Korean cuisine and produce has been one of the global success stories of recent years, with kimchi popping up on menus from London to Sydney and everywhere in between. However, the country’s culinary impact is far more influential than one ingredient or Korean barbecue.
Chefs of Korean heritage, including David Chang of Momofuku and Corey Lee of Benu, may have led the way internationally, but back in Seoul there’s a vibrant and dynamic landscape that continues to grow in prestige and influence. Here are five unmissable spots in the capital:
Ranked #22 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant 2016 list, Jungsik takes its name from chef Jung Sikdang whose ‘New Korean’ cuisine melds local ingredients with Western technique and plating. He opened back in 2009 and has since made a brave foray into the New York dining scene – understandably given he is a Culinary Institute of America alumnus – and also opened a more relaxed bistro in the Korean capital. In Jungsik’s sleek, contemporary setting, diners enjoy distinctive and innovative dishes, deconstructing classic ingredients, such as truffle egg with white kimchi or extraordinary slow-cooked octopus.
Minglesis consistently talked about as one of the city’s very finest restaurants, with 33-year-old chef Mingoo Kang recently named as #2 in the city’s unofficial dining bible, the influential and respected Koreat listing. He has worked with names including Martin Berastagui and Nobu before opening his contemporary take on Korean cuisine two years ago. Fermentation is everywhere, in sauces and vinegars like ‘cho’ and ‘jang’ that sit perfectly with local beef tenderloin, while charred lamb with ‘doen-jang’ vegetable ash is brilliant.
One of Seoul’s foreign chefs who has quickly gained a reputation for innovation and excellence is Stefano di Salvo at the city’s elegant J W Marriott hotel. Over 10 years in Seoul, the Turin native has embraced Korean flavours, ingredients and techniques. Now he has made Tavolo 24 a firm favourite for its diverse range of classics. He’s unafraid to serve both Italian and global dishes alongside his award-winning Korean dishes, meaning his cuisine has become a go-to for many high-end corporate clients, especially European fashion houses during the city’s fashion week.
279, Cheonggyecheon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Tel. +82 2-2276-3320, Website
A clear design motif runs through the dining room in one of the city’s most picturesque and unexpected dining locations at Congdu, located in a traditional Korean building once used by the grandmother of the last Chosun king. Owner Vivian Han was arguably the first to truly launch the new Korean wave of cuisine when she opened. Breaking the mould by taking a whole new direction, she quickly found success as a pioneer for whom presentation is critical, with local ceramics and art playing a critical part in the dining experience. Famous dishes include the 48-hour roasted black pork from Jeju.
116-1, Deoksugung-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Tel. +82 2-722-7002
Many restaurants talk about heritage, but none embody it as much as Hanilkwan. This venerable institution located in Seoul’s Chongno distric has been welcoming diners since 1939. Three generations of women have led the restaurant, while one current employee has been working there an astonishing 48 years. They have prepared Korean classics for clients including Seoul’s 'Blue House' – Korea’s White House – for decades. Mul Naegmyon is a summer favourite of cold soup with buckwheat noodles, originally a North Korean dish, while their Bulgogi marinated and grilled beef is rightly famous.