I've been craving Korean food for weeks now, perhaps spurred on by the food I see the Running Man Cast members devouring on the show.
The decor at The Gaya is minimal, providing that simple but traditional Korean aesthetic, common to most other dining experiences in Korea. White paper lanterns and others in red and blue hang from the ceiling, the walls adorned with calligraphy. Stationed far behind the counter and past a curtain is chef and manager Leo, working away and putting together humble but delicious traditional dishes and experimenting with Korean fusion flavours.
A pot of yuja cha (yuzu), a sweet citrus tea (that I absolutely love and am setting to re-stock up at home again) was ordered, along with the kimchi jijibi and the beef cream roll. Salmon was also soon presented on a slate as part of the entrees. It felt only right to order both traditional and contemporary/fusion dishes when visiting The Gaya.
Out of the three entrees my favourite was the kimchi jijimi. The kimchi was flavoursome, salty and spicy. It did not overshadow the pancake mixture and instead the flavours were well balanced. It was a little oily (Korean cuisine is typical of being oily) but I would rather a mourish pancake than a dry one. It will definitely be something I will order next time and perhaps I don't think I would even consider any of the other jijimi, as I liked this one too much.
The salmon gravlax arrived grouped on a slate rather than piece by piece, however was tender and subtly flavoured with dill and plum and when the salmon pieces were unwrapped was full of tobiko and lettuce. Resembling a flower opening petal by petal was a treat, however using a circular dish for the salmon salad would have been much easier to eat from, as the salmon beautifully bloomed and unfolded, the sauce surrounding it had a tendency to seep off the slate and got a bit messy. I found the beef in the beef roll to be a bit tough to chew and when coupled with a soft centre of a significant amount of cream cheese, it made it difficult to bite the roll into an easy mouthful.
When considering what to order and how much to order, we consulted the staff. They were friendly and attentive, however as the restaurant started to fill up with occupants, it was clear that there were not enough waitstaff to service the many customers in the restaurant. Jason noted that it took about twenty five minutes before our dishes were collected and the dessert order taken. It wasn't something that particularly bothered us as we could see that the restaurant was understaffed and they were booked out, however it would be a good idea to have a third waitstaff servicing on Saturday nights. That said, the food that came out was quick and well presented, making up for the time lost.
The lovely waitress suggested about two entrees to share and one main each as the mains were substantial enough. Again, opting for traditional Korean, I chose the Gaya Bulgogi. I can't seem to go past bulgogi - this particular dish was served with thin glass noodles, enoki mushrooms, onions and tender strips of beef in a hot pot dish.
Usually bulgogi I have had in the past is always grilled and I was unsure as to whether or not I would still be able to taste that delicious marinade in a soupy hot pot. Sprinkled with thinly sliced spring onions and topped with strips of dehydrated chilli, it still maintained its flavour, proving not to be too rich or salty. The beef was also tender. It was accompanied by soft and fluffy rice, a spicy sauce and the usual Korean side dish affair of kimchi, beansprouts and a carrot pancake.
I sincerely enjoyed my bulgogi hot pot, barely sharing any with Jason but when I did, he commented on how authentic it tasted, even considering it was in a hot pot - possessing the same flavours as variations of bulgogi he had tried in Seoul. Jason's entree was a fusion "surf and turf" or the correct term, the Gaya T&P. Tuna was grilled on the outside to a medium pink colour and the expertly cooked tiger prawns lay atop two slices of bread and a fennel salad. The fennel salad and celeriac puree were something that we both thought tasted more like an inventive version of gamja (korean potato salad). Overall, Jason favoured the seafood, wanting a few more prawns after he finished the first two.
I couldn't go past the hotteok for dessert, another Korean style of pancake that is popularly sold by vendors in Korea. Stuffed with crunchy brown sugar, pine nuts and sunflower seeds, the pancake is then deep fried. The pancake was fantastic, it was the greasy but sweet hit I needed for dessert, with its warm centre and golden outside. Dusted with cinnamon and sugar, it was topped with honeycomb pieces. I think what would have made the dish would have been thinner honeycomb pieces that didn't have a burnt taste, perhaps instead using thin caramel fragments to accompany it would have been a more subtle change in texture while still remaining true to the same flavours.
Apart from the four mismatched chairs and the tendency of the restaurant to get fairy noisy given there don't appear to be any acoustics in place, this quaint but charming Korean restaurant is still easy to favour. The dishes are all masterfully presented and we found ourselves perked up, glancing over to the dishes that had been brought out to our neighbours. There is no doubting the portions were filling, meaning you get a substantial amount for what you pay for. I felt a bad that I couldn't quite finish everything because it was quite filling (my copious cups of yuja cha were also to blame), but I will definitely be re-visiting to try a few more traditional items on the menu. My next stop is the bibimbap!
There's no faulting the free flow of ideas and the interesting concepts of each fusion dish, however the execution of these concepts are still being finely honed, with a few conflicting ideas presenting themselves on one plate (where concerned with the Gaya T&P for example). Regardless of this, the team at the helm seem deeply invested in getting it right and when they do, I have no doubt it will be the perfect meld of contemporary and modern Korean.
Shop 3 &4, 3 Kearns Crescent, Ardoss 6153
Monday - Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday - Thursday: 5.30pm - 10pm
Friday - Sunday: 11:30am - 2:30pm, 5.30pm - 10pm.