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’ve never really “got” chicken wings. Yes, I like chicken and I guess I enjoy eating the wings, and they certainly go well with a cold beer, but I can’t really imagine going to a place specifically to eat them. “Wing nites” leave me cold. They are a quintessentially American food; I was once driven an hour and a half across Pennsylvania to eat chicken wings, and I thought (and still think) that the nice people who drove me there were also a little crazy.
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.
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.
Gyeongnidan, 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.
There 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.
“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.)
The 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.
We 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.)
Alongside 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.
Lambs (“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.
Criticisms? 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.
For 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.