B’Mucho Cantina in Hongdae – more specifically, Yeonnam-dong, the new hipster hangout just to the north – has been on my radar for a while, but it took me until this month to get along there. I’m now cursing the delay, because it’s a terrific spot.
Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air. You must have noticed? All weekend, Gyeongnidan was full of sickening couples engaging in very public displays of affection which you’d never have seen in Korea a few years back (thanks, Obama). My Facebook is still full of nauseating photos of flowers, chocolates, and motivational quotes about love. Me, I spent Sunday in bed with my oldest partner, the flu, and mostly watched TV.
But nothing says love in Korea like a nice upmarket Italian meal, and so, on that very very shaky hook, let’s chat about one of the nicest; Scopa the Chef, in Itaewon.
[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This location has now closed, unfortunately.]
Chef Santino Sortino is something of a veteran of the Italian food scene in Seoul, and Scopa the Chef in Itaewon is a new sister restaurant to the original in Cheongdam. Now, I’m normally far too cheap to go fine dining in Cheongdam, but the opening of a high-quality restaurant a short stagger from my flat is enough of a reason for me to try something new. So one fine evening a couple of weeks ago I rounded up an accomplice and we went to see what Scopa had to offer.
It’s well hidden in the most unprepossessing of alleyways just off the new ‘hot’ food street overlooking Noksapyeong, which already boasts Little Baja, Gino’s NY Pizza, Gilbert Burger, Coreanos and Manimal among several others. The small exterior opens into a nice space, just large enough to give you a shout of getting a table, but not big enough for it to be impersonal.
The menu is varied and changes from time to time – this was what it looked like on the evening I visited.
The wine list comes separately and runs the gamut from pricey to very pricey. There are options under 50,000 won, but if you want to wander in for a bowl of spaghetti bolognese and a glass or two of plonk, you might be better off elsewhere.
We started with the carpaccio of beef (above). It was terrific, but the copious use of truffle paste in the dish might put some off – the smell of truffle was coming off the plate even before the waiter set it down in front of us. Lacking in subtlety, then, but with shavings of parmesan, fresh rocket (ruccola) and a judicious use of black pepper, the strong flavours did work well. Again, not a cheap dish – the price varies depending on the ingredients being used on any given day – but it hovered around the 40,000 won mark.
After that came the pasta. I ordered a most unphotogenic bowl of carbonara with Italian sausage. It was pretty perfect. The sausage, slightly spicy and distinctly fennelly, came through loud and clear; the carbonara was a billion miles from the creamy monstrosities usually served under this name elsewhere in the city (and, it should be said, around the world). It’s quite a heavy dish so I was left more than satisfied, but I could have eaten twice as much. Very nice.
My companion preferred to get chitarra e vongole, with white wine, tomatoes, eggplant and clams. This was a presentation designed to impress. If we’d been on a date, this would have been the point where she started to think that maybe the old man wasn’t really too bad-looking if you ignored the double chin and paunch. Since we weren’t on a date, she just shut up and demolished the pasta. I managed to get a taste of it and it was terrific, fresh-tasting, garlicky and moreish. A simple dish executed well.
Both dishes were cooked al dente, another thing so rare in Korea where pasta is almost never served with ‘bite’.
Our total bill with shared starter, two pastas and a couple of [good] beers came to a bit over 110,000 won, if memory serves. If you’re comfortable dining at this price point, I’d happily recommend Scopa – there are plenty of places where you’d eat half as well for twice the price. Even if you’re a broke teacher looking for a spot for a special occasion, Scopa is worth checking out. If you prefer a more “home cooked” style of Italian food, or want more bang for your buck, go to Brera in Beotigogae and eat twice as much.
- Category: Italian
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Carbonara con salsiccie (26,000 won)
- Directions: From Itaewon station, come out of exit 2 and walk along the right hand side of the road towards Noksapyeong. When you get to the hill opposite McDonald’s, walk up the street and Scopa is in the second small alleyway on the right (see photo below). From Noksapyeong, come out of exit 2, walk over the footbridge to the other side of the intersection, and turn right, walking past Little Baja, Coreanos and down into Itaewon before turning left before you reach the bottom of the hill.
- Hours: 5:30pm – midnight (they’re not open for lunch). Call 070-8826-7732 for reservations.
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.