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

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