Italian Food Festival menu at Brera
The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Korea runs an Italian Food Festival every May, with a dozen participating restaurants around the city producing special menus to reflect the diverse cuisine of that nation. Apparently. My concerns are more simple; where can I stuff my face with good, fresh pasta in Seoul without having to search for strands of spaghetti in a sea of “pink” sauce and mortgage all my possessions to afford the bill?
Fortunately, Brera is to the rescue. The Beotigogae restaurant invited me on Wednesday last week to try their special Food Festival set menu, and I took the trusty Canon along to record some photos of the fare they are serving up during the month.
[Full disclosure: Brera compensated me for this post with a free meal. Typically I don’t accept such offers and don’t plan to make a habit of it in future, but since Brera is a restaurant that I regularly eat at, and constantly sing the praises of, I was happy to oblige on this occasion.]
The 55,000 won set menu runs from 1st – 31st May and consists of four courses. The first is the usual bruschetta, which are served up as a duo – one with goats cheese and a little fresh sage, and one with cherry tomatoes and basil. Each comes with a little smidge of fruit jam – orange for the cheese, lemon for the tomato – which offset the toppings nicely. Not an earth-shattering dish but very nice, and it’ll get you right in the mood for your dinner.
Next up on the tasting menu was rigatoni alla Gricia, which is fresh pasta with cured pork jowl and pecorino cheese. Brera’s owner Giovanni tells a story about the dish’s origins, involving shepherds and lunch boxes, but you really need to hear it from him. It’s a blindingly simple dish to make if you have the ingredients to hand, but since this is Korea, you probably don’t.
I’ve had this dish twice at Brera and loved it both times, but you should be aware that it is very salty. The cured pork had a very intense flavour and when you add an equal quantity of sharp, hard pecorino cheese, you get a punchy taste that’s a million miles away from the creamy, mild pasta sauces you often find in Seoul Italian restaurants, so proceed with caution. A glass of some robust red wine like a young Chianti would probably work really well with this dish.
After the pasta course, in typical Italian style, comes the secondo piatto, in this case straccetti alla Romana – beef salad to you and me. It’s another straightforward but very tasty dish of grilled hanger steak with cherry tomato, a little cheese (not too much, thankfully, after the previous two courses) and rucola (rocket or arugula depending on where you come from). This is basically the sort of salad I can get on board with.
It was all good, but the absolute highlight of this for me was the flatbread that came on the side. So damn light and thin, like a pita bread for supermodels, I would have eaten a plate of this on its own with just a drizzle of good olive oil. I don’t know if this is elsewhere on the regular menu, but if it isn’t, it should be. I would move house to be closer to this bread.
After all this I was getting pretty stuffed, but there was one more plate to come, bignè con panna e Nutella. Sweet buns filled with whipped cream and Nutella. Dear God, even I have my limits.
I knew that I couldn’t possibly finish it, but I gave it a try, because I was damned if a Brit was going to be beaten by an Italian for the first time since Julius Caesar in 55 B.C. In the end, though, I had to admit defeat. Gooey, chewy and dense, these buns probably want a cup of coffee to wash them down and a ten-mile run to wash the guilt away.
As I noted at the top, there are twelve restaurants around the city offering a bunch of regional menus for the month of May – full details of menus etc can be found on the Facebook page for the Food Festival. Brera’s menu is the second cheapest, I think, but you can drop six figure sums at some of the other participating establishments if you’re looking for a fancy night out. And obviously the regular a la carte menu is in operation if the thought of pecorino or Nutella isn’t doing it for you.
As I said, I am regularly to be found at Brera, which is my favourite Italian restaurant in Korea whether there’s a food festival on or not. So if you see a large man at a corner table working his way through a huge pile of flatbread, that’ll be me, so come and say hi.
- Category: Italian
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Rigatoni alla Gricia
- Subway: Beotigogae Station (버티고개역) exit 1
- Directions: Beotigogae station is on line 6 a couple of stops past Itaewon. Come out of exit 1 of the station and do a u-turn. There’s a Coffine Gurunaru and a small garage on your right, and you’ll see Brera on the second floor. The entrance is just a few feet up the hill behind that.
- Hours: 11am-10pm Tuesday – Sunday.