If someone were to ask you out for a Korean meal, chances are that visions of paper-thin slices of grilled meat and a medley of chilli-flecked banchan would spring to mind. Probably less so a Moreton Bay bug bibimbap, which is what makes Sydney's Jung Sung so intriguing.
At this new contemporary Korean restaurant atop the Old Rum Store in Chippendale's humming Kensington Street precinct, the popular one-bowl Korean wonder, which is traditionally made with humble ingredients, such as rice, vegetables and egg, comes deconstructed. And if there was ever a reason to break the rules, this is it. In place of a hot stone bowl are two rustic vessels – one is meticulously layered with puffed buckwheat, quinoa and diced soy-marinated Moreton Bay bug meat, while the other cradles a butter-poached bug tail, a glossy puddle of crustacean jus and aïoli spiked with gochujang – that wonderful spicy-salty fermented condiment made from chilli powder and glutinous rice.
The dishes arrive at the table simultaneously, alongside a small vial of toasted sesame oil that we're told to drizzle over the grains before mixing everything together. Eyes closed, the flavours and textures are bibimbap. Open them, and it's a finessed, fine-dining affair.
The reimagined bibimbap is a great example of executive chef Insup Kim's creativity and skill, which comes from years working in Michelin-starred restaurants in New York. At Jung Sung, Kim's goal is to offer a sophisticated take on the funky and fermented flavours Korean cuisine is best known for. It takes a certain amount of confidence to mess with tradition, of which he has plenty.
Take the kimchi for example, where Brussels sprouts replace the usual combination of napa cabbage and radish. Or the fish of the day – hapuka in this case – which is delicately glazed in a mixture of sweet soy and anchovy with a hint of black garlic.
Red snapper hwe is another high point in the six-course dégustation. It sees pearlescent slices of raw snapper paired with umami-rich white soy "crystals", a herbaceous perilla extract, sweet cubes of rockmelon and karkalla – arguably, it's a dish that leans more contemporary than Korean. The same goes for the wagyu beef course with burnt eggplant and jalapeño jus.
Kim's modern interpretation of classic Korean flavours is refreshing and playful, however I'd welcome a little more funk over finesse. Even still, Jung Sung offers something exciting in the way of Korean cuisine in Sydney.