In the culinary race to pip all others to the post with the latest ‘fusion’ phenomenon, Ko & Co. is leading the pack with their marriage of Korean-Mexican fare.
Well, in Sydney at least.
It’s a Korean and Mexican Soju bar reminiscent of those native to the US. As early as 1996, Korean cultural hubs were crossing the Mexican borders (figuratively speaking) and melding kimchi with tacos in taste bud bliss. But it wasn’t until 2009 when Kogi BBQ introduced the cuisine to California on the back of a food truck that things really began to take off. Since then, Korean-Mexican food trucks have been blazing down the Californian coast like jalapeño-infused wildfire.
So why not adopt the same business model for Ko & Co., Sydney’s inaugural Ko-Mex outfit? “We considered the idea of a Korean-Mexican food truck,” says co-owner Frank Lin. But when all things were considered, the costs of purchasing, fitting and modifying a truck were comparable to opening a permanent restaurant.
After debating locations in the CBD and Chinatown, Frank and his business partner, Jae Jung (ex-Merivale) landed this commercial spot on Hunt St in Surry Hills. It’s just close enough to Central Station and the hub of night activity to be seen and far enough from the residential area to avoid disturbing the neighbours. Either way, the locals, Americans and Koreans have had no trouble finding it.
Korean and Mexican like your tastebuds have never known before.
The vibe: Busy and buzzing.
Ideal for: Dinners, drinks, pub crawls, adventure flavour seekers.
Bartender’s choice: Black Raspberry Bramble, $16
Try the...Korean Fried Chicken, $14
By the way...They’re directly across from the Hollywood Hotel and minutes away from Tio’s. One of the owners is also called Frank Lin. (Franklin, geddit? Coolest name ever.)
Find them on Facebook: Ko and Co.
They open at 6pm for dinner, but even before the minute-hand hits 12, people (ourselves included) are pushing the doors and settling in for an evening of culinary fare. It’s a strict ‘first in, best dressed’ policy they abide by here and even though space is ample, we’re warning you here and now, it packs out quickly, so get in on time.
Like its name, the menu at Ko & Co. is short and sweet, because you really shouldn’t overcomplicate a pairing of cuisines with dominating flavours. “People ask us, ‘So, it’s kimchi, guacamole, jalapenos and cheese?’” says Frank, raising an eyebrow in part confusion, part jest. (We’ll admit, the thought did cross our worried minds before we sat ourselves bar-side too. Sorry.) “No,” he assures. “Korean is the cuisine and the way we deliver and present the food is Mexican.”
Think less kimchi infused guacamole, more spicy pork belly, kimchi fried rice, beef short-ribs or grilled mushrooms, laid out on floured tortillas and wrapped up as burritos and set your mouths to ‘water’.
Oh and did we mention they serve baskets full of crispy Korean fried chicken? Accompanied with kimchi mayo and pickled radish, it’s your go-to bar snack any night of the week. Wait, what? Korean fried chicken with kimchi mayo… where’s the Mexican influence in that? “There is none,” laughs Frank. “Everyone loves Korean fried chicken,” he says, so there was no question as to whether or not it would hold a rightful place on this menu.
If our empty basket that was Korean fried chicken is anything to go by, it certainly does.
With the night young and punters pushing the walls barely an hour into opening, forcing the men behind the bar to scribble orders on anything from napkins to paper scraps, we decide it’s time to move onto the second half of the outfit’s namesake: the soju.
For those less versed in Korean fare, soju is the nation’s liquor of choice and is served straight-up. Ko & Co. cold presses its own with seasonal fruits from Haymarket (Flemington Haymarket, not that ‘tourist-hub’ across the road). They also do a mean yuzu margarita. It’s a slightly tart, extremely potent blend of tequila and honey yuzu tea that should be sipped, not slurped, unless stumbling off your stool is your night’s game-plan.
But if gracefulness is on the cards (it’s a weeknight for us, unfortunately), we suggest you opt for the Black Raspberry Bramble. It’s a sweet, light concoction mixed with Bokbunja – which is a Korean black raspberry dessert wine that’s new to Sydney’s bar scene.
Because haven’t you heard? These guys like to trailblaze.
Address: 6 Hunt St, Surry Hills
Opening hours: Monday 6pm-10pm, Tuesday to Thursday (lunch) 12pm-3pm (dinner) 6pm-10pm, Friday (lunch) 12pm-3pm, (dinner) 6pm-12am, Saturday 6pm-12am