EPICURE

Top 3 modern Korean restaurants

Re-interpreted with style and stars, this is the best Seoul food of the fine-dining variety 

 

Three Michelin-starred La Yeon’s Mixed Rice with Vegetables and Abalone

July 2019

Feel like an avant garde version of bibimbap over that usual bowl of Korean mixed rice? Or do you prefer grilled hanwoo Korean beef without a smokey souvenir all over your hair and clothes? 

There’s more to South Korean food than just tteokbokki spicy rice cakes or gulp, sannakji live octopus. 

In recent years, Seoul has become a gastronomic trendsetter. A few of its Western-trained chefs have given hansik, or traditional Korean food, a modern twist – sometimes with rare local ingredients – and presented in a fine dining ambience.

Here are 3 of the most sophisticated restaurants in Seoul.

La Yeon’s Royal Hot Pot

LA YEON

249 Dongho-ro, Jangchung-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul

https://www.shilla.net/seoul/dining

If Shilla Hotel were in Singapore, it would look like Mustafa had set up shop next to Swissotel. 

There is a bustling duty free store on the sprawling grounds, a stone’s throw from the luxury hotel tower where the top floor is a tranquil oasis of classic Korean cuisine. 

The latter is of course La Yeon, the three Michelin-starred temple of traditional Korean food that could pass for a Parisian fine dining restaurant with a view. 

As only one of two restaurants in Seoul awarded three stars by the French guide, La Yeon presents classic recipes that are beautifully plated, like a luxe version of bibimbap and what can only be described as mini steamboat for a king. 

The service is exquisite, and matched only by a drinks list that includes numerous Korean rice wines, some of which are featured in the choice of pairings. 

The caveat is that all this edible and aesthetic luxury come at a price. 

Jungsik’s Gujeolpan

JUNGSIK 

11 Seolleung-ro 158-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

http://www.jungsik.kr

Jungsik is the perfect hangout for fashionable foodies unless you like taking photos of your food or have low vision. The lights are turned down at this trendy two Michelin-starred restaurant in Gangnam. Any dimmer and you could be at Dine in the Dark on Beach Road. 

Yet it will help you to see Korean food in a new light. 

The youthful Chef Jung Sik Yim worked in top US and Spanish restaurants and uses Western ingredients in traditional dishes with novel results. 

For example, he updates gujeolpan – a 15th century dish enjoyed by Korean royalty – with marinated yellowtail and camembert cheese, in addition to more classic condiments like kimchi, seaweed and perilla leaves.

The restaurant at this stylish three-storey building also has a chic bar downstairs – ideal for pre- or post-prandial drinks.

Ryunique’s snack of wafer-thin sweet fish slices

RYUNIQUE 

40 Gangnam-daero 162-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

http://www.ryunique.co.kr

Fusion food often leaves a bad taste in many mouths when chefs who are less than culturally attuned misappropriate gastronomic traditions. Ryu Tae-hwan of Ryunique is not one such chef because he doesn’t do fusion. 

Instead, this French- and Japanese-trained masterchef combines progressive cooking techniques with the best Korean ingredients to create innovative and delicious Asian dishes like seared eel on buckwheat blini and black silky fowl consommé. 

As a locavore, Chef Ryu sources very special bounty, such as beef from Korean cows fed with medicinal herbs, or pork from Yesan pigs that nibbled on sweet apples, and fleshy and fragrant pine mushrooms from secret areas of a mountain owned by an equally secretive farmer.  

As the name of his fine-dining restaurant Ryunique (a portmanteau of his family name and the word “unique’’) implies, his culinary creations are one of a kind and not to be missed – especially when flawlessly paired with French and Korean wines. 

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