Even on the sunniest of summer Seoul days, it isn’t exactly easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself on a Jamaican beach with the sand between your toes. At Trenchtown, a new Caribbean rum bar and restaurant in Itaewon, they’re doing their best to help you try.
[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. A version of this review appears in the July issue of Groove Magazine.]
Brought to you by the people behind the excellent Rye Post a few blocks away, Trenchtown has a relaxed, casual atmosphere that’s predictably heavy on the West Indian theme (if you don’t like reggae, you might prefer to give this one a miss) but tastefully decorated nonetheless. I can live without Bob Marley, but jerk chicken is always going to draw me in – so in the service of my loyal readers, I dropped in there a couple of times since their soft opening last month to see what was going on.
The first thing that greets you as you walk up the steps is the bar, stocked with enough rum to get even Cap’n Jack Sparrow pissed as a parrot – some 40 varieties, in all. Although the menu emphasis currently is on rum-based cocktails such as Rum Punch or an old-fashioned grog, owners Matt Choe and So Im plan to offer tasting flights of rum to help introduce customers to a drink that’s still under the radar to many in Korea.
If you can make it past the bar – I did, eventually – you’ll find plenty of tables to sit down and check out the food options. Trenchtown’s menu leans on classic combinations of jerk-spiced meats like chicken or ribs served up with coconut rice, beans and coleslaw.
Jerk ribs (above) are pleasingly meaty and cooked to perfection, and well priced at 17,000 KRW for a very sizeable half rack – good value and damn tasty, we polished these off in no time.
The jerk chicken (above) is served off the bone, juicy and addictive. Purists will wish that the heat of the seasoning was dialed up a bit more; as tasty as it is, it doesn’t have quite the bite and aromatic kick of an authentic West Indian jerk seasoning. I found it a bit underpowered compared to the jerk chicken I used to enjoy at Tucan in Gyeongnidan, let alone the more authentic ones I’ve tried back in the UK. That said, if the spice level isn’t up to your preference, there’s a trio of hot sauces available including a fiery yellow Scotch Bonnet sauce that will bring tears to your eyes.
Trenchtown also offers something which doesn’t appear on too many Seoul restaurant menus in the form of a terrific goat curry, which may be the star of the show – peppery, full of flavor and tender, this was an absolute winner. For 16,000 won it’s a decent portion too, and don’t worry if you don’t like the idea of munching down on goat – it looks and tastes like lamb, unsurprisingly, and you’d be crazy to miss out on it.
Away from meat, there’s a range of sides such as sweet potato fries, Caribbean-style dumplings (think fried dough balls rather than mandu), and fried plantains. The sides are efficient rather than spectacular, but the coconut rice and beans that are served with most of the dishes hit the spot, particularly with the provided gravy poured over the top.
Standard plates range between 15,000 and 22,000 KRW, with sharing platters combining two or more main dishes with various sides available from 32,000 KRW and up (above is a platter for two people). You can also add extra meat or chicken to your order, and I did just that to ensure that we didn’t leave unsatisfied – portions aren’t small, but if you are a big eater like me you won’t find Trenchtown a particularly cheap place to visit.
Aficionados of authentic West Indian food will find things to quibble about with Trenchtown’s offerings, but there is no doubt that for those of us who can only daydream about a Caribbean holiday it’s the next best thing. I enjoyed it and plan to be back soon – unless I can get to Jamaica first…
- Category: West Indian
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Goat curry (16,000 KRW)
- Subway: Itaewon Station (이태원역) exit 4
- Directions: From Itaewon station exit 4, walk down the road away from the Hamilton Hotel, past Taco Bell and what used to be Left Coast Burgers (and is now Plant). After 5 mins or so you will see Trenchtown on your right – it’s tucked away just off the main road, so keep a keen eye out for the green lighting. You can also check the map below, or plug 서울 용산구 보광로 105 into your Naver map or GPS.
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 5:30 – 10:30pm, with lunch opening planned in the very near future. Find it on Facebook and Instagram.