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Apr 13, 2011 04:41 AM

[Seoul] Trip Report March 2011

Hi all, first time posting though I've been reading the boards for a while.

Wanted to say thanks to those who gave recs for Seoul (in particular kosmose7 & schung - thanks guys!) & figured I'd post a couple of lines on our trip too. Thought it might help others since there isn't as much information out there on Seoul dining compared to some of the other Asian cities.

Disclaimer - it was our first trip to Seoul though we've eaten a bunch of Korean food elsewhere (US - LA / NYC / Chicago, Toronto, London, Tokyo & Singapore), so our frame of reference may be pretty different than Seoul natives.

What we tried & liked:

1) Elbon the Table (kosmose7's recommendation)
We got one of the daily set lunches & one of the tasting menu. The regular set lunch was nice if not too memorable.. but the tasting menu was good. Foie gras was nicely seared, paired with caramelized banana, orange compote & white truffle ice cream on the side. Lobster bisque was light but flavorful.

Only thing that I wasn't too hot on is how they serve the meat mains. Both the beef & lamb chop came on a hot stone, which ended up overcooking the meat somewhat. Flavored salts that come with the meat are fun, though I couldn't figure out what the green one (not the green tea one) was supposed to be.

2) Bong San Jib (schung's rec, went to the Samseong-dong outlet, not the Samgakchi one)
Loved the chadolbaegi there. Doenjang-jjigae (as they said, "just like mother's home made stew") is solid too. They only have 3 cuts of meat on the menu (iirc, 1 of the other 2 were tripe), we only tried the chadolbaegi cos we're all about the fatty meat. Went great with their special dip & also with sesame oil + salt. We messed up half of the first serving cos we didn't know the right grilling technique but the boss rescued us after that (got to be grilled rolled up like a cigar, so the fats permeate the meat rather than running off the grill). Pix below. A must-eat on our next trip to Seoul!

3) Bon Pi Yang / Byeokje Galbi
This is the soup-selling, cheaper affiliate of Byeokje Galbi. We had lunch at the Gangnam outlet in Coatel & thought the Hanwoo - both kalbi and sirloin - were better value than the more upscale Dogok-dong outlet we tried later in the trip. Good quality beef of course, and a very hearty meal for the price together with the spread of greens and the jjigaes we added. (pic attached) Though given a choice, have to admit we'd still prefer yakiniku in Tokyo anyday (missing the succulent - and great CP - wagyu at Shotaien Shiba-daimon!).

4) Heukdonga
No frills, specialise in black pork from Jeju apparently. They give you little bits of pork skin to start. Samgyeopsal was ok but the hanjeongsal (aka tontoro)... that's the real marbled stuff. Great value for money, it only cost us abt W35,000 (no alcohol) for two of us.

We also made it to Budnamujip (missed the kalbitang - sold out at 12pm - but had ) & a couple of other random places which I can add on if anyone is interested (more as places not to go).

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  1. Thanks very much for this. I am going in May and, as you say, there is very very limited information out there on what to do/ eat. That said most people say you can just drift around and grab food (a la BK).

    If you have any more tips on what to do/ not to do (non food things as well) - would be very interested to hear.


    17 Replies
    1. re: TomEatsHK

      You're very welcome! Is it your first trip there too, or a repeat?

      Agreed that if you follow the crowd & your nose it's probably hard to go wrong. For me, I was really pitching for the home runs because my partner was (operative word being "was"!) not at all keen on Korean food / food in Korea before this trip. Happy to say I think I made a convert.

      In my haste yesterday, realized that I left out the phone nos for the places above, so here they are:

      Elbon the Table: 02-547-4100

      Bon Pi Yang / Byeokje Galbi: 02-587-7018

      Bong San Jib: 02-552-5898

      Heukdonga: 02-2051-0008

      I also forgot to mention one more place (also kosmose7's rec), Bien Etre. It's a tiny 8-seater restaurant pretty much at the end of Apgujeong Road, where the chef does all the prep & cooking himself and his wife(?) does the serving. There's only one 3 course-menu with 2 choices for main for W67,000 net iirc. Mains were solid if not exceptional but the chef's whimsy shows in the amuse-bouche - our platter of 4 delicious little bites included corn soup with lobster and cheddar tuile & a mini onion tart - & starters. (This website gives a pretty good idea of the food there: ttp:// It's a bit out of the way though, so I'd definitely recommend cabbing it there.

      On things to do, I think the food hall at Shinsegae Gangnam is very much worth a visit if you enjoy looking around supermarkets (we also visited the food hall at Galleria, & Hyundai Dept Store's in Samseong-dong, but Shinsegae was the biggest and best of the three in variety by far.) I could happily have spent half a day just browsing thru their wide range of seaweeds / laver, sesame oils, teas, sauces etc. Definitely pick up some of those to bring home (we did & wish we'd bought more!) Not sure if strawberry season will be over by the time you get there, but Korean strawberries are a great & healthy dessert too. Really fragrant & sweet, and not a single mushy one in sight.

      On non-foodie things (apologies to the mods in advance if this is too off-topic), particularly if you're eating at Elbon, do take a walk down Garosugil since it's just a stone's throw away. (The restaurant or your hotel can probably direct you there.) The name literally means street of trees (all were still bare when we were there, but I can imagine it'd be prettier when it warms up), and feels somewhat like Marylebone High St in London - lots of little shops selling clothing, accessories, lifestyle & interior items etc. We also stopped by the National Museum in Yongsan-gu - an extensive collection covering thousands of years of Korean culture & history, well-curated with English explanations & permanent exhibitions are free. The gift shop is a handy place to pick up non-food souvenirs too. I'd avoid the Museum food though. If you like shopping, doota at Dongdaemun is a must-visit though you can save that for late nights since it opens most days till 5am (we found the other Dongdaemun malls are not as well-organized / laid-out & seemed to focus more on cheaper knock-offs).

      The general area of Samcheong-dong was also recommended by one of our Korean friends as a good place to just stroll around (plenty of han-ok / traditional Korean houses & small art galleries, teahouses etc), but unfortunately we ran out of time this round.

      phew! long post there, hope it helps. :)

      1. re: RipCurl

        It is my first trip - I am super excited actually.

        Interestingly one of London's foremost restaurant critics (Marina from the Metro) is there now and it is making me hungry following her tweets.

        Thanks for all of your help and advice on this - the non foodie tourism things are also much appreciated!

        I am going to print out this thread and spend a long cold night trying to find them all in the guidebook. We've only got 3 days/ 2 nights so we are going to have to pack stuff in. I think our focus is food/culture/art in that order so you've got us off to a good start!


        1. re: TomEatsHK

          You’re welcome! Look forward to hearing your thoughts post-trip. :) Curiously enough, will be in the UK next month so shall check out Marina’s reviews on London. (Already have The Square, Launceston Place and Harwood Arms reserved!)

          1. re: RipCurl

            Quick tip from a Londoner (am only a recent HK resident) - drop one of those and go to the Ledbury. It is probably the best high level place in London. I'ld probably drop The Square as it is its sibling but not as good!

            Great choices otherwise.

            1. re: TomEatsHK

              Thanks! Probably should post it on London board, but Ledbury was first choice for Sun lunch.. sadly all booked out. (it's for work, so not too much flexibility on time & dates) What I could squeeze in - Launceston Place & The Square are lunches, Harwood Arms is a Sun dinner. Also have Martin Wishart (Edinburgh) booked.

              Still worth going to The Square for a weekday lunch you think?

              1. re: RipCurl

                Yes - it is very good. You'll enjoy it.

                If you wanted to try something a bit more avant garde you could try Nuno Mendes' place. I had a mixed experience there but is one of hte more interesting options in London atm.

                But if you are working centrally that involves going all the way out to East London.

                I would recommend Heston's Dinner, but well, you won't get a reservation. I couldn't manage it.

                Otherwise The Gilbert Scott and Pollen Street Social are very in.

                1. re: TomEatsHK

                  Thanks Tom! Was in the City, regrettably couldn't manage to fit in The Square, Dinner, Pollen St Social, Gilbert Scott or Viajante. Will KIV them for next trip though. Hope you had a great trip in Seoul. :)

          2. re: TomEatsHK

            Did some searching for the harder to find places & here are some map links & directions:

            Bong San Jib (at Samgakji, I think this is their original location):

            As for the Samseong-dong location, I could only find a Korean map:

            But you can kind of match it off with this map (if you zoom in you can see the marker on FamilyMart - Bong San Jib is just south of Family Mart):

            Bon Pi Yang:


          3. re: RipCurl

            RipCurl, I am so glad that you enjoyed ELBON and Bien Etre! They are two of my most favorite places in Seoul. I was also impressed that you could make it with Bien Etre and dined there, because it is a bit difficult for a foreign tourist to find the location. :)

            1. re: kosmose7

              Interesting write-ups on Chef Park Min-Jae of Bien Etre, besides Elbon the Table's Chef Choi Hyun Seok, here:


              1. re: kosmose7

                Our thanks once again for your recommendations :) On our next visit, hope to try your other rec, Ristorante Eo, as well as find some good jokbal and haemul soondubu places (any suggestions very welcome!)

                1. re: RipCurl

                  Am off to Seoul in 2 weeks time so thought I would check back in here.

                  I have just organised a street food/ stall tour with Dan Gray of SeoulEats to start us off and am then going to try some of your suggestions on this thread.

                  At the moment, at the high end, I am trying to decide between Elbon and Bien Etre (or neither). I have a penchant for molecular cuisine (had a surprisingly good meal at Sra Bua in that vein in Bangkok recently) so was probably going to go for Elbon. My one concern is whether it is at all "Korean" or whether it is just doing European style molecular food in Seoul?

                  With just 3 days in Seoul I feel I should eat "Korean" food.

                  Any thoughts or advice much appreciated!

                  1. re: TomEatsHK

                    Hey, you must be counting down the days! What's the rest of the itinerary look like? Of all the suggestions above, would rank Bong San Jib first, definitely.

                    If you want Korean influenced, definitely not Bien Etre as it's very classic French. None of the dishes we had at Elbon were Korean influenced per se, but I did see pics of some dishes fitting that description at

                    Oh then again we did get the abalone, so perhaps one dish with Korean inspiration. If it's just a choice between the two, definitely Elbon.

                    Btw I also saw the recommendation for Jung Sik Dang on SeoulEats (iirc) but the possibility of getting grasshopper as an amuse bouche was a bit far out for me. Just not a fan of insects (!)

                    1. re: RipCurl

                      I'm an insect fan! First time to Seoul - we arrive May 21. I think we are going to try and do only street food - Hutdok is top of my list and mondu twigam and also would like to try the Gaebul. booked a street food tour.

                      Is there any third wave coffee places?

                      1. re: debbieann

                        I didn't find any first wave coffee places. Coffee shops everywhere, now of it good!

                        If you are doing the street food tour with Dan - I hope he takes you to the mackeral place.

                        PS if you to go to one high end - jung sik dang is world class. Truly truly world class.

                        1. re: TomEatsHK

                          Hi! it seems you tried Jung Sik Dang as well and I am glad you enjoyed it! :) One factor that stops me from going back there is they have changed the menu only twice or three times since their opening two years ago. So I guess repeat really makes master. :)

                          1. re: kosmose7

                            Ah that is interesting. But yes, I would guess that means that they can do it well everytime. They are opening in NY in June and the non evolution of the food won't go down well there.

                            That said, the food will (if it changes now and then) go down well as it is superb.

                            I have to say I think Korea really is a fabulous place for food!

          4. A suggestion for anyone visiting Seoul who'd like to venture beyond hotel eateries or chain outposts to taste Korean authenticity with inventive, contemporary twists (but who might have a trepidation about language barriers or obscure street addresses):

            Congdu, featuring "Neo Korean Cuisine," impressed us as an easily accessible yet highly refined fine-dining experience. Don't let its location inside the Seoul National History Museum put you off. The restaurant is far from institutional or "museum-y"; in fact, the decor is somewhat posh, the vibe cosmopolitan, the service exceptionally polished. And the setting affords views of an ancient palace grounds.

            You can order a la carte, but I'd recommend one of the chef's multicourse menus, replete with exotic, even rarified ingredients and artisanal preparations. Yeah, there's some East-West "fusion" here, but not the gimmicky kind, and not at the expense of Korean integrity. We were fortunate to have Congdu's genial owner, Vivian Han, introduce each course and explain the provenance of ingredients and the cooking methods and traditions involved.

            I've been coming to Seoul for business and family reasons (my wife is Korean) for 23 years, and my meal last night at Congdu was one of the more memorable and delicious I've had in this amazing city.