Friday, December 01, 2006


Over last couple of years living in Asia, Chicken Noodle Soup has come to hold a special place in my heart. I think that Westerners tend to marvel at the lack of obesity and the longevity of our Asian counterparts, and I am beginning to believe that this ubiquitous asian dish may be the reason for both. Whether it is spicy Thai-style: full of ground peanuts, fried garlic and coriander, or a clear simple Vietnamese Pho - perhaps Chicken Noodle Soup is the perfect meal for every generation. Children can eat it when no spice has been added, middle agers can eat it as they wish, old people can eat it even if they have no teeth!

Que Huong has been my lunch time haunt for the last four weeks. This is a long time to eat the same thing every day for lunch - but how can I stop coming here when it offers the perfect soup. (Actually, if my schedule allowed it, I would vary my lunch venues slightly, but at the moment this place is so darn convenient with such a perfect dish that I can't be bothered to change).

Young, laid back staff help in this small, clean and simple little cafe which is always busy, but you never have to wait for a table. A really simple menu of soups and rice dishes is available. But if you go here, try the No. 8 chicken noodle soup washed down with warm tea, as close to perfect home cooked comfort food as you are going to get and a bargain at 6,000 won. In winter the soup warms you, in the summer it seems to keep you cool.

The broth is not too salty, the noodles are not too soft, the amount of chicken pieces is just right, the seasoning is spot on. What a great little joint this place is.

And if you have a hangover, there is simply nothing better than a bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup to help you through the rest of the day.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Located just a little bit further up the road from the Mandu Guk restaurant posted earlier today, this restaurant will offer you the chance to try Korean speciality dishes, the likes of which you may have never seen before. Depending on the time of year and the seasonality of local produce, this place prepares authentic specialized dishes to time-honoured recipes.

The space is divided into small seperate dining rooms, each with its own different atmosphere. Floors are smooth wooden boards, with some regular tables and other lower tables at which you can sit on a floor mat and cross your legs. The food is served in very beautiful copper coloured dishes, with gorgeous, simply-designed elegant chopsticks and spoons in the same material (perhaps a copper alloy).

The day that we ate there, the waiter welcomed us at the door. I checked if they were still serving and he told us that they were. As we started to remove our shoes he became a little agitated.

"But you can't eat here," he said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Foreignors can't eat this food. You won't like it," he explained.
"Oh, it's OK, I live here and I really love Korean food," I told him.
"But we only do one dish today and you don't like," he insisted.
"No, really, it is OK. We like Korean food and we would like to try your dish. How do you know we don't like it if we have never tried it?" I insisted back.
"Well, OK, if you are sure" he said, and ushered us in.

Our dining room had a stunningly-papered ceiling of gold with a delicate pattern of blue and pink flowers. One wall of the room was decorated with colourful panels of plants and animals and sylish plant arrangements grew in pots on the wooden window sills. We sat down and waited to see what would arrive.

Shortly, a very tall Korean man wearing perfectly round, black wire spectacles came in with a tray of small dishes: some pickled radish, a fresh leaf salad with a grapefruit dressing, some marinated peanuts and small potatoes in a mustardy sauce. Then followed another tray of small eats: some seaweed sheets, spicy kimchi and pickled radish and carrot julienne. The table was already laden with things to try when the same man reappeared with a small bowl of tofu soup and the main dish of crab with soy sauce. Ordinarily I would be quite happy to get crab as a main dish, especially fine specimens such as these crabs, which were large with plenty of meat inside the legs.

But the crabs were totally uncooked, cold and raw. Inside the main shell lurked a gelatinous mix of watery crab juice and wobbly orange bits.

"Um, how do we eat this?" asked my friend. The waiter helped to show us by mixing some warm rice into the watery jelly crabby wetness, and then showed her that this was what to do (by this stage my kids were making pretend vomit noises which was quite embarressing). Making sure that we showed no reaction to any of this in order that the kids would think the food completely normal, my friend and I both tried the rice mixture, gingerly selecting a small spoonful and sliding it into our mouths.

In fact, the taste was not bad at all, the soy sauce giving an added saltiness to the delicate, but very cold, crab flavour. However, the meal itself was just too much of a sensory challenge (especially visually), and we had to admit that our advisor had been correct: we just couldn't eat this!

We all ate our rice, and tried all of the smaller dishes. Not being an expert in Korean food I couldn't say how authentic or excellent this food was. However, everything had an extremely interesting taste and was quite different to anything we have sampled before. Mr Young-yong Chan, the president of the restaurant, is also a Court Food Expert and so if you are looking for some off-the-beaten-track Korean fare, bored of Bulgogi and Mandu, then you should try this place. You will only know what you will get when you arrive. If you find that the daily special is too much for you, you can head back down the road and go for some easy tasty noodles or manduguk.

As we left, the waiter explained that this was a special dish that was prepared around this time of year and especially for Chusok. For each person, the cost was 35,000 won. We thanked our charming, friendly advisor for all his help and went in search of a coffee.

Walking up the road away from the Korean Folk Museum and out of town, there is a fabulous selection of restaurants and cafes. Being one of the artier sections of town, this tree-lined road runs alongside one of the great walls of the Gyeong Bok Gung Palace grounds and is dotted with funky boutiques, book cafes, korean restaurants and art galleries.

Jinsun Book Cafe is the first of these that you will come to and as a large garden/terrace section out front. Inside the cafe is full of comfortable sofas and chairs, with books and magazines lining the walls and large windows looking back out into the garden.

The cafe offers some standard pasta and salad dishes for lunch or dinner and a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. We stopped for coffees and ice creams after a rather bizarre lunch experience (involving raw crab and some other unidentified things). Our lattes were great, served in tall glasses with sugar syrup provided to add to tase. The kids had a scoop of ice cream each. Their ices were served complete with an Oreo cookie on the side, colourfully dotted with mini M&Ms and sugar sprinkles which made them very happy.

For two lattes and two scoops of ice cream, the bill came to around 20,000 won. More expensive than a trip to Starbucks, but in a much nicer environment.

when you find one of those restaurants that is consistently good, and turns out a dish that makes your mouth water even when you are just thinking about going there, then you know you are on to a good thing. Ah Nuk Han Pel Jang Mandu restaurant is one of these places. The food here is so tasty, home cooked, perfect in consistency and satisfying. I love it and even though you usually have to queue to get in for a few minutes, recommend that you try it too.

Just outside the entrance to the Korean Folk Museum and Gyeong Bok Dong Palace, there is a pedestrian crossing. Make your way across the road and walk along the road which leads away from the Museum. A couple of small buildings in on the left, you will see this restaurant. It usually has many cars parked outside at lunch time, and is a white building with wooden panelling and large windows on two floors which are covered from the inside with paper blinds.

Inside the restaurant, you will find staff making Mandu (stuffed dumplings) by hand and then arranging the beautifully folded dumplings on floured wooden boards ready to be dropped into the steaming soup bowls for hungry eaters. These are the best mandu we have found in Seoul so far, and the restaurant is busy and lovely. The space is mainly constructed of pale wood, and is airy and light with diners sitting at regular tables (not on the floor). It even smells fresh and is full of Koreans enjoying an excellent lunch of mandu or noodles. Two or three types of Kimchi come with your dish (one spicy and one more vinegary), and the usual soy sauce dips are also given.

A bowl of Mandu Guk (dumplings in soup) will cost about 6,000 won which is average price, and contains 5 dumplings. We ordered two bowls of Mandu guk and a bowl of plain noodles for our kids and the bill was 24,000 won (which included tax and a drink). Great place.

The latest in the Spire Group's interesting range of places to wile the night away, the Embassy Lounge is more of a cool drinking spot than place to eat at night. Good to head there after dinner to enjoy some groovy music, sit comfortably on sofas and chill out with a bottle of wine. If you are feeling lively the small dance floor is usually occupied and bar staff will join you for a saunter during their breaks. The resident DJ will tailor music to your mood if you ask him/her to.

The toilets upstairs are quite beautiful, walls and doors covered in golden scenes of Asian birds and trees.

Staff in the Spire Group establishments are all cheerful and helpful, speaking excellent English and service is always accomodating and thoughtful.

To get to the Embassy Lounge, find the fire station on Itaewon High Street and cross the road heading away from the strip up the hill past Chuwon Antiques. You will see a small car park on your left and the Embassy is upstairs above Arvorig creperie and next to a Korean Hof serving "Traditional tea, porridge and wine" (an interesting combination we thought). Alternatively, if you are in the little street behind the Hamilton Hotel where you will find 3 Alley Pub, Geckos Garden etc, look along to your left and you will see a large purple Embassy Bar sign hanging out into the road and you can head for that.

Without a shred of irony, the Flying Pan is a cool cafe run by two Korean sisters (but we think they get the pun). With brushed concrete floor, fruit and chilled Moet on display in the counter, and jugs of cut flowers for decoration, this airy and pleasant hang-out is a favourite of the Aussie girls for a Friday brunch because of its fresh flavours and authentic western coffee shop fare.

The potato skins with sweet chilli cream cheese make for a good starter to share, and then grilled panini-style sandwiches are delicious and filling. Try the grilled vegetable sandwich for a wholly satisfying lunch, washed down with an excellent Illy coffee latte and you will be set up for a good afternoon.

Lunchtime specials include sandwich and juice for 8,000 won making it pretty reasonable. To find the Flying Pan, look for the Cheil building on Itaewon/Hannam road. Walk up past the entrance to the Cheil building and the Flying Pan has an easy-to-spot sign up on the side of the building in which it is located. Step in off the street and you are there.

Monday, October 09, 2006

ARVORIG PUB AND GRILL (it is actually a Creperie), 123-1 ITAEWON-DONG, YONGSAN TEL: 795 1533

Up the hill oppposite the fire station, just by the small car park on the left hand side is Arvorig which is another of Pascal, the restaurateurs, Spire Group joints. I wonder if this was his first enterprise (must ask him one day). It is small and reasonably charming, with about six tables outside and a few more inside.

Arvorig serves Breton crepes (savoury and sweet), quiches and salads accompanied with cider if you so desire, to complete the authenticity of the Northern French speciality dish.

The crepes are good and made with buckwheat flour so they taste just right. And if you don't fancy one of the 10 or so suggested fillings, you can create your own hybrid combo as you would a pizza.

Staff are fun here, and will look after you although our waiter was quite thrown when he served us with a warm beer. As we asked for a replacement beer that was cold, he offered to serve the Cass (local beer) in a wine cooler to keep it chilled. When we asked just for a cold bottle he admitted that they had only been delivered that day and were therefore all warm. But he happily swapped it for a different brand of beer that was much colder (but still not Brazilian-style cold i.e. estupidamente gelada).

For three crepes, three beers and an Orangina our bill came to 57,000 won.
FRENCH BISTRO LA CIGALE MONTMARTRE, Itaewon contact details to follow

Owned by the quirky Frenchman, Pascal, who runs the Spire restaurant group in Seoul and is also a part time animator, la Cigale is a cafe bistro right on the strip in the middle of Itaewon High Street. Opposite Starbucks coffee house with tables onto the pavement the set up is classic french city bistro.

Its location surely guarantees its success and most nights the tables are full. Mainly seating is outside, but there are also many tables inside where you can get away from the rabble cavorting around on the pavement in front of you.

The service here is quick and there are many white-aproned waiters buzzing about to serve you quickly and get you out ready for the next paying customer. No objections to this - Pascal has got to make a living. But I did object to a goat's cheese salad including luke warm, pre-fried goats cheese and my beers being warmish. Then the accompanying salad had obviously been pre-tossed in salad dressing before the evening and then kept in the fridge. Even my bacon bits were refrigerated. This is not in keeping with the French bistro environment which in my opinion should deliver simple, quick-to-prepare, freshly-made food and was therefore a bit disappointing.

However, the food is not so bad and for a jolly, busy atmopshere the place is good for meeting people in a joint which anyone can find. Price wise it is mid range for Seoul, a main course will set you back around 15,000 won, beers are around 4,000.

Middle eastern cuisine seems to be very popular these days, and after being served a falafel sandwich at the British School family fun day by Mr Masry himself, we decided to check out his restaurant located just off Itaewon. Actually, it is located just off "Hooker Hill" up a side street, turn right at the King Club and you will see it on your right hand side.

This is more cafe than restaurant, but lacks a bit of character and effort. The computer and till sit on an ugly home office console in the middle of the front window and the kitchen is on display but utterly lacking in charm.

The night we went, Mr Masry was not around and so his Korean assistant took our order and went back into the kitchen to prepare the food. It would be good to hide the kitchen in this particular place, because you can see your pita breads going in and out of the microwave, and the tupperware of hummous being grabbed out of the fridge. Open kitchens are great if there is something fun worth watching going on in them, but otherwise keep 'em covered up.

The food is fine, crunchy and fresh, but the portions are on the mean side and come on very small plates with very small cutlery to eat them with. The napkins are tiny and the food is less oven-fired and more greasy-fried, and not great value. If you have been out on the lash, and some middle eastern kebab style grub is what you need then this place is handy. But for quality we will keep going to Marrakech down the road which has better food, nicer atmosphere and at the end you get a smaller bill.

Having left behind our (minimum) once weekly fix of Lebanese cuisine from the awesome Beirut restaurant in Bangkok, imagine our delight to find that the closest restaurant to our house is a Moroccan Arabian Kebab joint offering falafel, baba ganoush and all the trimmings a short saunter down the hill from our place.

Marrakech Night is owned and run by Rhiti Mostafa, together with some of his family (I think his wife perhaps). Formerly the chef for the Morrocan Ambassador in Seoul, Rhiti now serves up fabulous, hot, freshly-made authentic cuisine from this absolutly tiny restaurant with just five tables. Only five tables but approximately 15 smoking hookah machines available for customers to use if they wish.

The walls are draped in North African hangings, topped off with a wobbly line of flashing multicoloured fairy lights and decorated with random tourist souvenirs: ceremonial knives, odd photos and what not. In the corner, on a wall-mounted platform the TV displays either the music channel number, or more interestingly, shows of hugely fat women with died blonde hair and scarily bright make up, energetically belly dancing or rolling around on rugs all the while accompanied by one of those dead pan Arab bands.

The food is fab. About 10 crispy falafel come on a bed of lettuce, which we ordered with baba ghanoush one time, and home made yoghurt the next. Both excellent. The chicken with apricots was supreme - delicately spiced sauce and fat apricots all sizzling in the dish (caution: the apricots remain hot for a very long time...). Quite a short menu but lots of yummy options.

The tables are so close together that the atmosphere is really laid back. You will often get chatting to your neighbours, and if you can reach the beer fridge, you may help yourself and Rhiti will count the bottles of cans at the end of the meal when he is totting up your bill.

We liked this place, and even more when it came in as the only place we have been able to eat our fill, enjoy a few drinks and not spend more than US$50 total bill. highy recommended, but not for posh people who don't like slightly grubby places.

Located at the Banpo Bridge end of Itaewon High Street, on the right as you go up the hill past Pizza Hut. If you stand on the other side of the road outside MacDonalds and look across and up to your left you will see the little yellow sign.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

9 2 3 3 CHU KU MEE GRILLED OCTOPUS BAR Tel: 02 568 9233

Cross the road outside the Oakwood Coex serviced apartment in Gangnam-Gu using the pedestrian crossing on your right, and head up the small road in front of you. Restaurant 9 2 3 3 is about 200 metres up on your right (if you get to the Family Mart on your left you have gone too far).

At night after work, Koreans like to head to a cafe for a bite to eat, some drinks of Soju and a relaxed chat. These local neighbourhood cafes are a more economical way of eating out in Seoul, with plastic chairs and aluminium tables and no frills. But the food is really good, the Kimchi is fresh and tasty and the staff will always help you even if your Korean is not so great.

The 9 2 3 3 cafe is one of these joints, specialising in grilled Octopus (which has to be the most yummy way to cook octopus). Tables have central grill points and if busy, the owner will bring an extra table onto the pavement and has a small mobile gas grill for your food.

We ordered a big tray of octopus in a spicy sauce, with roughly chopped onions, mushrooms, leeks and side orders of bean shoots, cabbage and kimchi. As the gas fires away underneath the tray, the octopus and vegetables sizzle away, the sauce blackening and caramalising underneath, making the most delicious tit bits to eat with your chopsticks. A metal scraper comes with the food , so you can scrape these bits up and turn the food to cook it.

It is a a lovely way to spend and evening with friends, and won't break the bank. A meal for two with a few beers will come to around 50,000.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

SORTINO'S ITALIAN PIZZERIA AND BAR, 2nd floor, 736-11 Hannam Dong, Youngsangu, Seoul Tel: 02 797 0488

Despite the address this place is actually on Itaewon road past the fire station. You will spot it by the Italian flags hanging onto the street.

I recently read a rave review about this place, and had decided that Santino the owner must have really looked after that particular journalist to ensure such a fabulous write up. So imagine my surprise when I rocked up to this Italian eatery to meet a friend (who happens to be mates with Mr Santino Sortino himself), and we were looked after by the owner for the night. Santino is a true professional!

The restaurant is on the second floor, a light airy space divided in two by the stairwell coming up from below. The windows look out onto busy Itaewon road, but are above the traffic, windowsills are covered in piles of used corks. Tables are simple and plain, and the seating is a mixture of stylish leather chairs, and comfortable sofa banquettes around the walls.

Santino ordered the kitchen to prepare our meal for us. We began with a salad of rocket, mozzarella and gorgonzola with a balsamic dressing and italian breads. This was followed by one of the best pasta dishes I have had in years, real home Italian cooking. We ate meatballs with pasta fusilli in a rich, soft tomato sauce, sprinkled with the perfect amount of freshly grated parmesan. To follow this we had a wonderfully tender, well-seasoned steak served under a mountain of rocket salad, and a thick slice of swordfish served with wilted spinach, basil and cherry tomatos. Both of these were great, the beef especially was melt-in-the-mouth tender.

Later, as the four of us kind of rolled about in our seats having way over-eaten, Santino came over to chat. Despite our protestations, he waved a couple of desserts on to the table. A creamy smooth, raspberry-topped pannacotta and an awesome tiramisu - the perfect wetness and thickly dusted with gorgeous cocoa powder. If you usually avoid tiramisu because of the disgusting versions that are made in some places, come to Sortinos and you need not fear disappointment!

This is a great restaurant, really good quality of food with an owner who is always around to make sure that his customers are happy. He hasn't had a day off in the six months since opening - a hard life, but that is what it takes to make a fantastic restaurant and he and his wife are succeeding.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Le Saint-Ex, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-gu, 119-28, Seoul. Tel: 02 795 2465

Le Saint-Ex was the first restaurant I went to in Seoul that wasn't located in some kind of mall, which in my opinion is a very good thing.

It is just off Itaewon high street, up a little alley behind the Hamilton Hotel and opposite the 3 alleys pub. We got there on a dark and rainy night, and the warm glow of the red-walled bistro shone out onto the street. Inside were a happy group of Europeans tucking into their meals with much laughter and chat.

The dessert table is laid out in the middle of the downstairs section, with some good looking chocolate mousses and fruit flans for all to see.This is a small French restaurant with a blackboard of daily specials (having only been there once I dont know if these change every day). It is very neat and tidy, not having the atmosphere of a long-established French joint, but making up for it with a range of jolly Dubonnet and Nestle prints along the wall.

While there we heard one table talking French (which is definitely better than none, I have a rule about not going to French restaurants if the French won't eat there).

We ordered roast scallops on a saffron risotto with asparagus (quite soupy risotto but delicious) and roasted duck breast on green beans with a red wine jus. The duck was cooked to medium as requested and the jus was fine, tasty, smooth and dark. Our side order of pommes frites came cold, but when we pointed this out they were replaced quickly by the smiling waitress who brought some new hot ones.

For two main courses and two small bottles of beer our bill came to 82000 Won. Sadly there was not enough time for coffee or dessert this time.

Tel: 02 512 6333 Turn right just before the Apgujeong Galleria, then take the first left and Park's is on the right.

Good atmosphere, OK food, cheapest bottle of wine 65000 won

We went here for a celebration dinner with some friends. This is a two storey restaurant with lots of little corners, private rooms, and spaces cleverly divided by low-hanging candlabras and voile curtains. Spangly cushions, embroidered banks of seating and hand painted dark red walls decorated with butterflies and floral motifs make this place feel opulent and comfortable.Staff are good looking and fashionable, all fitted with ear pieces which must be really annoying for them if the service bells on the tables go straight through to them.

Our friends arrived before us, and managed to survive on herbal tea until we arrived. They hadn't been offered any nibbles which is unusual and didn't want to order before we arrived so they were starving. They were also slightly miffed that they had been put next to the toilet in an upstairs corner and not in the thick of the atmosphere downstairs. Because of the quirky lay out, some tables are better located than others and no table is the same, so make sure you are happy with where you sit.

Since we have been living here for under a month, our Korean ordering skills are pretty non-existent. Hardworking hubby can just about order beers. It took a while to order our dishes and involved a change of wait staff (the first guy couldn't get a handle on our English so they sent Filipino Frank who could understand our English but couldn't read what the previous guy had written down in Korean when we asked to check our order). It really is time to learn Korean....

Finally all the dishes we had asked for arrived.This is Asian fusion cuisine in the sense that they offer many types of Asian dishes, apparently without the need for authenticity in any of them: our Thai beef salad contained pineapple chunks which is VERY weird. It is not fusion in the sense that a creative chef has taken elements from various asian cuisines and made something new out of it.

We ordered crispy garlic prawns, beef and tofu with mushrooms, chicken with peppers and Park's special noodle soup dish. All of them came hot and were attractively presented dishes. But at US$30 per dish I felt they should have been more innovative to really live up to their strapline. The food here looked and tasted more like a good Chinese take away meal from the UK than food from one of Seoul's trendy, expensive "good" restaurants.

Tel: 02 542 7412 Address: 83-20 Chungdam-dong, Kangnam-Gu - opposite the entrance to Rodeo Drive up the hill on the left oppposite the Gaucho Grill.

This is a big, decadent cafe selling almost anything you could want, from tea and coffee to whisky to ginseng (US$3500) and an equal variety of foods. It is not a cafe in the sense of have cup of tea and a sticky bun - this is a posh cafe in a sort of "expensive restaurant" kind of way.

Walls are mirrored and there is plenty of white wrought iron to give that Frenchy/cafe feel. Lots of plants, flowers and crystal gems hanging from wall lights. Customers are fairly crammed in with masses of tiny tables.

We ordered four local Cass beers and a fruit platter and the bill came to not far off US$100. The fruit platter contained a couple of sorry looking rambutans (they are so exotic but don't travel well, and it looked like these had been on a long stop over on the way to Korea), a slice of pineapple, apple, banana and grapes.

This is a good safe place to take clients and their wives after dinner for coffee or one more drink, but not very fun if you want to eat and drink a lot and have to pay yourself!

Tel: 02 549 6674, 657-12 Shinsadong, Kangnam-gu, Seoul

Turn left off Rodeo Drive as after the large convenience store and you will find Nori People on your right.

It is called a lounge but is an open-fronted korean "pub" full of good looking 30-somethings getting drunk, eating and having a real laugh. Funky korean tunes play and posters for reggae gigs are plastered around the walls. The toilets are outside round the corner, basic but have loo roll. Metal and plastic tables and chairs and good service from cheerful bar folk.

We loved this place. It feels real and gives you a good look at Koreans having a good time. A mix of couples out on a Friday night, mates having some beers and a chat together and small groups of friends in cool kit ready to go clubbing later (it didn't look like some of them would make it, though. There was a guy at the table next to us with his mates, just passed out fast asleep, sprawled on the table - too much Soju I think, or maybe too much beer, or perhaps a mixture ... his mates were absolutely plastered, funny to watch, lots of animated conversations, back slapping and swaggering around with their hats on sideways).

On another note, and following our visit to a pretty people bar, there are some mighty good looking Korean men here ....