I must have visited Bristol about 10 times in my life and the impressions that I get so far are that it’s a rich, eclectic and sprawling city filled with giddying hills and gasp-worthy views, crap public transport and mind-boggling traffic, excellent bakeries (Hart’s, Baked etc) and bold, beautiful graffiti murals splashed across every available nugget of free space. According to my untrained eye, Bristol has elements of lofty Victorian beauty mixed in with grungy elements of Bladerunner-esque concrete urbanism and Brutalist architecture giving you a nice punch in the chops to level things out lest they get too twee. It’s quite London-ish – especially in that it looks a bit like what would happen if you shoved a leafy Victorian square with honey-coloured mansions (Clifton) right up to London’s Elephant & Castle roundabout. It defies all rules of aesthetics, but makes for a crazy, spicy vibrancy. Alroight, moi luvverly? The Brizzle accent is pure lush rounded-ness, and reminds me of tumbling waterfalls and doughy pastry.
Sky Kong Kong is a Bristolian organic Korean cafe / restaurant that does Bento boxes at lunchtime and a set menu in the evening. It’s in a delightfully austere and ugly location, gently glowing with white light from its nook in a concrete graffiti-strewn row of businesses stacked next to the Bearpit roundabout and slap bang next to the bus station, in the heart of Bristol town centre. To reach it, we pick our way through the tunnels at the Bearpit and squeeze through a group of teenagers getting high on nitrous oxide balloons, giggling in the shadows. The rain lashes down, we feel very old. But are instantly cheered once inside the homely Sky Kong Kong, where you feel as though you’re barging into someone’s living room, with its simple wooden shelves laden with ornaments and row upon row of mysterious foods in pickling jars. There is a giant wooden trestle table running through the length of the place and I can’t stop craning my neck staring at all the pickles.
We are nearly touching elbows with our neighbours, but we don’t chat – there is too much tantalising food to focus on. There are ginormous plastic tubs of kimchi stacked behind my chair, as well as trays of fresh mangoes, greens and mooli all awaiting the chef’s knife. As the front door lets in a blast of icy air, I nearly resort to using a basket of sweet potatoes as a door stop but worry people will trip over it, so don’t. I half expect Bladerunner’s Deckard to wearily pitch up and order some noodles.
Our ebullient waitress explains the food in great detail to everyone at the table and we are strapped in for the ride – we have no idea what’s coming. The owner Hwi Shim cooks ALL the dishes solo from behind a bamboo screen, and it’s amazing what she can produce with no extra help. I have limited knowledge of Korean food apart from hot pots and kimchi, and what we eat is by turns weird, comforting and wonderful. I learn that the chef gets a lot of produce from her allotment. How does she have time to do all this, I wonder.
I love the homely atmosphere with knick-knacks amid all the pickles and tubs of kimchi:
So, to the food. We are served this for a starter – a selection of tropical fruits on top of a citrus jelly, with two lone prawns. It’s *quite* nice but a little strange, prawns-with-orange-sherbert kind of vibe. I’m all up for strange, though:
Then we have a rib-sticking dish of beef with kimchi and something beige. I tie myself into embarrassed knots asking the waitress “if this is polenta” like a complete middle class TWAT and she says “no, it is cheese.” “Oh, a special Korean cheese like Mozzarella?” I press on earnestly, but she looks at me matter-of-factly and says it’s “oozy cheese that come in bag in cubes”. Uh-huh – probably from the cash ‘n carry. Aaaanyway, it tastes delicious – a filthy cheesy melt laced with spicy saucy meat!!!
Then comes a fried mackerel (delicious, with savoury crispy edges) and some rice with seeds and little intriguing pickles:
And pudding – a chocolate pot with berries. Delicious.
Sky Kong Kong is magical, quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. We stumble out into the rain-lashed night enchanted, quite a lot fatter, feeling like we’ve been travelling to a faraway place. The Bladerunner-esque concrete jungle of the Bear Pit envelopes us in its gritty, colourful embrace. I think the oozy cheese is weighing me down.
Sky Kong Kong
The Organic Korean Cafe
Unit 2, Haymarket Walk
Bristol BS1 3LN