Back in August, a confidential invitation arrived in my inbox to experience a modern Korean restaurant “with Y2K vibes”. My curiosity was piqued with the mention of Y2K and cemented when I saw the chef team: Jung-su Chang, Chris Kim, and Yuji Shin who each have resumes studded with Michelin stars and hats.
Chang and Shin worked together at Jungsik Seoul, which currently holds two
Michelin stars, and is renowned for cuisine that takes foundational Korean dishes such as gimbap and evolves them into plates that are both familiar and cutting-edge. It’s long been regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city, which has no doubt left an imprint on how Chang and Shin work, think, and cook.
I speak to chef team Chang and Kim about joining the new opening, developing
the menu from abroad, and how they hope to plate up dishes diners have never
The name Funda provides a good indicator of what’s to come. Automatic glass doors
open off Pitt Street to a neon tunnel projecting the restaurant’s name and leads
to an open kitchen surrounded by lights — there’s colour and movement everywhere you look — something I’ve yet to see in a Sydney restaurant, which typically sticks to a more pared-back aesthetic. If I had to condense Funda into a few words, I’d describe it as ‘fine dining meets karaoke’, and no doubt something different in a sector that can be a little serious.
Speaking of fine dining, Executive Chef Jung-su Chang couldn’t be more suited
to the job. He relocated to Sydney after working as the executive chef of Jungsik
Seoul and time cooking for French icon Pierre Gagnaire beforehand.
Moving from a restaurant with Michelin stars to a new opening in another country no doubt comes with pros and cons, but Chang says fronting Funda was a one-off opportunity he couldn’t turn down. “I was approached to join the restaurant last year and saw it as my last chance to open a new restaurant in another country,” he says.
Firestone’s Jang Ho So is the owner of Funda, with the restaurateur also recruiting and relocating pastry chef Yuji Shin from Seoul, with former Sepia and Tetsuya’s talent Chris Kim rounding out the team, which came together a few months before Funda launched to the public in August. Chang began working on the menu from
afar last September, and his experience with European cuisine is as evident as the
Head Chef Kim says the style of food found at Funda may be something unique for Sydney, but is very much the norm in Korea. “Most Korean restaurants are modernised, and globally it’s [the cuisine] become more popular,” he says. “It’s Korean flavours with modern techniques,” adds Chang.
While developing a menu from a different country could be a challenge for some, Chang’s experience meant the dishes easily came together when he arrived in
Sydney. “It wasn’t that hard because I already know Korean flavours and adding
Australian ingredients wasn’t too difficult,” he says.
It took around 10 months or so before Funda’s dishes were inked on the menu,
which is plentiful, to say the least. There’s a lot to choose from, and a second visit
is likely warranted for fans of the style of cooking. A fried seaweed roll stuffed with
prawn and scallop mousse encased by a perilla leaf is served with yuzu kosho,
and the iconic street snack of skewered tteok (rice cakes) with sausages is also
part of the starters — but Funda’s take is accompanied by avocado purée and
Grilled leek has been one of the most ordered plates and sees the vegetable
teamed with stracciatella, pistachio relish, and Korean master soy sauce, which is
made in-house. The soy-cured prawns with burrata have been equally as in demand, and while soy-cured proteins are commonplace in Korea, the addition of
burrata is certainly not.
For Funda first-timers, the beef tartare with chojang sauce, pine nut foam, and
nashi pear should be at the top of your list, which comes with a bowl of pappadums
for scooping. The calamari with soy-pickled seaweed, celery, and seaweed crumble
should also make the cut, alongside the bibim naengmyeon which sees cold noodles
dressed in mushroom sauce and served with cucumber, spring onions, and slices of
soy-cured bluefin tuna.
Desserts abide by the not-too-sweet approach, with each of the four options
featuring their own set of unique dimensions. Yuja tea and coconut combine
via a yuzu and perilla leaf granita with coconut sorbet and pineapple, while
a local touch is spotted in the pav, which sees yeast meringue teamed with
makgeolli ice cream and injeolmi rice cake.
The foundational jujube is the hero in a cake served with butterscotch caramel,
jujube mousse, and crispy kataif, with Shin switching out the sorbet according to
what’s in season.
Sydney welcomes a number of new openings each month, but Funda is easily one of the most innovative and experiential the city has seen this year. Chang will soon open neighbouring restaurant Allta, a 15-seat Korean omakase concept, and says the reception at Funda so far has been encouraging.
“It is challenging for us to try and present flavours as Korean dishes aren’t popular at the moment,” he says, “but we want people to experience what we do.”