Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Zero Complex (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

As Day 4 of our Seoul trip started to wind down, it was time for us to leave Hongdae and venture over to the Seorae Village, Seoul's "Little France" for an early dinner. I must admit, I'm starting to fall in love with this hilly region just west of the buzzy Sinsa. All the little cafés and French inspired restaurants are putting a smile on my face. And today, I have a date with the city's first neo-bistro - Zero Complex.

Tucked away at the corner of Donggwang-ro inside a 3-storey building, Zero Complex is as cool as a cucumber when it comes to its design and interior decoration. 

For a moment when I came out of the elevator, I thought I got the wrong address because quite frankly, this looked more like a photographer's studio. 

I was totally out of words to describe this eatery. Perhaps it's a marriage between sleek urban furnishings and industrial warehouse aesthetic?

If anyone thinks for a moment that Zero Complex is a traditional French bistro, then he is definitely knocking on the wrong door. Zero Complex is a true neo-bistro in every way, a new style of French restaurants defined by its innovative cuisine, casual atmosphere and international influences.

I couldn't believe I was making the rookie mistakes that no foodie should ever be making. When they presented me with the daily prix-fixe menu, I got so excited that I totally forgot to ask about the price. And when I finally did remember, my server promptly told me it was 8 million won per person! 

Just when I thought I would be washing dishes here for the rest of my life, the same server came back and re-confirmed that it's 80,000 won not 8 million. Wow, what a sigh of relief. 

As soon as the chef finished introducing today's menu to me personally, dinner was finally ready to start. First, it was a couple of amuse bouche taking center stage.

My first nibble was halibut sashimi with cucumber oil, onion and Korean baby cucumber.

A very refreshing dish to get my palates ready. Very nice (7/10).

That was soon followed by a small beef tartare. The beef was marinated with something like Korean barbecue sauce and then lightly smoked giving it a nice smoky flavor. It was served with raspberry powder, green beans and sliced cauliflower (6.5/10).


Now that they've gotten my taste buds dancing in joy, I was all geared up for my first course (official one) and it's a dish of butternut squash purée with yogurt, mixed types of seeds and fresh Sichuan pepper.

Call it all you want, creamy butternut squash soup, purée...this was seriously good. To make the texture a bit more interesting, they've put some Korean flower seed, mustard seed, popsi seed as well as fresh Sichuan pepper on top. Very good start (7/10).

Smoked mackerel was next and it was one of the best mackerel dish I had all year. The texture of the mackerel was perfect and I love the paprika purée, grilled cucumber, peppers, pickled onion that were all working wonderfully well together (8/10).


This was not on the menu but I would take it with my open arms - a nice dish of grilled sea scallops, complemented by a caulflower purée and green cabbage with a lovely hint of passion fruit. My second favorite dish right behind the mackerel (7.5/10).

Onto our main courses now, my fish course was cod fish with spinach purée, pink onion and mustard seed. A bit of mussel sauce helped to put the finishing touch on this one (5/10).

Meat course was Iberico pork's neck served with pickled onion, fig, some bean chips and edible flowers. This was slightly better than the cod fish but unfortunately not as mind-blowing as some of the starters (5.5/10).

Panna cotta aubergine kicked things off in the dessert department. This was a fairly clever dish and I was told that they drew inspiration from the Italian cuisine. And with the Italian connection came the olive oil and some organic tomatoes directly from their own farm (6.5/10).

My final dish was grape granita with mint and lemon verbena (4.5/10).

Zero complex's cuisine is probably not for everyone. It's not meant to be as sophisticated or glamorous as the ones offered at Jungsik or Soigne. Like their minimalist decor, their approach is simple as they aim to please our palates with just the right mix of fresh ingredients.

This has to be the best 8,000 won I've spent on this trip. This is a real hidden gem. A very pleasant surprise.

Note: If you're feeling a little adventurous, try walking from the Sinbanpo station like I did, which is an uphill walk of about 20-25 minutes; otherwise, I suggest taking a cab from the Express Bus Terminal.

Food Rating: 6.5/10 
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: 1-138 Bangbaebon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: N/A
Tel: +82 2532-0876

Billy Angel Cake Company @Hongik (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

I can't believe this! In less than 24 hours, I am visiting Billy Angel Cake for the second time, although it's a totally different location. This one is in the heart of Hongdae near Hongik University.

They got Head Chef Jeffrey John Kundert posing in their "Most famous desserts of the World" banner.


What I like most about Billy Angel are their chiffon cakes (think black tea chiffon cake) and crepe cakes (my latest favorite is their rainbow crepe cake).

Conveniently located at the doorsteps of Hongik University, this is just a couple of steps from my other favorite cake shop in Hongdae - Macaron by Ruben Jan Adriaan.

I love their carrot cake (₩6,500). Three layers of carrot cake sandwiched between some fluffy fresh cream.

I am going back to the well again for my latest No.1 choice here - the rainbow crepe cake (₩7,500). Still can't get enough of it.

Billy Angel Cake Company is known for its wide selection of cakes with Japanese influences, highlighted by this red bean cream green tea cake (₩6,800). Silky smooth!

I've done a lot of walking today. Time to grab something to quench my thirst.

Food Rating: 6.5/10 
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: 338-16 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Hongik University
Tel: +82 2323-0020

Suave (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★☆☆

This is my second visit to Suave (French: Sweet), a shop that specializes in caramel desserts in Hongdae. I am here for some of my favorite macarons to fix my sweet tooth.

Suave is more than just a macaron shop. They have other offerings such as puddings and caramel candies but it was their macarons that managed to steal my heart.

All of their macarons come with very unique flavors (think: ginger, dried fig, milk tea etc.) and delicious caramel fillings.

Look at these fluffy little macarons. How cute!!!

I am having this bacon caramel macaron (₩2,400) for the second time already. Crisp and chewy the way I like it with small chunks of bacon in the middle ! 

Milk red bean macaron with caramel filling (₩2,400). Not bad as well.

Food Rating: 5.5/10 
Price: ₩₩
Address: 19 Wausan-ro 25-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station:
Hongik University
Tel:+82 2324-9884

Fell + Cole (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

Fell + Cole is where I usually get my frozen treat in Seoul. They have a booth at Galleria Food but I always like to come back to their flagship store in Hongdae because the area is so cool.  

It's a very quiet Wednesday afternoon and I'm the only customer in the house!

Fell + Cole is supposed to be the first in Seoul to offer artisanal ice cream made with organic and local ingredients, free of stabilizers or additives. They are rotating around 12-15 different flavors every week. Some of their great hits include Honey Lavender and Burnt Caramel with Smoked Sea Salt. Those with a Korean twist, including Makgeolli (Korean rice wine), Perilla Leaves, Kinako (Roasted Soy Bean) are also very popular choices.

My personal favorites are their Makgeolli and Nut Job.

Food Rating: 6.5/10 
Price: ₩₩
Address: 310-11 Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Sangsu

Tel: +82 70-4411-1434

artisanal ice cream vegan amazing seoul korea

Bover Lounge (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

Myeongdong is an area best known for its shopping and less as a gourmet destination. Apart from its casual eateries (mostly Korean) and street food, it has very little to offer when it comes to upscale fine dining restaurants and gourmet bistros. But Bover Lounge changes all that. Well, not all but at least some of that.

Opened in 2014, Bover Lounge is a cozy French bistro located on the ground floor of the State Tower Namsan. It's comfortably sitting at the edge of Myeongdong facing Namsan and just a nice 5-minute walk from the subway exit. The modern European setting is one reason that attracts me here but there's more than what meets the eye. The ceiling-to-floor windows, a simple but exciting food menu and a special lineup of desserts all make this decision (of coming here) a lot easier.

We started things off with a simple kale salad (19,000) that included some bacon, apple and goat cheese. Refreshing start.


Next up was supposedly their signature dish - omelette soufflé (19,000). The soufflé came with a small bowl of sauce that looked and smelt like a lobster bisque. But it's not.

Our server cut the soufflé into four equal portions before carefully pouring the hot sauce in there. This was very nice. The soufflé was light and fluffy with tiny bits of ham and mushroom inside and the cream sauce with exotic spices was the catalyst here, helping to elevate the dish to a different level.

This is supposed to be another signature dish here. Linguine tossed in a light tomato sauce and served with a shrimp blanc mousse (24,000). From this angle, I couldn't really see any linguine and tomato sauce but just some garlic roasted prawns, confit tomatoes and dashes of tomato pesto. So where's my linguine?

But as soon as I dug a little deeper, there it was. A nicely cooked linguine with a Japanese style sweet tomato sauce. By now I was mixing every ingredients together with the exception of the prawns. This was seriously good. I love the sweet flavors from the sauce. The linguine was lovely as it was tasting like my favorite spaghetti bolognese but a tad sweeter.

After being spoiled by two excellent dishes, time for a bit of regression. Avocado salmon risotto (23,000) was just OK. As an avocado lover, I'd love a little more avocado purée in the risotto.

As I mentioned a little earlier, Bover Lounge's sweet menu features a special lineup of desserts and that includes macarons from La Boîte, a famous local brand that specializes in French confectionery.

They also carry a small selection of gourmet cakes from Glamorous Penguins who is a hearty little cafe in Itaewon well-known for their cakes, puddings and cookies.

Glamorous Penguins's earl grey chiffon cake (11,000) has always been my favorite. It's as usual light and airy.

This is a very good combination of food and ambiance that they've got here at Bover Lounge. Something that is very unique in Myeongdong.

Food Rating: 6/10 
Price: ₩₩
Address: G/F State Tower Namsan, 1-1 Hoehyeondong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Myeongdong

Tel: +82 2-6020-5755

French bistro cozy myeongdong Seoul Korea

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Grangerie by CôteD'or (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★☆☆☆☆

If you're looking for a western style cake shop or dessert spot in Myeongdong, you will be disappointed with the number of choices available for you. We stumbled upon Grangerie by CôteD'or by chance and I have to say, this is one of the worst cake shops that we've been associated with in Seoul for a long time.

Located near the edge of Myeongdong, Grangerie is a luxury cake shop (ground floor) that also doubles as a café (1st floor).

It's been well documented that the carnation cake is one of their signature products and it comes in 2 colors (white and pink) and 2 different sizes (big - 42,000 and miniature - 8,000). But upon our closer look, this is really nothing more than an ordinary cheesecake (very bland one) with the "flower petals" made with white chocolate. 

Very disappointed with this. It's definitely something that is not nearly good enough at the professional level.

Food Rating: 2/10 
Price: ₩₩
Address: 199-9 Euljiro 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station:
Euljiro 1-ga

Hansik Olbaan (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★☆☆

Of course a family trip is never complete without an all-you-can-eat buffet in the itinerary. Since we were all at the Express Bus Terminal this afternoon, it was really a no-brainer that we took in one of the most popular buffets in the area at Hansik Olbaan, inside the Famille Station.

Look at the people here. And it's only a little after 6 o'clock!

If you want to sample some of the more popular Korean dishes without visiting 3 or 4 different places, this is really not a bad place to start. They have different stations here, starting with a simple salad bar.

That was followed by an area with rice and noodles, such as Korean rice cakes, kimchi fried rice etc. 

They also have some Korean fried chicken, eggplant tempura in the same section with the rice and noodle.

Sitting on the other side was the grill where you will find their barbecue pork belly and chicken (no beef though). The chefs already did this for you so there's no need to get your hands dirty!

Finally, a fruit and dessert section with a small selection of seasonal fruits, as well as jelly and traditional Korean delicacies. A pop machine is stationed right next to this to give you free flow of soft drinks.

The total damage comes down to ₩21,000 per head which is not cheap considering the average quality of the food. But the fact that it offers a no-hassle dinner and a convenient break from your shopping (Gangnam underground shopping street?) and sightseeing (Banpo Hangang Park?) makes it a little more difficult to turn down.

Food Rating: 4/10 
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: Shop 3, Famille Station, Banpo-dong 118-5, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Express Bus Terminal
Tel: +82 02-6282-2213


all you can eat buffet Korean food Gangnam Seoul Korea