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Tapas bar explores modern interpretations of kimchi

Oct. 7, 2023 - 16:01 By Kim Hae-yeon
Fried kimchi twigim with dongchimi sour cream (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish consisting of fermented vegetables, often cabbage and radish, is ubiquitous in Korean cuisine.

This timeless Korean staple is reinterpreted at On 6.5, a contemporary kimchi tapas bar that is making waves in Seoul's dining scene.

Kimchi, traditionally thought of as a side dish, takes center stage at On 6.5, which has redefined the way we eat kimchi with their creative dishes.

Located in the Anguk-dong neighborhood, the year-old bar exudes modern ambiance blended with traditional Korean influences in its interior and the various objects that decorate its dining hall. Upon stepping into the hanok bar, guests will encounter a white moon jar created by artist Park Sung-wook, while the colors of the three main ingredients used in kimchi -- red pepper, green vegetables and white salt -- can be found throughout the restaurant.

Symbolizing the kimchi fermentation process, the walls are painted in gradations of red and the plates and the bowls have "kimchi" written on them, declaring in no uncertain terms that all the eatery's dishes feature kimchi.

Cabbage ssam at On 6.5 (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Glasses for serving fermented liquor as welcome drinks are seen at On 6.5, honoring the Joseon court's tradition of showing gratitude to banquet guests. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

The restaurant boasts an open kitchen where guests can witness the food preparation process.

Head Chef Lee Jung-soo and his team engage in the age-old art of kimchi-making with great care and precision.

"Six and a half degrees Celsius is the temperature at which lactobacillus, which contributes to kimchi's moderately sour, sweet and refreshing taste, is fully activated. We want to provide guests with the best-tasting kimchi, served at the right moment," Lee told The Korea Herald.

Before working for four years at Bicena, a Michelin-starred Korean fine dining restaurant in Seoul, Lee worked at a small Korean restaurant in Paris, and was fascinated by seeing non-Korean diners trying out Korean food and liking it. "I wanted to show foreigners that the globally popular kimchi jjigae and kimchijeon are not the only dishes that can be made with kimchi. From my culinary journey in Paris, I have always thought of discovering new kimchi dishes that fit the taste palates of today," Lee said.

On 6.5 offers traditional kimchi, such as the spicy kimchi with red pepper powder, and baekkimchi, or white kimchi, which is made without the spicy powder. The restaurant also offers unique kimchi creations made using exotic ingredients like basil, coriander and asparagus.

Different varieties of kimchi are incorporated in the 16 small-bite dishes served at the bar, depending on the season.

To pair with the kimchi dishes, there are over 150 selections of red, white and natural wines, along with approximately 10 unique Korean liquors.

Basil kimchi is made at On 6.5. (On 6.5)
Containers of different types of kimchi at On 6.5 (On 6.5)
Steamed beef ribs with zucchini, radish kimchi and pickled peppers (On 6.5)

Choi Jae-won, the bar's sommelier, samples each new dish to curate a collection of wines and liquors that complement the flavors of the different kimchi plates on offer.

The head chef recommends first timers try the fried kimchi twigim, cabbage ssam and abalone kimchi gimbap.

The fried kimchi twigim consists of white kimchi, laver, shrimp, garlic scape and chili pepper.

A gourd-shaped bottle at On 6.5 used for serving Korean liquor (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
The interior of On 6.5 (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

The highlight is the dongchimi sour cream, which is served on top of the fried kimchi. The dongchimi is used to provide the sour touch of sour cream, while a fresh kimchi mayonnaise sauce is made by the chefs each week. "At our tapas bar, the kimchi flavor shouldn't stand out too strongly, nor should it be too light so as to forget that this is ultimately a kimchi dish. We renew more than half of our dishes every season to blend well with the changing weather. We also listen carefully to our guests' feedback for better outcomes in our menu creations," Lee said.

On 6.5 is open from 1:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.

Seating is limited to two hours on weekends and holidays. Walk-ins are accepted, although reservation is necessary for groups of five or more.

At least one bottle of alcoholic beverage must be ordered per table.