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 ....