To Japan add some of Europe and dineWhen traditional Japanese food recipes leave their home country and land in the hands of ambitious chefs, they can take on exciting, new forms. In the ’70s, Japanese sushi was reinvented by a Californian chef (He’s unknown to this day!) to suite Americans, who prefer slices of avocado to raw fish. Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of the eponymous Nobu restaurants drizzled sizzling hot olive oil over sashimi to the delight of Euro-chic epicures.
At Shune, a newly opened dining bar in southern Seoul, the British chef, Luke Roberts, dares to best Japanese-based nouvelle cuisine. Mr. Roberts said he was familiar with Japanese cooking through working with New York Nobu’s main chef in London’s SoHo House. But to incorporate the best of Japan, he dispatched two of his Korean chefs to train in Tokyo’s Shunju for two months before opening Shune in Korea.
Shune, which means “the best moment” in Japanese, was named after the famous Shunju, Tokyo’s most-talked-about chain of dining bars. Shunju was created by Japan’s celebrated designer, Takashi Sugimoto. His company, Super Potato Co. based in Tokyo, knows how to add ambience and style to life. Mr. Sugimoto’s recent projects outside Japan include London’s Zuma bar and Singapore Hyatt Hotel’s Mezza 9 restaurants.
Shune’s sumptuously minimal space, with 250 seats and private rooms, exudes centuries-old Japanese sentiment. The architecturally handsome granite posing like nature’s own art work; traditional Japanese earthen walls revealing their crudeness under warm lights, and chefs in crisp white gowns whipping up steamy sauce in the open kitchen are all Mr. Sugimoto’s signature designs.
The restaurant design includes the dressing of floor staff in designer’s uniform and playing trendy lounge music as a backdrop to the culinary ventures. As if to benchmark the Buddha Bar and Hotel Costes in Paris, Shune released its own compilation CDs.
Likewise, food is prepared like a design project that can attract the sophisticated; it is modified Japanese cuisine with international flair. Mr. Roberts said Shune’s extensive menus were tailored to meet the non-Japanese palate. “A slab of fish or minimally seasoned vegetables on grill would be too simple and boring for Koreans. They expect dishes that are fancier and different from ordinary Japanese cuisine,” he said.
He finds pieces of eel braised in sweet soy sauce too common, too boring. Coated with thick crunchy brown batter, a bite of eel tempura reveals plump white meat and hot, seasoned mozzarella cheese inside.
Mr. Roberts seems to understand how to translate “fancy” into Korean. “Koreans don’t like to eat cooked sashimi,” Mr. Roberts said. His Italian-style sashimi is like carpaccio. This Japan-meets-Italy dish is exciting as the fish retains its texture and taste and the accompanying sauce is refreshingly delicious. Thinly sliced halibut is dressed with balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon, herbs and mayonnaise-based cream sauce. The crossover sashimi is included on Shune Special set menu (60,000 won, or $50) and Tasting Menus (60,000 won to 70,000 won). Or it can be ordered a la carte (A plate of halibut costs 25,000 won).
In Teppanyaki Kaiseki (55,000 won), a course meal featuring Japanese-style grill, king prawn, scallop, beef and vegetables are served with creative dipping sauces. Mustard, miso- and rice wine-based sauces turn ordinary dishes into an exotic adventure of tastes.
For globe-trotters, Shune Special set menu is a sampler of East-meets-West recipes. The nine-course meal includes a tasty tour of Eurasian dishes: cream cheese miso and smoked pepper terrine with tofu chips and wakame salad; foie gras and dashi jelly with char-grilled flat bread; Japanese hot vermicelli with fresh tomato and shiso dressing, and roasted angler fish with grilled eggplant, roasted spring onions and garlic.
Diners ogle at the state-of-the-art preparation and then engage in solving the mystery of the dish: What are the ingredients, how is it prepared and where did the chef get the idea.
The samplers are wonderful and surprisingly delicious. If you are willing to try something new or familiar with traditional ingredients and the authentic flavors of Japan, France, Italy, et cetera and do not mind combining them on one plate, you will enjoy the taste and the presentation and appreciate the chef’s endeavor on each plate.
Shune boasts a wide selection of Japanese sake, beer and wines. As an aperitif or to complement light meals, try Shune’s sake cocktails served in tall glasses. Gari-mizu (10,000 won) is a non-alcoholic cider-like beverage spiked with ginger and lime. The alcoholic cocktails (13,000 won), Omidori, Akai and Aoi, are named after their colors ―green, red and blue, in that order, and they add colorful zest to the table.
The story of this cross-cultural conquistador now comes to a sweet and happy ending. Shune’s desserts (about 10,000 won) are impressive matches between the simplicity of Japanese ice cream and the complexity of European sauces. Just see and taste the gorgeous plate of sesame ice cream or green tea ice cream served in a pool of fig compote, coriander leaves, melted chocolate, raspberry sauce and white chocolate flakes. After this,eating ice cream by itself will be frustrating.
English menu: Available
Hours: Noon-3 p.m.; 6 -11 p.m. daily
Telephone: 02-531-6477, 6479
Location: The basement of the Novotel Ambassador Hotel in Gangnam
Parking: Free up to 3 hours
Dress code: Smart casual or elegant
by Ines Cho
Lunch set menu starts from 24,000 won and dinner set menu 60,000 won. Saturday (dinner only) and Sunday seafood buffets cost 40,0000 won for lunch and 45,000 won for dinner for adults. Children get 50 percent discount.