soju sunrise

Bite-size Review: Food Truck at Fat Cat in Haebangchon

restaurants | November 13, 2015 | By

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With the weekend almost upon us, here’s a quick shout out for a new late-night food option in HBC. One corner of Fat Cat, the very nice cafe / restaurant formerly known as Indigo and Il Gattino, is now occupied by a takeaway sandwich window, styled as a “Food Truck” though there are no trucks to be seen.

[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This location has now closed. Fat Cat continues to serve excellent sandwiches in the same premises, and Leo Jehn runs a cocktail bar upstairs, which also offers sandwiches, empanadas and other snack foods.]

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Open from 6pm every day (except Monday) and until 3am on Friday and Saturday night, proprietor Leo Jehn is serving up three varieties of filled baguettes to the hungry revellers of HBC, and I’m pleased to say that they definitely hit the spot.

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There’s a Mexican chicken sub, with home-pickled onions, a bit of melted cheese, and tomato slices which Leo marinated, if I recall what he told me, in raspberry vinegar.

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Just mildly spicy, I drizzled a bit of extra sriracha on there once I got home to amp up the chilli level. As ever with things Mexican, it tastes a lot better than it looks.

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The star, for me, was the meatball sub (above). Three golf-ball sized meatballs with great texture and a hint of crushed red chilli in there, and a slather of marinara sauce.

IMG_2367I might have preferred a bit more sauce, but as Leo pointed out, these sandwiches are made for eating on the go and packing the baguette with another ladleful of piping hot tomato sauce would probably be a recipe for disaster. After making the sandwich freshly to order in front of you, it spends a couple of minutes in the oven to crisp up the bread and heat up the filling.

There’s also a tandoori chicken sub which I haven’t yet tried. All the sandwiches are 7,000 won and that represents fine value for money. They’re easy to eat, pleasingly filling, and a godsend for those of us who have to work (or play) late on a weekend night. Recommended.

  • Category: Sandwich
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: Meatball sub (7,000 won)
  • Directions: Fat Cat is on the main HBC drag, just opposite Bonny’s Pizza.
  • Hours: 6pm – late Tuesday – Sunday, with 3am closing time on Friday and Saturday nights.

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Bite-size Review: Nagomi Ramen in Hongdae

restaurants | October 21, 2015 | By

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I know jack-all about ramen except what I’ve picked up from three visits to Japan, the last one of which was spent slurping down bowls of the stuff in various parts of Tokyo. As the saying goes, I don’t know much, but I know what I like. And I like Nagomi Ramen. A lot. It’s like a Japanese guy strangled a pig with a fistful of noodles and squeezed until there was a bowlful of happy juice in front of me.

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It’s in Hongdae, and so well-hidden you’ll need a map to find it – which, luckily, you’ll find at the bottom of this capsule review. On my first visit years ago, I remember being really happy, but Hongdae is a long way to go for lunch, so despite retaining a good memory of the place, I hadn’t been back.

But I was in Hongdae during the day this week, so I got hold of a compass and some orienteering gear and managed to track it down.

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The menu is quite short, offering just four types of ramen.

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I went for the char siu ramen, since I love the meaty broth and the charred pork on top. At 8,000 won, the most expensive option on the menu.

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It was superb. According to other blog posts about this place, this is Kyushu-style ramen, with a stock based on pork bones with added chicken or vegetable broth to lighten and modulate the overall flavour. Whatever.

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The broth was very meaty and just the right kind of oily – I’d have happily drunk a bowl of this without any noodles or anything else. There was plenty of roughly chopped garlic in there, a goodly amount of spring onion (scallion), lots of thin noodles lurking under the surface, and no bean sprouts – which I don’t mind, but which I feel are overused in some other places.

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Look at that pork. Definitely the best and most generous serving of pork I’ve had in any ramen shop in Korea, there was more pork in this ramen than I get in Menya Sandaime in Itaewon (my normal lunch go-to) even when I order with the “extra pork” 추가 option, which I usually do.

Unbelievably, the menu says you can get extra char siu for another 2,000 won. Does that apply to the char siu ramen as well, I wonder? If it does, I don’t know where they’d fit it in the bowl.

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A little dish of pickled thingummybobs comes on the side, and they have small pots of kimchi on the table, to which I helped myself freely.

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I’m calling it: Nagomi Ramen is without doubt the best ramen I’ve had in Seoul. No doubt some reader with a PhD in Applied Noodleology will be able to advise me on why I’m wrong and where I should go instead, but in the interim, head to Nagomi and enjoy.

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  • Category: Japanese
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: I’ve only tried the char siu ramen (차슈면), which is the one on the top right if you don’t read hangeul. I’m sure they’re all good, but that’s the one I vouch for.
  • Subway: Hongdae (역) exit 9.
  • Directions: Yeah, you’re just going to have to look at the map, which I promise you is accurate. Easiest is probably to come out of Hongdae exit 9 and walk along the main road and take the first road left after the main street up to Hongik University. After that, turn third left when you see the CU Mart. You might need to ask someone, or paste “나고미앤겐로쿠” into Naver Maps and follow the little blinking dot on your phone to porky heaven.
  • Hours: 11:30am – 9pm every day.
  • Address in Korean: 서교동 370-24 지하 1층  Tel: 02-324-8545

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Bite-size Review: Cali Kitchen in Gyeongnidan

restaurants | July 20, 2015 | By

Throughout Gyeongnidan and HBC, new restaurants and cafes are popping up faster than moles on the golf course in Caddyshack. The latest opening is Cali Kitchen, which marks the first foray into bricks-and-mortar for Chuck Chun, who brought us the popular pop-up Chuck’s Table in recent months.

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Unusually for the area, Chuck has decided to open on a Monday, which is great news for us long-suffering HBC residents whose days off fall at the beginning of the week rather than the more usual weekend. So I dropped in to see what was what.

[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This location has now closed, with Cali Kitchen reopening a little further up the street in more spacious premises. See my review for more information.]

Cali Kitchen occupies the spot previously occupied by a trendy curry place much beloved of the Tasty Road crowd, but apparently not beloved enough. That accounts for the slightly odd blue chocolate-box decor, which may or may not survive into the future.

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The menu’s still very much in its introductory soft-open phase (as are the prices, possibly). Burgers, burritos and chili all feature, as do some good beers. I decided to get a burrito, with a choice of carnitas or carne asada. The carnitas was recommended to me, and I am a sucker for slow pulled pork, so that was what I picked, with some extra guacamole packed in there for an extra 3,000 won.

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Good choice. The burrito came out freshly made to order with a little side dish of salsa. I was pleased to see that it was properly Andy-sized.

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Biting into it gave me a good hit of coriander (cilantro) and plenty of soft, succulent pork. There were some black lentils in there rather than the more traditional beans – a change-up of which I thoroughly approve – as well as some corn, which personally I’m less wild about, but whatever. The ratio of fillings to rice was also pleasingly generous.

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As I went on, the guacamole began to assert itself – lots of garlic in there, it was far better than some of the anaemic guac you get here in Seoul.

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Sold. A really good burrito. The owners were friendly and chatty and I didn’t want to leave the airconditioned goodness of Cali Kitchen. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves and grows into the neighbourhood. With Revolucion just up the hill for an after-dinner beer, this neighbourhood continues to move onward and upward.

  • Category: American
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: The burritos. Mind you, it’s the only thing I’ve tried, so who knows?
  • Subway: Noksapyeong exit 2
  • Directions: Come out of Noksapyeong exit 2 and walk up towards Namsan / HBC. Cross the road at the underpass and walk up Gyeongnidan-gil. Turn right at Maloney’s Pub, and Cali Kitchen is just a few metres further, on the left hand side.
  • Hours: Open 7 days for lunch and dinner, with a mid-afternoon break. Check out their FB page for more details.

cali kitchen map

Bite-size Review: Sid Burger near City Hall

restaurants | June 30, 2015 | By

2015-06-30 13.28.35On Facebook there is a rather great page called Burger Lovers Seoul, which does exactly what it says in the description. When two of the most venerable members of the group posted within a few hours of each other to say that there was a new place we should try, it was a no-brainer. So today, with a day off, I braved the humidity to walk through the city streets in search of Sid Burger.

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The newest venture from Sid Kim, the co-founder of Vatos, Sid Burger is no more nor less than a hole-in-the-wall concession stand in a food court in the middle of the city. Don’t let that put you off, though, because it’s a great burger, and well worth seeking out, especially if you find yourself anywhere near City Hall on a lunchtime.

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Once inside the “Over The Dish” food court (directions are at the bottom of this post), keep walking past the other counters and you’ll come to Sid Burger further inside.

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The menu is pretty simple: several varieties of burgers, all of which come with an order of fries, and all of which can be served up either as one traditional-sized burger or as two sliders. There’s a couple of variations on the fries if you’re there in a group, a couple of good beers, and a chicken sandwich which is also highly spoken of.

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Whatever. When I saw pork belly on the menu, I was hooked. The “bossam burger” (as it’s rendered in Korean) comes with a couple of chunks of deep-fried belly pork, a perfectly sunny-side-up fried egg, and a hit of ssamjang aioli. I knew that was my destiny, so I ordered up, paid my 11,000 won, took my buzzer and waited for it to buzz.

7 or 8 minutes later, the buzzer buzzed and I sat down to enjoy my food.

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As is my weird custom, I started with the chips (fries). They had a light dusting of sweet paprika and were served with a small side of ketchup. They were… OK. Neither fantastic nor bad, just OK. A little dry and crumbly, but with the ketchup I wolfed them down quickly enough all the same.

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On to the main event. The burger was great. The patty was perfectly seasoned and well-cooked, maybe a little on the well-done side of medium but very juicy, flavourful, and just – yes. The pork belly was seared to perfection and the egg worked well on top.

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Some on the Facebook group had commented that the burger fell apart very easily. Mine didn’t. It was a completely satisfying burger which I devoured in record time, even by my standards.

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Bear in mind this is a food court, albeit a superior one – there are a whole bunch of other franchises and people milling around eating whatever takes their fancy. So it has the ambience of a food court – don’t go expecting white linen napkins and personal service.

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That proviso aside, I would thoroughly recommend Sid Burger to anyone in the area. I wouldn’t necessarily travel across town for it, given that places like Left Coast and Brooklyn offer a fuller dining experience, and Firebell is right next to my office – but that’s not the market Sid is aiming for. A very nice burger in a part of town not overburdened with good quality foreign food options. Sid Burger was terrific, and I’ll be back to try the other offerings soon.

  • Category: American
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: Try all of them. With the mini-burger concept, this is a great place to come with friends and share a few different varieties of burger.
  • Subway: City Hall (시청역) exit 10
  • Directions: Come out of City Hall Station exit 10 and walk along the road for a hundred yards or so. You’ll come to a Paris Baguette Cafe on your right; turn down that street. Another 50 yards in front of you to the right you’ll see the large sign for the Over The Dish food court – you can’t miss it.
  • Hours: Open 7 days to the best of my knowledge, but I am not certain.

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Review: Veteran Kalguksu at Express Bus Terminal

restaurants | April 25, 2015 | By

IMG_0057A couple of months ago, as documented in this post, I spent a day or so in Jeonju, the culinary capital of Korea, eating and drinking my way round some of the signature foods of the region. There were lots of good things packed into that 24 hours or so, not least a really nice bibimbap on our way back to the bus station, but the undoubted highlight for me was – wait for it – a bowl of soup. No ordinary soup, this was the kalguksu (noodle soup) at the mighty Veteran in central Jeonju. A thick, hearty, lifechanging bowl of soup, a soup that brought me closer to Jesus and all His saints, a soup to make a man smash out all his teeth just to have an excuse never to eat solid food again. I supped on the broth in my dreams, and woke up sweating.

In case I’m being unclear, I really liked the soup.

So when my friend Sky casually dropped into conversation a couple of weeks back that there was a branch of Veteran in Seoul, I felt like strangling her with a knife-cut noodle. Why didn’t you tell me, I shouted, almost weeping with the injustice of it all. Why have you allowed this soup to be absent from my life for even a moment longer than necessary? There was not a moment to waste. I buried her body in an unmarked plot near the river and made a beeline for Express Bus Terminal, where this soupy nirvana was promised to me.

Seoul_Bus_401All buses were leading to Express Bus Terminal! It was a sign from Jebus, or perhaps the Flying Noodle Monster – He (or She) wanted me to be one with everything, but particularly with the soup. I jumped off the bus while it was still moving, I strode through the doors on a mission. Commuters parted before me, probably assuming I was late for a bus, or perhaps running for a tearful reunion with a loved one, which in a sense I was. And suddenly, there was the sign.

IMG_0054I hadn’t been this excited since Uma Thurman wore a leather catsuit in The Avengers back in 1998. There were a couple of other items on the menu, but my focus was laser-like. Within a couple of minutes, out came the soup. It looked the same. It smelled the same. Was it the same?

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Atop the soup, all present and correct, are the Holy Trinity of savoury flavourings that elevates this bowl of noodles past the ordinary: gochugaru (red pepper flakes), roasted seaweed flakes, and ground perilla seeds.

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It’s this last that makes Veteran’s kalguksu, if not exactly unique, at least different. I only discovered yesterday that the deulkkae seeds, (들깨 in Korean) also known as wild sesame, are the seeds of the perilla leaf, or gaennip (깻잎), which is one of my favourite parts of any Korean BBQ meal, so much more interesting than flavour-killing lettuce. So the perilla plant is now my favourite plant, albeit in a less than crowded field. In its seedier form, the perilla gives an edge to the broth that I can’t quite describe – a bit nutty, and indeed a little like roasted sesame seeds. Or maybe coriander seeds. Whatever. I like the seeds.

IMG_0061Veteran’s kalguksu also boasts a broth far richer and cloudier than the norm, thickened with egg and, no doubt, all sorts of other goodness. I take a tentative sip: so far, so good. Just look at that f*cking broth.

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But now comes the ultimate test; the noodles. Are they the same as the original? I grab the slippery strands with the chopsticks and bite.

IMG_0063Chewy. I’m home.

There’s no doubt that Veteran, sited as it is in the middle of the busiest bus terminal in the country, lacks the atmosphere and majesty of the Jeonju headquarters, and it suffers a little from the holiday wine syndrome – that bottle of cheap vino blanco that tasted like heaven at a little table on the beach with freshly-caught white fish somehow loses its charm when you uncork it on a wet Wednesday night in Huddersfield.IMG_0058

But, having been back a couple of times now, I’m convinced that the soup itself remains of the very highest quality. It’s bursting with flavour, feels healthy even if I’m sure it’s not, and endlessly warming and filling – this would be great in winter, I think. It doesn’t seem to get much love from users on Naver, which puzzles me. Maybe there’s something about the herbiness of the soup that doesn’t make everyone happy. Well, if that gets me a seat at lunchtime, so much the better.

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Can I honestly recommend that you travel halfway across the city just to try it? Well, if you do, half of you will fall in love and the other half will be wondering why the hell I was raving about it. If you’re not the sort of person who thinks they could fall in love with a bowl of soup, then you should probably look elsewhere for your lunch tomorrow. But I do think everyone owes it to themselves to try it, and find out if you hear the angels singing to you as I did.

Judging by the popularity of this place at lunchtime – I walked in at ten past two on a Friday and it was full – it’s only a matter of time until other branches open around the city, if they haven’t already. Until then, all roads lead to Veteran.

  • Category: Korean
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try:  Please don’t ask silly questions.
  • Subway: Express Bus Terminal exit 8, follow the signs for Central City and/or the Honam Line.
  • Directions: Veteran is on the left as you enter the building from the main city bus dropoff point / subway exit 8. It’s a bit of a maze in there, so good luck.
  • Hours: No idea. Sorry!

Bite-size Review: The 100 Burger in Haebangchon

restaurants | April 2, 2015 | By

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At lunchtime today I headed up the steep, steep Haebangchon hill to The 100, a brand new hole-in-the-wall burger and sandwich joint in a backstreet near the o-gori at the top of the hill. Also known as 더백푸드트럭, it’s a nice little spot, albeit a bit out of the way of the main HBC / Gyeongnidan action, although as the Korean name suggests there is a food truck of the same name which hopefully will be popping up closer to sea level for those of us who need a bus to get up the road at the best of times.

This is only a “bite-size” review, as I had a burger and nothing else on the menu, and was in and out in twenty minutes. But I’ll certainly be back to try the other items on offer.

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The menu (all in Korean) comprises nachos, a Cubano sandwich, a couple of different burgers and one or two other bits and pieces, as well as juices and beers. I had the 100 Burger – always best to try the signature dish, I think. The 200g patty was handmade in front of me, and it came out with some mixed greens, tomato, swiss (I think) cheese, sauteed onions and a little bit of a sauce with some wholegrain mustard – yum.

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There was also a nice and tangy coleslaw – I’m not generally a fan but I had a few forkfuls and was surprisingly happy to be eating it. Despite what the photo above might suggest, it wasn’t overloaded with mayo.

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Verdict? It was very tasty. Hard to eat, even with the ubiquitous wooden skewer holding it together, it nearly fell apart on me a couple of times, and I found myself scarfing it down quickly just to make sure I didn’t lose any on the ground. That quibble aside, it was a nice burger at a very reasonable price – 7,000 won. The leaves were not your standard-in-Korea massive lettuce overkill, but complemented the nicely seasoned meat well. I stood outside eating in the sunshine and it fortified me nicely for an afternoon of work.

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Despite three burger joints in a row on the HBC main drag – the divisive Jacoby’s, the somewhat meh Burgermine and the execrable Bombs Burger, which I’ve never forgiven for replacing Two Hands Burger – this is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood, and I’ll be back.

  • Category: Burger
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: The 100 Burger
  • Subway: not really
  • Directions: From HBC o-gori (do yourself a favour and get the bus), walk along the street with the convenience store on the lefthand corner and Namsan on your right. You’ll get to The 100 about three or four minutes along the road, on your left.
  • Hours: Apparently 11:30am – 10pm, but don’t take my word for it. It’s newly open so hours may vary.

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