October 3, 2017
Korean food is like nothing else in East Asia. It’s distinctive, it’s delicate, and it can be extremely complex. Maturing in a more foreign-friendly environment than its neighbor to the west and with a more populist palate than its neighbor to the east – and we’ll just leave its northern neighbor out of it altogether – Seoul is on the cutting edge of cuisine.
In a whirl of Michelin stars and Gangnam grandiosity, Seoul’s fine dining fare runs the gamut from cutting edge Chefs du Jour to savory Korean classics.
Just south of the Han River in Seoul’s chic Gangnam-gu. Underground malls, designer flagship shops, nightclubs, and all manner of restaurants abound, making it the city’s trendiest and most affluent modern district. A reservation at Ryunique promises imaginative, hybrid cuisine with set, multi-course, and tasting menus. Chef Ryu and his team create edible avant-garde sculptures, fusing contemporary methods with Korean ingredients, and French and Japanese influences.
Naturally, the sommelier’s extensive wine-list pairings complement the experience. With courses dubbed Apple Fed Pork Jowl “Yeasan Inspiration” or The Quail “Golden Era,” diners should prepare for masterpiece plating and creative cooking.
Chef Jungsik Yim is lauded as the innovator of Korean molecular gastronomy. Using traditional Hansik methods and amalgamating international elements, the resulting “New Korean Fine Dining” was born. Plating since 2009 in Seoul –with a location in New York City – the newest restaurant in Cheongdam (Gangnam’s wealthiest ward) over three floors features Michelin-starred cuisine, private dining rooms, and a bar.
Chef Yim is renowned for his amuse bouche side-dish plates, presented in a Korean banchan style recreation. Jungsik bar offers an à la carte menu and an extensive wine list from none other than Korea’s top sommelier: Shin Donghyuk.
Kwon Sook Soo
Remaining in Gangnam and keeping with Hansik, yet with contemporary flair, Chef Kwon’s Kwon Sook Soo restaurant recently earned two Michelin stars. Kwon’s team sources rare, seasonal fresh ingredients – not off the shelf, but personally –preparing everything from scratch to create original flavors that compliment Hansik-style dishes.
In-house pastes, vinegars, and oils enhance the aged Korean beef and fermented seafood amongst their signature dishes – like 40-day wet aged Korean beef striploin steak with black sesame Dubu Jang sauce. A traditional yet modern atmosphere and plating further reflect Kwon’s philosophy to continue “developing the Korean tradition.”
Chef Kang Mingoo’s Mingles is hip, fusion pure – eponymously mingling Eastern and Western cuisine with bold imagination in a cosmopolitan-style location. You guessed it – in Gangnam-gu. The shooting star of Seoul, Mingles has been named Best Restaurant in Korea for two consecutive years, holds a Michelin star, and is rated 15th in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017.
However cutting-edge, Mingoo maintains the Hansik traditions of yore at its core, with jang and cho pastes, fermented condiments, aged meats, and pickles. Innovative cuisine, served with molecular coolness – including wine and liquor pairings – put a Mingles reservation at the top of any fine-foodie’s Seoul list.
As if one ever need leave Gangnam-gu for fine dining, Seoul’s high-end culinary circuit might not be complete without a reservation at La Yeon. Back across the river in the lively city-center’s Jung District, the top floor of the Shilla Hotel is home to La Yeon, and Chef Sung-Il Kim’s elegant Hansik reconstructed style.
This is truly traditional Korean cuisine with class – no fusion, no modern molecular – but a sophistication and aesthetic fit for royalty. With the panorama of Seoul’s downtown skyline and the sprawling Namsan Park as a backdrop, this is the place to sample typical seafood Naengchae or Galbijjim beef dishes prepared with Kim’s discerning touch. Coupled with excellent service and knowledgeable wine pairings, it’s no wonder La Yeon was the first (and one of only two) Korean restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars.