Where to go for light Chinese? Try the train stationTrendiness in Seoul Station? Fine dining atop a department store, in the midst of a public transit complex? Chinese food that’s lean and healthful?
All three of these unlikely possibilities are now reality at T-Won, the Chinese restaurant atop Concos, the new department store in the newly built Seoul Station complex.
Seoul Station is shaking off its old post-war image and revamping itself, just in time for the introduction of bullet trains to Korea. Gone are the disorderly foot traffic, dowdy vendors and street stalls. The sleek new glass edifice is worthy of a world-class megalopolis.
The highlights of T-Won, the new bistro, are its decor and its light fusion cuisine. The person behind this establishment is the Korean architect Min Kyung-sik, known for the chic design at Park Lounge and Homyeondang, in Cheongdam-dong, and Xinkai, in the Seoul Finance Center. His inspirations for T-Won were Xinjushu and Shuo Nan Guo, two of the trendiest establishments in Shanghai right now.
T-Won’s impressive interior includes dark green mah-jongg tables, Ming-style chairs, Kraak-style basins and wooden cabinets from China in the spacious dining hall, which overlooks part of Seoul Station and the commercial buildings nearby. Beside antique chests are a vanilla-colored marble bar and crimson roses and three-pound candles in blue-and-white celadon, evocative of the rich European influence in the Ching Dynasty.
Eleven ethnic Chinese chefs whip up some of the lightest Chinese meals (with a bit of fusion flair) in town, which can be ordered a la carte or as course meals. The menu was clearly created with an eye to the fact that Chinese food is considered too heavy, and served in too-ample portions, for some health-conscious diners.
Cold dishes, simply called salads on the menu, are refreshing and visually pleasing. The unusual jellyfish salads, with three kinds of seaweed, looked a bit slimy, but each seaweed tasted different and ocean-fresh, with a tangy, vinegar-based dressing. These cost 12,000 won ($10.30). Mango and crabmeat salad with balsamic wine dressing (14,000 won) is a delightfully delicious starter, which can be shared with two or three people.
Fried prawns with mango and mayonnaise sauce (13,000 won) was a light and delicious treat. The fleshy, deep-fried prawns were curled in wonderfully light, crispy batter, rather than the thick, potato-and-egg-based version often encountered at Chinese restaurants. This could be likened to extra-crispy tempura, served on a bed of greens.
The scorched rice with seafood (21,000 won) is a weight watcher’s version. Curled squid, sliced shiitake mushroom, string beans, shrimps, scallops, sliced bok choy, sea cucumbers and crispy rice were sauteed in a light, almost-too-bland oyster sauce, which at least didn’t overwhelm the seafood and the vegetables.
The sauteed Australian mussels (14,000 won), topped with chopped red and green peppers, were moderately spicy and tasty. The bean curd and minced beef in hot red pepper (13,000 won) was presented like a traditional Japanese tofu dish, in a paper pot over a small flame. The bright orange-red sauce, specked with red peppers, spring onion and minced beef, had a fierce aroma that instantly whetted the appetite. Korean diners might order a bowl of white steamed rice with this to get the familiar Szechwan-style mapu dofu over rice.
Other Szechwan-style noodle dishes, such as stir-fried noodles with assorted seafood and XO oyster sauce (9,000 won) and hot noodle soup with shrimps and clams (9,000 won), were too spicy for the untrained palate. A Korean colleague who claimed she could handle the most intense heat barely managed to finish the stir-fried noodle dish. “It’s very good, so I couldn’t stop,” she said, once the fire in her mouth had been subdued. Be warned, or ask for less spice. The “white” version of the above-mentioned seafood soup, overflowing with shrimps, clams and oysters in thick, cream-colored broth, is delicious, hearty and certainly filling.
Complimentary jasmine tea was poured throughout the meal. A nicely chilled bottle of Tsingtao beer (6,000 won) or the elegant liquor Kongfutia (45,000 won) can also make a good accompaniment.
For dessert, the pine needle yogurt served with melon confit, grapefruit and strawberry slices (4,000 won) tasted like a crude experiment in a cooking class. But the mango puree with tapioca beads (4,000 won) was simple and delicious.
English menu: Available.
Location: Fourth floor of Concos Department Store, in the new Seoul Station complex
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Telephone: (02) 392-0985
Parking: Free up to two hours.
Dress: Elegant casual.
by Ines Cho