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It wasn’t too long ago that Seoul landed on Asia’s dining radar with a cadre of contemporary Korean eateries. Today, the city’s dining scene is growing so quickly that even the intrepid gastro-foodies are having a hard time catching up.
While modern Korean cuisine is still going strong, Seoul is currently going through a Korean BBQ revival where higher quality beef and more varied parts of the cow are being showcased as part of a tasting menu, according to Jung-Yoon Choi, an el Bulli and Alicia Foundation-trained chef with 20 years of culinary experience under her belt.
Additionally, the former head chef of Jungsik, Seoul, says that “gukbap”, traditional comfort food of rice in clear beef or pork soup, has also recently become cool again in Seoul, attracting lines across the city from winter to summer.
Currently the head chef of Sempio Korean Fermentation Culinary Research Centre in Korea, Choi says that the Koreans are also experiencing “a discovery of milder Korean food” by way of temple cuisine, which offers “simpler taste and presentation”, a hitherto untapped flavour profile now at the vanguard in Seoul thanks to monk chef Jeong Kwan, who was profiled on an episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table series.
“Not only modern Korean chefs, but also Italian and French cuisine chefs are now making an effort to find local ingredients and incorporating fermentation techniques into their repertoire,” says Choi.
Where to eat in Seoul
To take in the hottest dining trends in Seoul, Choi suggests you visit the following restaurants.
One Michelin-starred Hansik Gonggan espouses the flavours of traditional Korean cuisine while interpreting their tastes for a global audience. Set in a glass-wrapped space overlooking Changgyeonggung Palace, the restaurant is led by “Chef of all Chefs” Hee-sook Cho, a pioneer in Korean fine-dining who has been studying hansik for over 30 years. The specialty here is Cho’s pairing of bab (rice) and banchan (side dishes) using fresh and seasonal ingredients.
4F Arario Space, 83 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Born & Bred
A stalwart in high-end Korean BBQ fine-dining that set-off the trend in Seoul, Born & Bred is a butchery by day and a beef omakase restaurant by night. Run and operated by chef Sang-won Jung and his father, the restaurant specialises in different cuts of hanwoo (Korean beef), served tasting menu style, including a course of katsu sando with chateaubriand, each paired with a serving of fermented vegetables like kimchi and jangahji (vegetable fermented in Korean soybean paste).
Born and Bred
37Gil Road, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Every dish at this home-style, pub-like modern Korean tapas eatery near Hongik University is cooked-to-order by young chef Seung-jae Park. Trained in traditional Korean fine dining, Park works as a one-man team but he still manages to deliver small plates of perfection. Order his signatures like bulgogi, seafood chive pancakes and spicy whelk salad with Spam and wash them down with different types of local alcoholic beverages like cheongju and soju. Also, do not be deceived by Park’s “trendy” plating, his flavors are always “authentic and exquisite”.
80Wausan-ro 30-gil, Changjeon-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
At Choi., TV celebrity chef, Hyun-seok Choi serves Korean-inflected Italian cuisine with “modern and creative twists”. His most iconic creation yet is “tomato kimchi” – a dish that “looks exactly like kimchi but tastes like tomato salad”. Recently, Choi took special classes from Cho of Hansik Goggan and monk Jeong Kwan to glean from Korean ingredients and cooking techniques and, in time, we will probably see how he playfully conveys the essence of Korean cuisine and ingredients in his cooking.
Gangnam-gu, Cheongdam-dong, Dosan-, 457, Seoul
Fancy a meal constructed entirely from Korea’s famous banchan (side dishes)? One Michelin-starred Joo OK in the posh Cheongdam-dong neighborhood comes to the fore with a namul (seasoned herbal dishes) tasting menu for a glorious showcase of pickled and/or fermented Korean ingredients as interpreted by chef-owner Chang-ho Shin. What’s more? To get you in the mood, your meal here will commence with a tasting of the invigorating house-made vinegar used as seasoning.
52-7 Seolleung-ro 148-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Are you looking for the best restaurants in Seoul near you? Find out Choi's tips on the map below!