylish but not overly fussy or stuffy.

As we perused their menu, a selection of biscuits were brought out as an Amuse Bouche. These were nice enough (we particularly liked the peanut cookie), but seemed more like the kind of sweet small bite you'd serve at the end of a meal as Petit Fours. A bit of an odd start, but given that we were pretty hungry it at least keep our stomachs happy as we waited for our meal proper.

For drinks we decided to go with their Yuzu Tea. Yuzu is a wonderful ingredient, and it was really nice presented here in drink form - sweet, almost floral and with a tangy, agreeable acidity.

The Gaya offer a set menu of your choice of starter, main and a selection of desserts for a reasonable $45. Though the meal was complimentary, this is how Alissa and I would have ordered had we come here as paying customers and would be the best way for us to get a sense of what The Gaya were about. For my starter I decided to go with the Fish Jijimi - a kind of traditional Korean fish pancake served with soy mayo. This was really delicious - the thinly cut fish fillets were tender and juicy, and with the pancake element were like a very fine battered fish. The pancake batter was not overly thick, leading Alissa to positively exclaim 'I'm not sure where the fish begins and the pancake begins!' when she tasted it. A relatively straightforward dish, but one that was executed commendably.

Alissa went with the Beef Cream Roll, which consisted of thinly sliced beef wrapped around asparagus, cream cheese, enoki mushroom, capsicum and cucumber in a soy-based, teriyaki-like sauce. I've had cheese in Korean food before, but to me this dish more closely echoed the cream cheese filled fresh spring rolls I've had at Japanese restaurant Ha-Lu in Mt Hawthorn combined with the thinly sliced beef we ate at Iggy's in Singapore. The cream cheese, vegetables and beef were a wonderful combination that made this another winning entree, even if the beef was not quite as tender as the incredible melt-in-your-mouth texture of Iggy's dish (though in the higher price bracket of Iggy's, this is to be expected).

While waiting for our mains,  beautifully plated surprise trays of small bites were brought out for us to enjoy. This included spicy daikon radish, a kimchi cabbage ball, small fish cakes and some spicy tuna. These were all fine and well made; about what I would expect for each of them in terms of taste and flavour and a nice complimentary selection for us to nibble on as we waited for our mains.

We didn't have to wait very long, and my main of 36 Pork was easily the dish of the night. The pork belly slices were cooked sous-vide for 36 hours and seasoned perfectly, the result having an amazing melt-in-your-mouth unctuousness. This was up there with some of the best cooked pork belly I've eaten, and made a great argument for why sous-vide is much more than 'just playing with science'. The remaining components were also excellent, with the sweet potato mash so smooth it must have been forced through a sieve and the combination of the very European pork side of apples with the Korean chive salad and spicy soybean paste sauce worked better than I had expected. This was a superb dish, and one that was masterfully executed.

Alissa's choice of mains was the Gaya Combo consisting of pan fried mackerel served with slices of omelette-style eggs, tempura zucchini, macaroni salad and kimchi served with rice and soup. Mackerel is not one of the easiest fish to cook as it can often result in a dry, brittle fish that is not great eating if overdone. This was not the case with the Gaya's mackerel, which was well seasoned and cooked perfectly. The sides were very tasty too, with Alissa and I both really enjoying the tempura zucchini and the sweet, creamy soup. It may not have been quite as exciting or as exceptional as the 36 Pork, but it maintained the consistent standard of cooking we had experienced so far.

From there it was time for dessert, and being an ice cream fanatic I had to go with the Green Tea Ice Cream. Made in house by the chef, this ice cream tasted a lot like a good quality vanilla ice cream with the kick of macha added. When making ice cream, it always critical to get a smooth texture with minimal ice crystal formation, and Gaya's definitely passed the test. The serving size was reasonable, however given the presentation and complexity of Alissa's dessert, it could possibly have been presented with another component to be a more well-rounded dish.

The Red Misu seems to be the Gaya's signature dessert; their version of a tiramisu served in a flower pot -complete with fake garden and rocks. The presentation of this dish was excellent with the illusion being believable right down to the detail on the chocolate stones.

Of course presentation is one thing; its no good having a beautiful dessert that is not very tasty. Thankfully, this was a delicious dessert - a nice, balanced tiramisu that was not overly alcoholic or overly rich as some can be. Most inspired as well was the inclusion of red bean, which brought an unusual texture and additional interest to the dish. I usually would choose ice cream over what is basically a cake (not my favourite), but I'd pick this over the ice cream as the better of the two desserts.

The Verdict: Excellent
Alissa and I left Gaya feeling very satisfied with our meal, and felt that $45 was quite reasonable for the serving size and the quality. The 36 Pork alone would bring us back as paying customers as it was a dish more expensive and established restaurants would be proud to serve. Chef Leo is definitely talented, and Alissa and I felt his cheffy, fusiony twists on Korean food were very tasteful and inspired. If given the opportunity I feel he and the restaurant have the potential to become even greater. The challenge for the Gaya is that Korean food is not one of the more well known and understood cuisines in Western Australia, and even though I've eaten Korean a number of times, its not the first thing I think about when going out for dinner. That they are doing something very different to Korean barbecue would additionally create a bit of a cognitive dissonance for those expecting a Korean restaurant to be one thing and finding it to be something else entirely. They've definitely got their work cut out for them, but with the quality of the food one can only hope word of mouth and the support of so many Perth bloggers leads to some major dividends for Leo and the Gaya. Recommended.

The Gaya Applecross on Urbanspoon

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