1. The Cooking Library
A journey through South Korea’s culinary offerings should start at Hyundai Card’s Cooking Library, a five-storey building designed by architectural studio One O One. Located in Dosan Gongwon, a hipster quarter of Gangnam, it’s a vast space entirely dedicated to cooking through a comprehensive collection of recipes, documents, souvenirs and even bottles and petri dishes full of different spices, salts and oils (which you can try).
The place is divided into the Ingredient House (an experimental lab where you can try over 190 ingredients), a glass rooftop conservatory and restaurant (where they host interactive dining experiences on their long dining table), a cooking school and an extensive library with hundreds of books in multiple languages. library.hyundaicard.com
2. New Korean Cuisine
Congdu is a “modern hansik” located in Seoul’s Jung-gu area, just behind the walled residence of the British Ambassador to South Korea and the leafy gardens of the Deoksu Palace. You may not know it, but the science of fermentation is a massive part of Korean cuisine, manifesting in the art of good kimchi and 15-year-old soy sauce – both of which feature on the menu at Congdu.
In the beautiful, light and airy setting (the roof of the restaurant comes off on balmy summer nights in Seoul), signature dishes such as beef tartare are served with three different soy sauces – five, 10 and 15-years-old – that have been passed down by a Joseon-era family. The menu changes seasonally, but going to all for corners of the country to source the best ingredients remains front and centre of every dish. Jung-gu, 정동1-54. congdu.co.kr
3. Traditional Mama’s Cooking
Home-style cooking is so popular in South Korea that there’s an entire sub-section of restaurant dedicated to eating the kind of food your mum makes. Hanilkwan is a restaurant run by three generations of women, whose restaurant business spans 78 years and the Korean War.
Shin Woo-gyoung opened her first restaurant in 1939, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Today Hanilkwan’s six locations across Seoul are never empty. It’s the kind of place you’ll see multi-generation families eating traditional cold noodle dishes and boiled beef stew. 619-4 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu. hanilkwan.co.kr
4. Modern Mama’s Cooking
For a more modern take on Korean mama’s cooking of style, there’s PARC. Located in Seouls’ Hannam district, PARC serves traditional homemade Korean dishes using traditional cooking techniques with fresh ingredients. With a reputation that goes beyond the borders of South Korea, it’s the kind of spot you’ll find international architects, skaters and DJs eating – not least because of it’s proximity to nearby seven-storey Comme des Garçons flagship store and clubs like Cakeshop and Pistil. Order the mouth-watering seafood with kimchi and be sure to order a glass soju to wash it down. 26-5, 55-ga-gil, Itaewon-ro. parcseoul.com
5. Korean barbecue
It’s near impossible to get a reservation at Wooga, one of the city’s most iconic barbecue spots. Their speciality is rare, aged beef in all its many forms of consumption. The beef here is aged for a minimum of 67 days and is kept in a meticulously controlled environment. The dry-aged beef is cooked on a stone griddle (seasoned by a grill master at your table) at a temperature of 270 degrees, and it tastes like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. The underground setting is modern and private and everyone eats in a dining booth, so despite being a hot spot for K-pop artists, you’ll probably never see them. B1F, 22 Dosan-daero 49-gil, Gangnam-gu.
6. Driver’s cafes
You’ll be able to spot these cafes all over Seoul from the numbers of taxis parked outside (hence the colloquial name given to them). But these cafes specialise in Korean broths and soups that are low in calories and packed full of collagen. Head into any of these are you’ll find a pretty limited menu: beef broth or cold (and very spicy) noodle soup. Both come with huge tanks of kimchi that you have to cut yourself, so it’s some of the freshest you’ll taste. It’s low key dining at its best – and you probably won’t spend more than a fiver.
7. Temple Food
The temple inspired cuisine at Dooreyoo is some of the best in Seoul. Having previously worked in London, chef Tony Yoo brings an artfulness to each course of the seven course tasting menu. Each dish looks like it was sculpted out of its ingredients, while textures and flavours are blended seamlessly from sour and sweet, cooked and fermented.
Yoo is one of the most esteemed chefs of Modern Korean cuisine – using seasonal organic ingredients and traditional fermented condiments in his cooking. The whole baked fish is more-ish and delicate; it comes as a central course in a tasting menu that includes a delicious fermented cucumber salad and traditional boiled beef. The whole menu is balanced and delicious, including the deserts. 65, Bukchon-ro, Jongno-gu. cheftonyyoo.com
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