Hof mirrors cheery spirit of Bavarian beer festivalAs you read this, giant steins are being raised, clashed and drained in Munich: approximately 6 million liters of beer disappear annually in the world's greatest drinking festival. Missed it? Well, a couple of Seoul hotels hold mini-Oktoberfests for local suds lovers, but if you miss those, there is a place where -- in terms of the quality of beer and food served -- it is Oktoberfest every day: Memories, a restaurant and bar in Itaewon.
The proprietor, the German expat Konrad Wermers, serves one of the finest ranges of German imports in town. Among the lagers are the common Becks and the excellent Bittbutger and Warsteiner pilsners; wheat beers include Franziskaner and Erdinger (both first-class); and dark beers extend to Becks, Kostrizer and the impressive "alt" or old beer, Diebels. Party barrels of Bittburger, Diebels and Becks (75,000 won each) are available for thirsty souls not content with mere bottles. Food matches? Lagers and pilsners make excellent appetizers, the smokier wheat beers suit smoky meats, and dark beers complement sausages.
Food matches? Indeed. Memories is more than a bar; it's one of the most authentic European restaurants in town. (The un-Teutonic moniker was chosen to distinguish it from the many ersatz hofs around town).
"I cook for the stomach -- not the eyes," declares Mr. Wermers, laying out his philosophy. The food is not a thing of beauty on the plate, and his restaurant is not particularly stunning decor-wise; this is not trendy nouvelle or pretentious haute cuisine, but hearty German/Central European fare. Such is Mr. Wermers' confidence that he doesn't charge anyone unsatisfied. There is a wide range of set menus and an impressive a la carte; and you should inquire about daily specials.
To begin: goulash and lentil soups, at 4,500 won ($4) each, are heartily loaded with ingredients and flavored with caraway seed, imparting a clean, mint-like taste. The lentil soup was recommended by the manager of one of Seoul's finest hotels, and the goulash is as good as anything this writer ate in Hungary. Steak tartare (minced raw beef; 19,000 won) is a classic recipe, but beyond Korea's native raw beef dish, yuk-hoe, raw meat is rare (forgive the pun) in Seoul. Here it is served with a wide range of condiments -- paprika, black pepper, capers -- for the diner to mix to his taste, and sealed with an egg yolk. Bliss.
The Fatherland is famed for wurst (sausage) so grilled bratwurst is a must (12,500 won). Two substantial sausages are served with a heap of homemade sauerkraut and roast potatoes cooked with onions and bacon. With German mustards -- hot, mild and grain -- this is faultless. Jager schnitzel (breaded pork tenderloin with a mushroom sauce;18,500 won) with flour-dumplings is another winner. Eisbein, (Pigs' trotters; 19,500 won), is also recommended; for hardcore wurst addicts, the sausage platter (six varieties for 29,500 won) beckons.
Criticisms? Service is leisurely; this is a family-run restaurant (Mr. Wermer runs the kitchen; his wife, the service) and they will not be rushed. But, as noted above, a few brews fill the time admirably.
Verdict: For no-nonsense meats, spuds and suds, this low-key restaurant is one of the top eateries in Seoul. So visit -- prosit!
English, Korean and German spoken.
Tel: (02) 795-3544.
Location: Opposite Hamilton Hotel, next to Gecko's Terrace.
Subway: Itaewon; No parking
Fit: Those who crave beer, meat and potatoes ?in large quantities.
Dress: Casual (wear a loose belt)
by Andrew Salmon