Hongdae restaurants moving upscale with Penang setting new standardsDining in the Hongdae area, the neighborhood near Hongik University in northwestern Seoul, used to mean cheap Korean meals in small eateries geared for frugal college kids. When more exotic Asian foods were introduced a few years ago, proprietors kept the low-priced, low-maintenance formula. Not anymore.
A few restaurants, including the Chinese restaurant Penang, have recently been revamped to attract deep-pocketed diners who might otherwise head to upscale restaurants in southern Seoul.
For starters, Penang, housed in a brick building on the street that runs past Hongik University’s main gate, offers valet parking. That’s a hint: most students don’t drive. The interior is far from typical for Chinese restaurants. Penang has cream-colored plaster walls, colorfully tiled staircases and a wooden floor. Outdoor seating on the first-floor patio or on the second-floor terrace, surrounded by morning glory blossoms, makes for a romantic evening.
A couple of courteous, attentive young waitresses keep your cup filled with jasmine tea throughout your meal.
If you don’t choose one of the set-course dinners, which start at 25,000 won ($20), they’ll recommend a light starter, a main dish and a rice or noodle dish, accompanied by the house wine or Chinese liquor. For a simple meal, a small bottle of the distictively powerful Tenjin ko liang chu (7,000 won) hits the spot.
The recent cold dish of the day (15,000 won) was a delightfully decorated plate of cold sliced beef, sliced jellyfish, prawns and 1,000-year-old eggs, which are preserved duck eggs. Dressed with a mustard-vinegar-garlic sauce, each item tasted light and refreshing.
One of Penang’s popular main dishes is hot seafood and sizzling rice (32,000 won). A bowl of stir-fried sea cucumbers, squid and prawns and vegetables ― bamboo shoots, string beans, leeks and other veggies ― is poured over crispy deep-fried rice and served sizzling in a stone pot. Fried rice with shrimp and crabmeat (7,000 won) is a wonderful complement to the sizzling seafood dish.
Penang serves caramelized sweet potatoes as a complimentary dessert.
Set-course lunches are 15,000 won and 20,000 won.
Theme: Chinese cuisine
Telephone: (02) 325-3114
Address: 361-20 Seogyo-dong, near Hongik University’s main entrance
Hours: Noon-10 p.m. daily
Credit cards: Accepted
by Ines Cho