On my way to Woky Ko: Kaiju in Bristol, I pondered why, at some point in recent times, we acquiesced to eating in shipping containers. Stark, stacked, repurposed vessels, often left in previously unloved patches of Croydon, Milton Keynes, York and, obviously, Shoreditch. Rarely beautiful, never comfortable; this is strangely unhospitable hospitality. Visiting the loo often requires a walk elsewhere and the procurement of a secret passcode.
Chefs, however, seem to love shipping containers, because they’re a relatively affordable option in which to set up shop. Plus, they’re recycled. Chefs love talking nobly about sustainability – love it. On and on they chunter, saving the world, one food-scrap falafel at a time.
Woky Ko: Kaiju is ex-MasterChef finalist Larkin Cen’s third Bristol restaurant (he’s also got a streetfood robata stall in St Nick’s). It felt rude not to pop down en route to the Hay Festival, not only because the first two, Woky Ko: Kauto and Woky Ko: Cargo, are highly regarded, but also because chef John Watson, founder of the well-loved but now sadly defunct No Man’s Grace, has now joined the throng.
The latest Woky Ko is in the newest section of Wapping Wharf, which bills itself as part of a “vibrant” harbourside community. Vibrant is a big word to describe Bristol harbour at dusk on a Saturday evening, especially around the Pitcher & Piano/Pryzm nightclub area, which by 7pm feels to anyone over the age of 35 more like an episode of The Magaluf Weekender overcome by a Walking Dead horde.Woky Ko: Kaiju’s asparagus comes ‘in a peanut-buttery gado gado-style gloop’.
That acknowledged, Wapping Wharf is discreetly tucked away from all that wanton, youthful high jinks. Woky Ko: Kaiju favours a sort-of Japanese izakaya-style cooking, which is a term that defies neat explanation. Japanese after-work snacks? Tokyo tapas? Small plates, saitama style?
This third Woky Ko offers, for example, plump, delicious duck meatballs on skewers seared over Binchotan charcoal, doused with a sweet soy “tare” house glaze and served with a generous helping of rich plum sauce, and outstanding plates of Korean fried cauliflower laced with lemongrass and served with an assertive sriracha mayo. Both dishes are worth a detour alone. As does a deceptively simple bowl of tender, robata-grilled shiitake caps sitting in a puddle of roast garlic soy.
The brief menu is low on carbs, which prods you to fill up instead on asparagus in a peanut-buttery gado gado-style gloop, toasted edamame beans with rock salt and broccoli in miso, and everything is sourced from local producers such as Grow Bristol and Wild Harbour.Woky Ko: Kaiju’s ‘deceptively simple’ grilled shiitake caps in roast garlic soy.
Two ramen bowls were on offer that evening: ground pork with mustard greens or those shiitake again, this time with pickled daikon. Neither really took our fancy, so instead we grazed through the rest of the list, taking on cold chicken skin crackling-style, a sort of kosher pork scratching, if you will. Actual hell on a plate for me, personally, but Charles ate it dutifully.
Katsu monkfish, at £12 for fish in a curry sauce, lacked much pizzazz or panko breadcrumbs. Braised beef short-rib, again in tare and at £15 the most expensive plate on the menu, was a lesson in softening, blackening and stickifying.
Still, although the level of cooking is very high, I can’t say this is a place where one wants to linger. Like all restaurants jammed into shipping containers, it is, in estate agent-speak, “compact” and “cleverly appointed”: 40 covers, a noisy working kitchen, a sit-up bar, half a dozen staff and a queue out of the door, all in one small rectangular space. There’s nothing remotely romantic about Woky Ko: Kaiju.Woky Ko: Kaiju’s ‘outstanding’ Korean fried cauliflower with lemongrass and sriracha mayo.
Service began brightly enough, with menus and yuzu gin and tonics dispensed quickly, but as the night wore on, we sat in a blind spot, cluttered by dirty plates, our glasses empty. Eventually, we begged for the detritus to be taken away, after which all of two small dishes were removed before our miso-grilled marshmallow was shoved down among the mess. A further war of attrition commenced when we asked to pay the bill.
We left and joined the queue downstairs for the passcode-locked bathrooms, which serve a variety of local bars, had no loo paper and felt like no one’s responsibility. It was all a bit day three at Glastonbury – jolly, but directionless – and although I enjoyed myself, it was Saturday night and I wished I’d gone to a restaurant.
• Woky Ko: Kaiju Unit 25 Cargo 2, Wapping Wharf, Bristol, 0117-929 3143. Open Mon 4.30-9.30pm, Tues-Sat noon-10pm, Sun noon-6pm. About £25-30 a head, plus drinks and service.
Food 8/10Atmosphere 5/10Service 6/10