Three of my favourite things; good Korean beef restaurants, restaurants that offer great value for money, and restaurants that offer food in portions large enough to fill my big ol’ belly. So when I heard from my friend Thomas of an all-you-can-eat Korean beef restaurant that combines all three, I was immediately interested.
AYCE deals are nothing unusual around Seoul, but quality varies enormously – unlimited samgyeopsal deals for under 10,000 a head are especially dubious – and there’s usually various conditions attached that annoy me (pay in cash up front, eat up within 90 minutes, and so on). But if Thomas, a trained chef who knows his beef, was impressed by Sododuk, a new restaurant in Gangnam offering unlimited beef at a reasonable price, I was keen to give it a try. And so it was that I found myself venturing to Cheongdam, not an area I frequent when I can avoid it.
[Note: No money, free food or other inducement was asked for or received in return for this post. Soju Sunrise accepts freebies only very occasionally and will always explicitly state if this is the case.]
Sododuk literally means “cow thief” or, more poetically perhaps, a cattle rustler. At 19,800 won a head, prices here are certainly a steal by Cheongdam standards, or indeed anywhere in Seoul for good quality beef. Unsurprising, then, that on a horribly muggy and humid evening, there were a couple of groups waiting outside to be seated – another pet hate of mine – but we had called ahead to get ourselves on the waiting list and were inside within five minutes.
Inside, the restaurant was spacious but stuffy, thanks to all the blazing charcoal. We were seated next to a powerful air conditioner, which was a mercy, but it was still pretty warm – if, like me, your tolerance for eating in humid warm restaurants is pretty low, you might want to wait until after the summer, or go later at night when it is quiet.
The main event here is the AYCE beef, of course, for 19,800 won (half price for kids). It’s mostly American beef, except for the 등심 (ribeye) which is Korean. You can also order other bits and pieces like mushrooms for the grill, doenjangjjigae and cold noodles, and there’s even a self service ramen machine (below).
As with many meat restaurants, the side vegetables and sauces are all self-service, which is a feature I quite like as it allows me to load up on the things I particularly enjoy without guiltily pressing the buzzer every five minutes. This “self bar” was one of the best I have seen, with supplies of fresh leaves, sauces, garlic and kimchi being replenished on a rolling basis and even a sign noting the farm of origin of the lettuce leaves.
Within a minute or two, the charcoal appeared, and our already growling stomachs kicked into overdrive. Good things were about to happen, and we couldn’t wait.
The beef came to the table in a small assortment of cuts and we piled it on the grill. You can see the quality right from the start, and the flavour didn’t disappoint.
Pretty glorious stuff and none of us could have any complaint whatsoever. The beef was of really excellent quality for such a relatively low price. At the start it was cooking fast due to the red-hot flame, but as our consumption rate slowed down, the charcoal began to cool down a little and the rate of cooking slowed to match.
Subsequent helpings are served in quite small portions. This could have been an annoyance if service was slow, but there is a bell on each table and we found it to be brisk and efficient, so we never had to wait more than a minute or so for a refill of meat.
We were sitting near the “Gogi Bar” area in which they were preparing the beef, and you could see everything coming out of the large fridges onto a spotlessly clean preparation area, being carved and then loaded straight onto the serving platters, so if you’re one of the many foreigners who has hygiene qualms about some restaurants in Korea, you would be quite happy here.
There’s a maximum time limit, but unlike many other places it’s two hours rather than 90 minutes, which makes quite a difference; there’s no sense of rush and the service is very friendly, and even though the servers were harassed and busy they smilingly made time to take photos of my friends and I without any complaint. In addition to the usual drinks, they also have Hallasan soju, which is a plus, and unlimited-refill carbonated drinks for 2,000 won.
All told, and despite the unbearable hot and sticky weather, I was delighted with Sododuk, which is immediately the best value ACYE Korean BBQ restaurant I have been to in Seoul and a pretty good beef restaurant in its own right. If you can avoid the line peak times (it’s open until 5am, as you can see above) it is highly recommended to anyone in the Gangnam area as one of the best places to get your BBQ fix south of the river.
- Category: Korean / Beef
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Well, the beef.
- Subway: Gangnam Office Station (강남구청역) exit 3-1 / Apgujeong Rodeo (압구정로데오역) exit 4
- Directions: Sododuk is at Hakdong sagori, roughly equidistant from Gangnam Office and Apgujeong Rodeo stations, perhaps marginally closer to the latter. You’ll find Sododuk near the corner of the junction, across the road from a McDonald’s. Look for a large inflatable cow. If you come by taxi, ask for Hakdong sagori (학동사거리) or steer towards the nearby CGV Cheongdam CineCity cinema.
- Address: 서울 강남구 도산대로 404. Tel. 02-3445-0501
- Hours: 5pm to 5am, seven days a week. Avoid peak dinnertime if you can, or phone ahead to get on the waiting list if you speak enough Korean (though some English is spoken).