Sunday, May 7, 2017

Soigné Seoul (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

Today marks my third visit to Chef Jun Lee's Soigné, a restaurant that I have been trying to visit at least once a year these days. This is going to be my first visit since they captured their Michelin star late last year and my first experience with their "Season 2" episode menu since they said goodbye to their "Season 1" episodes.

I was a little surprised to see Chef Lee on hand on a Sunday. He's working way too hard these days.

By looking at their "Season 2" episode menu, I certainly didn't spot anything different with my eyes. Now the question is, can my palate spot the difference?

Things got rolling in a hurry with an array of small nibbles and as usual, they all came with a bit of Korean twist to it. First, there was the daikon dumpling filled with Korean herbs; followed by an onion pudding with lemon purée and pickled onion on top. Finally, we finished with their Big Mac, Chef Lee's modern take on the famous beef burger from McDonald's but this is a vegetarian version with a bit of cous cous, butter, baby spinach and fragrant Korean herbs.

I thought this was a pretty good way to kick off the meal, with a small bit of acidity to get our palates ready for action. Not bad.

Just when I was still enjoying the aftertaste from my amuse bouche, my first starter was coming my way fast and furious. This was an asparagus dish with each piece of poached asparagus neatly covered by a sorrel leaf and sprinkled with passion fruit powder on top. Dashes of tomato consommé provided a bit of garnish and extra flavors to the mix.

I'm a big fan of asparagus, green or white but I don't recall having them with something of mild acidity (passion fruit and tomato) before so it was kind of a new adventure for me. And it took me a while to get used to it.

Next up was a dish called "scallop and cabbage".

Underneath the piece of cabbage laid a layer of zucchini, beautifully cooked with coconut milk to a point where it's almost transparent and it was finished with dill and a flavorful mussels sauce. This was by no means the best I have seen from this talented kitchen but nevertheless a bit better than the previous asparagus dish, in my opinion.

"Instant ramen" was the last starter before my main dish and it wasn't getting me too hyped up judging from the name itself. This turned out to be a pretty simple dish. The ramen was actually not Japanese ramen, but instead a homemade Italian pasta made with egg yolk that they tried to make like ramen. It was served with chunks of lobster meat and wild chives in a pretty intense lobster bisque.

I liked the intensity of the lobster bisque here but the flavors from the pasta was pretty predictable. An overall okay dish but like all the previous ones that came before it, it didn't blow me away.

I chose their Iberico pluma over Hanwoo beef simply because I didn't want to pay the extra ₩20,000 and it looked like a good call at the first glance (or bite).

This was a pretty delicious piece of Iberico pork with an unusual combination of flavors coming from the Japanese blood orange, mixed peppers and celeriac purée. The coffee sauce was a nice touch but unfortunately not the Korean rice cake. In fact, I thought they tried too hard to make the Korean connection there (with the rice cake) and it kind of backfired.

I always love the way Soigné combines Korean flavors to their dishes, particularly with their desserts. They never fail to impress me with how they combine western and Korean ingredients together and have them working in harmony. Looks like they have done it again with this green tart.

This was a very nice symphony of greenish ingredients including some green grapes, green olives and green herbs. There was a bit of green oil added on top which was supposed to be both sweet and sour (according to my server). The result was quite compelling as the earthy flavors from the grapes, herbs and olive all worked beautifully together with the sweetness of the white chocolate. I liked the bit of acidity from lime for the extra kick too. By far, the best dish of the afternoon.

After the green tart, a very small petite four and a warm cup of Earl Grey tea before I went over to congratulate Chef Lee on his first star on my exit.

At this point in time, my tummy was way too big to be running around to save the world so I guess I will leave it to this guy.....

This was a slightly disappointing meal (OK, perhaps I set the bar a little too high.). I've always considered Soigné as one of the top kitchens in Seoul for its top-notch creativity and consistency. The cooking technique is still there but the way they design and develop a dish has obviously taken a step back. As a fan of their contemporary cuisine, I seriously hope they get everything back on track real soon.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: 46 Banpo-daero 39-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Express Bus Terminal
Tel: +82 2-3477-9386

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