Familiar, but fancyThere is something refreshingly earnest about a first-time restaurateur. In an immaculate suit and sculpted hair, Yoo Sung-ho, the 34-year-old owner of Chung, a Chinese restaurant that recently opened near the Blue House, greets customers and shows them to their tables, then roams incessantly around, making sure everything is perfect.
In a small “boutique” restaurant like Chung, which seats up to 48, such efforts are palpable. The floral wallpaper matches the Chinese paintings that Mr. Yoo bought himself. Each table is set as if in an elegant European restaurant, with layers of show plates, crisply folded napkins, candles and sparkling wine glasses ―even if only one or two diners in 10 order wine. Tiny menu cards describing the course meals stand on the tables.
“The best spot in Chung is right here,” Mr. Yoo says, dashing to the window tables overlooking a traditional garden with pink azalea blossoms, pine trees and a pond stocked with fat carp. It’s part of the land on which Woljung Museum sits; its owner has his own table in the corner, where he dines and enjoys the view.
A former business consultant, Mr. Yoo resigned in January to start the restaurant. He hired ethnic Chinese chefs who’d worked in the Westin Chosun, the Palsun restaurant in the Shilla hotel and other top establishments, and hired key floor staffers from upscale Chinese restaurants in Gangnam, so tepid meals and the sound of crashing dishes aren’t likely here. One might expect surprises from newcomers to the culinary scene, but this business-savvy owner sticks with what might be called a “familiar yet excellent” formula. It’s the capital’s best-selling Chinese dishes, whipped up by expert chefs and brought to the table with seamlessly efficient service.
Traditional offerings, like soups and what the menu calls “assorted cold dishes” ― essentially, cold cuts and shredded jellyfish (35,000 won [$30] for two or three persons, 50,000 won for four or five ) ― are similar to those at Palsun, the capital’s finest Chinese restaurant, where head chef Fan Yong-chung used to work.
Steamed pork belly with pumpkin (20,000 won for two or three, 28,000 won for four or five) and fried prawns with potato cream sauce served over crispy rice (25,000 won, 35,000 won) are fusion dishes found at trendy local spots. Both of these are presented beautifully, and taste leaner and lighter than versions elsewhere, without heavy sauce or seasoning.
Sauteed eggplant and ground beef (20,000 won, 28,000 won) is milder than most Koreanized (i.e., spicier) Chinese dishes. Warm Chinese steamed rolls are served with it.
Meals can be ordered a la carte or as sets. The sets vary in price ― lunches are 18,000 won to 40,000 won, dinners 28,000 to 70,000 won ― but all consist of seven courses. (Prices don’t include 10-percent VAT.)
The noodle soup recommended at the end of the meal features fresh noodles made every morning. Surprisingly savory, it’s a chicken soup with spaghetti-like noodles, topped with bits of pork and green string beans. This soup is only included in the set menu, though Mr. Yoo says it can be special-ordered. The course meals are filling, but there are quite a few tempting, yet simple and inexpensive a la carte dishes at Chung that definitely need to be tried.
English menu: Available.
Telephone: (02) 720-3396.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5:30-10 p.m. daily
Location: Second floor of Baekwol Bldg. near Samcheong Police Station. The nearest subway station is Anguk, exit number 2, but a cab is recommended.
Dress code: Smart casual or elegant.
by Ines Cho