soju sunrise

Review: Silence of the Lamb – Beer and meat heaven in Gyeongnidan

restaurants | April 21, 2014 | By

IMG_3193Gyeongnidan, on the other side of the main road from Haebangchon, is the up-and-coming neighbourhood, and has been for a year and more. Saturday nights anywhere between Jacoby’s and Vatos are now an exercise in fighting the crowds, mostly Korean, drawn by the TV crews of shows like Tasty Road on the O’live channel (God, I hate that name) to line up for what seems like hours outside any restaurant willing to bribe the TV company lucky enough to be chosen for the spotlight.

It’s a source of irritation to many foreigners, who feel that their one little bubble of individuality in the sea of cultural and culinary homogeneity that is Seoul is gradually being eroded. On this view, the new Caffe Pascucci in Gyeongnidan – the first chain cafe in the area, if you don’t count Paris Baguette – is a straw in the wind, a chilling look forward to the day when the US base is gone, the skyline is filled with towering apartment complexes, the idiosyncratic foreigner favela gone forever.

IMG_3189There are days when I feel the same, to be honest, but they are offset by the feeling of being part of something exciting and interesting, something you can’t get anywhere else in Korea. And it’s offset by the emergence of new, interesting, and refreshingly different places like the place I’m reviewing today.

IMG_0170“The Silence of the Lamb” sounds like the sort of name you dream up when you’ve had one too many sherries, the sort of name your mate bets you that you won’t go through with, like calling your cat Chairman Meow or naming your rock band The Psychedelic Love Truncheons. But that’s the name, and having visited twice now in the restaurant’s short lifespan – they’ve been open barely a week – I can confirm that these lambs are indeed silent. They are ex-lambs. They have ceased to be.

It’s a big space, high ceilings and a big open floor as you walk in, with an open grill and bar almost in the middle of the restaurant. (I can’t help wondering how they’ll heat it in winter, or for that matter cool it in the summer.) Meat and garlic sizzles on the griddle as you pass, rousing the appetite even of those who may not be fond of lamb (Korean friends, I’m looking at you.)

IMG_3180The menu remains a work in progress, but is based around lamb, as you might expect, imported from New Zealand. Owned by the people behind popular Gyeongnidan bakery The Baker’s Table, the restaurant is also going to offer a range of weekend brunches based on the winning recipes from that establishment – anyone who’s ever had one of those hearty breakfasts, piled high with bacon, bratwurst and potatoes, will know what I mean.

IMG_3192We had the Mongolian lamb, which comes served in a hot griddle pan with some excellent bread, a whole head of roasted garlic and a big heap of thinly sliced raw onion. It was excellent; succulent, nicely spiced and reasonably generous in size. (There’s more lamb hidden beneath those bread slices, don’t worry.)

IMG_0169Alongside it we had the “Country Man” lamb, nominally a snack but in reality probably as filling as the Mongolian lamb, if not more so. More grilled meat chunks fighting for space with onions, peppers and lots of the excellent potatoes for which German cuisine is known. This was probably my favourite.

IMG_0160Lambs (“Lamb“? “Silence“?) has a range of wines and some good beers on tap for reasonable prices. As well as the reliable Bitburger – 7500 won for a full pint, served in a hefty bierkeller-style mug – they have Indica IPA on tap as well as the Gaffel Kölsch, from Cologne – available nowhere else in Korea on draft, according to the owner. Frankly, I’d be happy just to sit here and drink beer all evening, though of course the management might be less so. IMG_0165

IMG_0180Criticisms? Well, lamb is quite expensive in Korea, so the bang for your buck here does have its limits. We only tried two of the main dishes, and they were very tasty, but the Mongolian lamb might have benefited from more bread, or the option of potatoes as a side, to bulk it out a bit more. On the other hand, the “snack” option, the Country Man, was a generous dish at a lower price – I’d have been more than satisfied with that alone. Overall, had we not ordered something with potatoes or some other carbs in it, we would have still been hungry after two dishes and 32,500 won – though admittedly both myself and my dining companion the other evening are men of some scale, so your mileage may definitely vary.

IMG_0177For those less fond of lamb, there are other options on the menu – pulled pork, fish and chips – but they seem almost like afterthoughts. Then again, if you don’t like lamb, don’t go to a lamb restaurant.

This is a great place to go for a casual bite, something a little more formal, or just to go and drink after a long day of work. In truth, I’m not sure exactly what Silence of the Lamb is. Is it a restaurant, or is it a pub? Or is that an essentially British duality which I should put out of my mind? Whatever, I enjoyed my two visits and will definitely be back again soon.

  • Category: European
  • Price: $$$$
  • Hours: 10am – 11pm Tuesday – Sunday. See their Facebook page for more details.
  • Must try: Country Man, any of their brunches, German beer on tap
  • Subway: Noksapyeong (녹사평역) exit 2
  • Directions: Come out of Noksapyeong station exit 2 and walk up the main road in the direction of Namsan, towards Haebangchon. Go down through the underpass to the other side of the road and turn right at Noxa restaurant. Walk up the road (Gyeongnidan-gil) for a couple of minutes until you come to a small junction with a Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours, and turn left there. Silence of the Lamb is about 50m along the road on the left, on the second floor above a large CU Mart. The entrance is at the far end, up an outside staircase.

Lambs map

Review: Don Charly Antojería – Korea’s best Mexican food

restaurants | April 18, 2014 | By

IMG_3174Walking past Craftworks last week, a surprising discovery: what looked like a new restaurant opening up, directly next door. Surprise turned to delight. Don Charly, everyone’s favourite hole-in-the-wall, six-seater taco joint in Gyeongnidan, finally opening the full-size restaurant we had dreamed of. Could it be? Yes, it was.

Let me preface this by saying that I am Scottish, and therefore know as much about authentic Mexican food as I do about getting an even suntan, not being an alcoholic, or winning a World Cup. Nonetheless, I’ll put this out there; in an admittedly less than crowded field, this is clearly the best Mexican food in Korea.

IMG_3188The menu is still a work in progress, as Don Charly’s Antojería has been open barely a week. (Always at the cutting edge, this blog.) Antojitos are snacks – think Mexican tapas – so what you get here are tacos, quesadillas (real ones) and other dishes that are three or four big bites in size, rather than plates groaning with burritos the size of your head.

IMG_3184 IMG_3185Regulars of the original location will be pleased to see some of the tacos they know and love, present and correct on the menu. The shrimp tacos (Camarones a la crema de chipotle) combine a little spice with the sweetness and coolness of generous slices of avocado. The Alambre taco has grilled beef, green pepper and onions. Both are superb.

Taco camarones Taco AlambreMy new favourite taco is probably the Choriqueso taco – home made chorizo and melted cheese. Goddamn, this was good.

Taco choriquesoThe sopesitos are thick, round fried corn tortillas with the fillings piled on top. The Chorizo con heuvo sopesita, pictured below, hits the spot. Photos don’t do it justice, especially when you are continually messing up the white balance on your new camera. I guess I’ll just need to go back this weekend and reshoot all the pictures again.

IMG_0115 - Version 2The food kept on coming. We tried to stop ordering, but our mouths would not obey our brains, or perhaps it was the other way around. Regulars will recognise the Cochinita taco reinvented as a sopesito, pulled pork balanced with orange and piquant pickled red onions. A strong flavour, but another winner.

Sopesito cochinitaThey also do really nice quesadillas – again, in the Mexican style, rather than American; corn masa, folded over and fried. The chicken quesadilla (Tinga de pollo), below, was pretty hot, more so than many of the other items, which were spicy rather than fiery.

Quesadilla tinga de polloThe drinks are reasonably priced here and my margarita was a thing of beauty, ringed with red pepper powder rather than the more typical salt. I could have done with it being a bit stronger – I’m not a fan of the frozen margarita, as a rule – but it’s a minor complaint.

IMG_0109 - Version 2There is also an extensive tequila menu for those who like to indulge. (I don’t drink tequila; last time I did, there was some… unpleasantness.)

IMG_3186 IMG_3187Short version: to paraphrase the Lego movie, everything is awesome. Don Charly is “Mex-Mex” food, so calibrate your expectations accordingly, and I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed. I loved everything we tried, and we tried almost everything. I know this sounds like a paid infomercial, but there it is.

IMG_0107 - Version 2The restaurant is exponentially bigger than the original location, but still fairly snug; I’d estimate there is space for 25-30 people or so, but I may be off. The original location, up the hill in Gyeongnidan, is closed for two or three weeks, but they intend to reopen it exactly as before once things have settled down at the new venue.

It’s one of these places that I hesitate to recommend to people, because every person who becomes a fan is one more person ahead of me in the queue for a choriqueso taco. It’s right next to Craftworks, so they should have good foot traffic, and I’m worried it’ll soon be featured on some Korean food show and – boom, there will be half-hour queues to get in. I hope, when that day comes, they remember their original customers…

 

  • Category: Mexican
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: Cochinita sopesita, Choriqueso taco, and everything else
  • Subway: Noksapyeong (녹사평역) exit 2
  • Directions: Come out of Noksapyeong station and walk up towards Namsan / HBC. Cross the road and pass Noxa. As you come to Craftworks, Don Charly is there on the right.
  • Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12 – 3pm for lunch, and 5:30 – 10pm for dinner. Check out their Facebook page for more details.

 

Review: Left Coast Artisan Burgers in Itaewon

restaurants | April 2, 2014 | By

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[July 2017 update: This location has now closed, with Left Coast reopening in new premises up the street behind the Hamilton Hotel.]

Because, you know, I’ve been eating too healthily. More burgers. All of the burgers.

IMG_2549Left Coast mostly eschews the “obvious” burger choices in favour of interesting alternatives. The Juicy Lucy (above) has a patty stuffed with cheese, the whole slathered in caramelised onions. It was a great burger, though I found the sweetness of the onions a bit much (and I love onions). The bun was perfect and the seasoning was also good, which isn’t always the case in Korean burger places.

More to my taste was the John Wayne burger which I had on my second visit, which sticks bacon and a huge onion ring on top of the burger and then BBQ’s up the whole thing just to keep you on your toes. Just… wow.

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My whiny lunch companion yesterday had the fried chicken burger (below), and it was so good that even he was satisfied.

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The star of the show, in many people’s views, is the galbi fries. This dish may well be influenced by a certain Mexican-Korean fusion taco place up the road in Itaewon… but these chips surpass the kimchi fries at Vatos, largely by not having kimchi on them.

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In the photo above, the galbi is replaced by pulled pork, as they were out of galbi topping on the day I visited with my camera, snapping away like a dick. They were every bit as good. Really, the flavour of the chips together with the pork and the onions was superb.

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Left Coast also make great homemade tater tots, which is obviously an American thing. But a perfectly cooked, fluffy potato croquette (as I would call it) is a universally good thing.

On my most recent visit I decided to go beyond the burger menu and try the bao buns. These are little Chinese bread buns, very soft and slightly sweet, of the sort you sometimes get in Chinese lamb skewer places in Seoul. At Left Coast, they are piled high with alternative fillings – galbijjim or chicken, or (as in this case) seared pork belly with cucumber matchsticks and fresh coriander.

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Seriously, these were the business. The only possible criticism would be that after three of them, the sweetness of the glaze on the pork started to get a bit overwhelming for my taste. But really, they were fantastic. Definitely on the agenda for next time.

It is worth noting that Left Coast can get a little pricey. Burgers run more expensive than Brooklyn Burger by 2-3,000 won, and sides, though reasonably priced, add to the total bill. I don’t care, as I’m happy to pay for quality food and foreign restaurants are always more expensive than local cuisine. Note also that some dishes on the menu change regularly; the one below, which is taken from Left Coast’s Facebook page, was for January, I think, but most of these items are on the current one.

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Left Coast is excellent. On my first couple of visits I was impressed but not knocked out, but the range of great items on their menu, and their attention to the little details, has converted me. I still give Brooklyn Burger the top spot – just – for their actual burgers, which I reckon are superior. But overall Left Coast is becoming a favoured spot, and my waistline is expanding to match. Recommended.

  • Category: American
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try:Little Piggy bao buns
  • Subway: Itaewon (이태원역) exit 1
  • Directions: Come out of Itaewon station exit 4 and walk down the street away from the Hamilton Hotel, past the Taco Bell and Chef Meili’s Austrian deli. Left Coast is a couple of minutes on your right – keep your eyes open for the sign at the top of this review.
  • Hours: Open seven days a week from 11:30am, closes 10pm weeknights and 11pm Friday/Saturday.

left coast map