This will be hard to fit in one post, but here goes. For the past three and a half days, we have been in South Korea. Seoul to be exact. You might think that that’s a short time to visit a city, but it is often sufficient for us to have a break. It’s the long flights that are offsetting. However, once a year, we are lucky enough to fly long haul in first class – with airline points of course. But the first-class experience is not the topic (I can write someday about that too), I aim to summarize our four day food extravaganza: low and highlights. There are not many disappointments though (except for the Aseana first class lounge), but a list of great recommendations for a foody holiday in the capital of South Korea, Seoul.
To make this easy, I will divide the reviews to three categories: dining, drinks and coffee. We didn’t see many sights, but you can get a taste for the street life from the photos. I will start with the most obvious one, food.
In the beginning of the trip we set a goal to taste all well known Korean dishes: Bibimbap, Bulgogi, Korean BBQ and fried chicken. In addition, we planned a trip to the food market, to try some street food, and booked lunches at two Michelin starred restaurants: Mingles (*) and Jungsik (**). After being acquainted with a local Korean rice wine called Makgeolli, we made a third booking, for dinner at restaurant said to have one of the best selection of local wines in town, Mr. Ahns.
For the local delicacies, we went as low key as possible. Places that the locals would go to, on a weeknight. The only touristy place was Gogung, where we had the Bibimbap and Bulgogi. It was a tourist restaurant, but with low prices and a good display of local cooking. It was conveniently located in the shopping area of Myeong-Dong, and we were a bit short on time. For the Korean BBQ we went to Mapo Sutpul Galbi in Gangnam. A simple place with high quality meat. Maple Tree House, a chain, was our second option, but we opted for the one that was on our way. Fried chicken was available almost everywhere. It was so addictive that we had it several times. Accompanied by beer of course – preferably a cheap light lager (Hite).
For the finer restaurants, I really only want to talk about one place – Mr. Ahn’s. Migles and Jungsik, were both ok, but not that high in their class. At Mingles we also had some issues with the payment. They required a weird Paypal deposit for booking, and returning it was a drag as we had booked the restaurant via a concierge. In the end the starred chef himself came out and guaranteed we would get our deposit back. I am sure they solved it the best way possible, but it still resulted in irritation. Jungsik was much more up to standards, but I would not rank it in my top five, not even my top ten restaurants in the world (am I getting spoiled?).
Mr. Ahn’s was a totally different story. We booked a table to be able to go and taste Makgeolli, traditional Korean rice wine, which we hear has become popular among young people. It’s a thick, grainy liquid that has a bit of sweetness; the taste is quite soft and non-intimidating. Makgeolli is low on alcohol, so it is quite easy drinking. I will actually research this a bit more and write a whole separate post on this new obsession. The restaurant itself was very small. Hard to find, even for the locals, as it was very minimalist and had no sign. Everything was in Korean, but luckily the waiter spoke decent English. We ordered some nice sounding appetizers, two mains and a dessert, with expectations of getting our tummies full, but we never expected Mr. Ahn’s to be a foody paradise. The dishes were innovative, well presented and could be characterized as an explosion of tastes. The cuisine was Korean but combined with some modern European ideas. We both agreed that this was the best food experience the whole week, one that we will remember for some time.
To the drinks section then. Many know that I am fond of speakeasies, secret bars that require some insight information and a skilled eye. They are not that hard to find, ever, but great fun, and often the cocktails are also pretty good. A speakeasy must have something more than a cellar-like ambiance, people need to be motivated somehow to look for them. And on our list, we had four that we wanted to visit: Alice, Le Chamber, Twelve and Charles H. All of the bars were good in their own way: Alice was quirky, with an Alice in Wonderland theme. It is located in the back of an underground flower shop, and definitely had the most innovative drinks we had seen in a long time. The presentation was part of the fun. Sadly, the lighting was too poor to take proper photos, and usually the bar staff frown upon a flash.
The best cocktails, in taste, were served at Le Chamber. This one also has the most fun entrance as the door is behind a bookshelf. You need to press the right book to get in and the staff will not tell you which one it is (neither will I, I am sure you will find it). Le chamber was not as big on presentation of drinks but did the best job with taste. From le Chamber we also got a tip to go to Charles D.
Charled D. was the hardest of all to find. It was said to be located in the cellar floor of the Four Seasons hotel, through a very discreet door that looked like a maintenance closet. Or it should have been hard to find, the hotel staff were too generous with tips and we picked the right door straight away. A bit boring If you ask me. Charles D. was the biggest and clubbiest of all the speakeasies and offered the most comprehensive list of cocktails. There were styles and tastes from around the world: New York, Havana and Hong Kong. You could also do some interesting flights, like the Manhattan trio, with three different styles of mini Manhattans. The presentation of the cocktails was not comparable to Alice, but the tastes were supreme and service rocking.
Twelve was perhaps the most boring of the places we visited (cocktail fatigue), but it had some nice features. They did not have any kitchen, but you could order your own food there, which was a big plus. Cocktails were mainly whisky-based, so for friends of Bourbon, this is a paradise.
And finally, coffee. I don’t even know where to start. Seoul is full of great coffee places. Actually, you cannot avoid running into a Chemex or V60 when you are out and about. Not all places are good, but they try. M could perhaps elaborate more, as he toured coffee places while I took photos. But my top coffee shop was Fritz Coffee and Bread in Gangnam. Their Kenyan cold brew was awesome, and I really liked the looks of the baked goods: bread and pastries. Perhaps good to mention that in Korea, it is always advised to state if you are having you coffee hot or cold. Cold seems to be the norm there.
And here ends my lengthy list of recommendations for Seoul. We were perhaps a bit lucky this time, but luck is only a part of it as M always does quite extensive research on where to go. Hope you enjoy the pictures!