Woolloongabba welcomes 22-seat Korean and Japanese restaurant Butterfly
The radical metamorphosis that turns caterpillar into butterfly is, undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable transitions to be found in nature. This process of growth sits at the heart of Brisbane’s new omakase-style restaurant Butterfly, which seeks to similarly change perceptions on what Korean cuisine is and what it can be. Cocooned in a moody and intimate locale in the back streets of Woolloongabba, this 22-seater restaurant – helmed by some formidable Michelin-starred talent – is treating diners to a procession of courses that traverse the width and depth of both Korean and Japanese cuisines, leaving them with epicurean experience they’re not likely to forget.
Had 2020 unfolded differently than it has, Butterfly would have opened in Melbourne instead of Brisbane. When Korean-born chef Alex Kim elected relocate to Australia to open a kappo-based concept, Victoria’s capital was high on his list of destinations. But when the city went into strict lockdown, Alex decided to alter his flight path, choosing Brisbane instead. With a wealth of experience working in revered restaurants in Dubai, Singapore, Japan and Korea (including time at Michelin-starred Lee Jong Kuk 104), Alex’s arrival and the opening of his new restaurant is a huge get for our scene – especially for any diner that craves eating experiences that leave indelible impressions. At its core, Butterfly is a love letter to the authentic flavours and techniques of Korean cuisine – a far cry from the crispy fried chicken and smoky barbecue that has become synonymous with Korean eats in Brisbane. Here Alex is showcasing these aspects of Korean cuisine through the lens of elegant Japanese omakase-style service, a style of cooking with which Alex is intimately familiar. This means that guests leave themselves in Alex’s hands as he (and fellow Michelin-starred chef Emanuele Pelonero) design and execute a multi-course experience underpinned by jeong-sung – that is, wholehearted Korean hospitality.
For a restaurant that boasts an impressive kitchen pedigree and an ambitious concept, its chosen locale is remarkably low key. Seeking a space that would afford privacy, Alex elected to inhabit a space that is removed from the bustle of popular dining strips, so as to be free from distractions (the restaurant only accepts bookings, no walk-ins). Butterfly is located on Jurgens Street, in the former home of cafe Moose & Gibson. Gone is the rustic timber setting of its former guise, the interior has been replaced by an aesthetic that can only be described as dark and moody. A central kitchen space is surrounded on three sides by bench seating (a few four-seater tables also sit separately), where guests perch and observe Alex and Emanule as they prepare and serve each course. Overhead lights illuminate the kitchen, leaving the rest of the space in darkness. This serves to give Butterfly a sense of theatre, with the kitchen and bench doubling as a stage. As the lights dim and classical music streams from the nearby record player, all attention is drawn to the culinary performance, with audiences participating in each act as the salivation-worthy story unfolds.
As for the content and duration of this performance, well, as omakase-style dining entails, it’s all up to Alex. Each dinner service will feature a minimum of 12 courses, and sometimes as many as 18 depending on the availability of ingredients and the inspiration it provides (lunch services will be limited to 12 courses). The menu changes daily, so it’s rare that guests will get the same dish twice. The procession will often begin with lighter Japanese-inspired eats – think sashimi, salad and small bites. Steamed abalone with liver sauce, egg rolls with grated daikon and poached oysters with slow-cooked pork and dried spicy radish are examples of the initial courses, which expand to include stronger flavours and aromatics common in Korean cooking. Dishes like beef tartare with uni and cured egg yolk, chargrilled gochujang-marinated pork belly, wagyu sirloins and bakhap clam soup follow, before the menu finishes with a dessert like lime-and-cinnamon parfait with Korean plum jelly and mango puree. The experience is wholly artisanal, from preparation to service. Each dollop of sauce, splash of marinade and condiment (including the kimchi) is made in house from scratch. The plates are custom, too – all handmade by Japanese craftspeople. Even the sake cups, which are kept locked in a polished wooden case, boast a bespoke glamour. Butterfly is still awaiting its liquor licence, but when obtained the restaurant will add drinks pairings featuring wines, sake and cocktails.
Butterfly is open to the public. For reservation and contact details, head to the Stumble Guide.
The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.