By Brian Spencer
The long, black signboard on the pretty outdoor patio says “Kim’s Family Korean Restaurant”, but the big, blocky white lettering stuck onto the glass facade, next to the entrance, spell out “Kim’s Family Food.”
Let’s just call it Kim’s.
There’s a remarkable pastiche of mismatching design styles and decor at Kim’s, a–wait for it–small family-run Korean restaurant located on West Coast Road in a corner spot of Singapore’s West Coast Community Centre. Astroturf, like leftover carpeting from an old putt-putt golf course, blankets parts of the wooden deck outside, which isn’t to say the patio isn’t still a lovely little space, with its glass-topped wicker tables, low-hanging mosaic-tile lamps, ceiling fans, and leafy tropical greenery fleshed out along trellised walls.
The interior decorating appears as if it were done in cycles, by different people, each with different ideas of what the design concept should be, but none of them given authority to undo what had already been done. For example, walls along one side of the spacious dining area have been painted a rusty shade of contemporary maroon, while the other side is plastered with dhal-yellow wallpaper. Seating features poop-brown cushioned chairs at some tables, while others have flesh-colored cushions and golden metal frames.
However, your attention will be funneled not towards the paint color or the wallpaper, nor to the chairs or the (matching!) black-wood tables. No, you’ll be drawn to the curiosity that is the wall opposite the side patio entrance, an oppositional collage of light-grey brickwork, tall bamboo stalks rising from a bed of stones, a golden mini-Xmas tree, and the centerpice, a stout, wooden side table upon which a large flat-screen television sits. It’s always tuned to a Korean game show or drama or movie, the volume set to such a level that you have to either watch it or talk over it and do your best to pretend it’s not there.
It’s like dining in a neighbor-you-just-met’s uncomfortable living room, and you’re just happy that at least there aren’t hairy tomcats running all over the place too. To be absolutely clear, you don’t have to worry about cat hair in your food at Kim’s. There aren’t any cats stalking around at Kim’s.
Let’s forget about the design for a minute. I like the design, actually, because I like bizarre restaurants that exude an unsuspecting, awkward ambience. When they serve really good food, that is. Guys, I’m telling you: Kim’s Family [Whatever] has some fantastic Korean food.
Gordon Ramsey wouldn’t like the menu because it’s novella length, but everything I’ve ordered or seen come out of the kitchen has tasted or looked delicious. And it’s all Korean–no pseudo Thai or Chinese or Japanese, the ‘ol throw-a-bunch-of-Asian-shit-against-a-wall approach to try and keep everyone happy, one that in the end tends to leave everybody ultimately disappointed in their middling meal.
Hot pots with beef and octopus, bean curd and kimchi; Korean-style buckwheat or black soybean paste noodles in spicy sauce or with seafood; hot and cold rice bowls, sundry soups, and self-cook meats–it’s all authentic and well-prepared, the portions are sizable, and the flavors are just right. Order whatever sounds tasty with confidence, though a good way to tickle your palate with disparate flavors and textures is to opt for the set menu.
Options range from meats and mackerel to cold buckwheat noodles in spicy sauce (highly recommended), and each comes with about 10 small-portion sides of the day, from kimchi and anchovies to soybean sprouts, pickled vegetables, silken tofu, and marinated bean curd slices. These feasts start at just S$12.
Randomly, there are craft beers on tap here: two ales from Singaporean microbrewery AdstraGold. Kim’s scores major kudos for the effort, though unfortunately I cannot endorse the brewery choice. I just can’t.
There’s nothing–nothing–sexy about Kim’s Family [Whatever], but in a way this is a perfect date-night destination in Singapore. Seriously. Impressing somebody with dinner at a fine-dining restaurant or taking them to a cool-kids bar is boring and cliché. No, take him or her to somewhere like Kim’s, to test their sense of humor, and to laugh about the awkward ambience, and to dig into what I think is some of the best Korean cuisine on the island.
You’ll learn a lot about each other’s sensibility and taste, and if it doesn’t work out, hey, at least you enjoyed some great food at a reasonable price. If it does, immortalize the moment by getting your Polaroid snapped and added to the photo collection of happy Kim’s customers on the wall, because there’s nothing more romantic than becoming a permanent fixture of an interior design like this one.
Kim’s Family [Korean Restaurant] [Food] is located at 2 Clementi West Street 2, #01-01, Clementi, Singapore. Open daily from 12pm – 3pm, 5:30pm – 10pm. Closed the first and third Monday of every month. Additional branches are located at 17 Lorong Kilat, Kilat Court, #01-05/06 (Bukit Timah) and 106 Clementi Street 12, #01-44 (Sunset Way), but I don’t know if there is any astroturf at either one.