The burritos, burgers and chilli bowls of Gyeongnidan’s Cali Kitchen have been a vital source of sustenance for many of us for a couple of years now; come rain or shine, owner Chuck Chun has been serving up a taste of California since mid-2015.
Having outgrown the original space behind Maloney’s pub, Chuck closed down operations during the spring of 2017 in order to bring his new concept to reality. It’s been an agonising wait for some of us, but with the partial help of a Kickstarter campaign to help them over the line, to which I contributed a small amount (does that make me an investor? are royalty cheques about to come flooding in? I can dream…), the newly rebranded California Kitchen and Craft Pub officially opens today after a short soft opening, and I’m pleased to say that it’s a winner.
I probably spend as much time drinking as I do eating, but as this blog focuses mostly on restaurants I don’t tend to blog (or Instagram) my boozy exploits very much. (Also, I have a public image to uphold!) It would be remiss of me, though, not to comment on a great little bar that opened up in the last weeks of 2016 in the back streets of Itaewon.
I recently realized that to my genuine surprise I’d never written about one of my favourite places in the city, and certainly my favourite place to get a cocktail, the mighty Mix&Malt. Anyone who follows my Instagram knows that I spend far too much time and money there, but for those who don’t and are somehow still out of the loop, here are my top five reasons to hop a bus, subway or taxi up to Hyehwa.
Here it is, the most eagerly awaited post of the year; the second annual Soju Sunrise Food Awards, showcasing the best foreign food that I think Seoul has to offer. No doubt squadrons of restaurateurs are reading this with fear in their souls, whole chains poised to collapse if they aren’t mentioned in my year-end review. What can I say? With great power comes great responsibility.
As with last year’s favourites – quite a few of whom return this year – I don’t present this list as a definitive “best of” but rather a compilation of my favourites, the places I return to again and again, the places that made 2016 worth persevering with. No doubt in each category there are better places around, and you should feel free to set me right in the comments – but these are the places that pop up again and again on my Instagram feed.
Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and see you all in 2017!
Readers occasionally complain that I don’t write about enough places outside the Itaewon “bubble” – a bit unfair (as a quick look at my Seoul food map page will demonstrate), though I do see their point. Well, today I am reviewing a restaurant so far out of the city that I won’t even attempt to put it on the map; the mighty Sweet Oak in far-flung Wonju.
Since returning to Seoul a couple of weeks ago from a long break overseas, I have spent most of my time grazing at old favourites – Linus BBQ, Don Charly, Coreanos Kitchen, Vatos, and Firebell burger and Dongin Dong south of the river, among others – and neglected the many changes in the HBC / Gyeongnidan neighbourhood in the last few months. Since I left for South America at the start of September, literally dozens of new places have opened in this neck of the woods, all of which spells bad news for me, my cardiologist, shirtmaker and love life. (Women are using me constantly so far in 2015, but only for my knowledge of foreign food in Itaewon, which doesn’t really help.)
So as we enter mid January, it’s time to try some new things. I started off yesterday with lunch at the new and improved Lobster Bar in Itaewon, which was terrific and recommended to all (though, at 49,000 won for a full lobster, it is expensively – albeit fairly – priced by any Seoul benchmark).
As night fell, I took two Korean friends to the newest addition to the Gyeongnidan scene, Revolución, which is up the hill behind Maloney’s Pub. It’s a little tricky to find, which in my book is a good thing – and, being just three weeks old, its footprint on Korean blogosphere and social media is so scanty that my co-conspirators initially refused to believe that it existed. But it does, and when you get to the top of a steep but short hill, a warm welcome awaits you.
Revolución is fairly small – space for maybe twenty people seated, and a few more standing – but looks really funky from the outside and has a great ambience once you’re in. This is undoubtedly helped by the lovely wood-burning stove in the corner, which kept us warm despite the occasional draught from the door.
Revolución‘s beer selection includes four locally-brewed options – Itaewon Pale Ale, a Red Line Pilsner (my favourite), World Record Stout and a Citrus Hefeweizen – all extremely reasonably priced at or under 7,000 won for a pint. They also carry a range of Belgian bottled beers, which obviously will run you a little more. I believe there are plans to expand and tweak the beer selections in the coming months.
Food-wise, there is a choice of two hot sandwiches and a couple of other bits and pieces. The Cubano was terrific. My first experience of a Cuban sandwich, it contains thinly sliced ham and cheese, salami and chunks of another meat (roasted beef?), anchored with a little pickle and some wholegrain mustard. No idea if it’s authentic, but it was damn good.
The roast duck sandwich was also very tasty, with some greens, brie and tomato in there and a very generous filling of juicy duck. It was a bit too challenging to eat, the duck refusing to come away in the mouth as easily as the crisp bread, leading to a bit of reconstruction of fallen bits of meat and filling in the basket. If this can be fixed it’ll be another winner.
The stars, for me, were the two cheapest and simplest items; the superb Jamaican meat patties, which in Britain I suppose we would call pasties, served piping hot with a filling of spicy, almost curry-like minced beef. Just 4,000 won each, they were perfect with a cold beer. Loved these.
My other highlight was the chips – proper, thick-cut, perfectly cooked chips, not the poor imitations you get elsewhere. Frankly, I could have eaten these all night, if I thought there was a better than 50% chance of making it back home to HBC without a taxi. Perfect.
Overall, I really liked this place. The owners were chatty and friendly, the food and beer was top-notch, and the whole bar had a nice vibe. It’s hidden away enough to have the feel of a secret neighbourhood speakeasy, but was busy enough on a Tuesday night, after just three weeks of operation, for us to be optimistic that it’s here to stay.
Just don’t let the Tasty Road people in here, please! Hopefully the Revolución will not be televised.
- Category: Bar / Latin American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Cubano sandwich, chips
- Subway: Noksapyeong (녹사평역) exit 2
- Directions: Come out of Noksapyeong station and walk up towards Namsan / HBC. Cross the road and turn right at Noxa and walk up Gyeongnidan street, past the Wellbeing Mart. At Maloney’s Pub, turn right up a short but steep hill and Revolución is at the top, just on your right.
- Hours: 6pm until 12 midnight, 7 days a week. Weekend brunch opening 10am-2pm is planned. See their Facebook page for more details.