For decadent Sundays, this is the placeEver wondered what it would be like to stroll onto the set of a Bond movie ― or into a Cartier ad, perhaps?
Well, wonder no longer: An establishment delivering these experiences has opened. The W Seoul-Walkerhill Hotel apparently aims to bring a new standard of relaxed sophistication to Seoul. It boasts several restaurants; the place to be on the weekend is The Kitchen, which every Sunday offers a full champagne brunch for a mere ―but how vulgar. Let us leave talk of price to the end, and mince on in.
What we have is a large, bright and airy dining room, separated by foliage, serving stations, columns and what have you. What is most apparent are the views. Two sides of the place are floor-to-ceiling (and it is a very high ceiling) windows, offering views over the broad sweep of the Han below. One would think this would be a no-brainer, but so few Seoul dining spots take advantage of the city’s dramatic river and mountain vistas, it is unusually invigorating. In one corner, standing around an arrangement of tapered columns and spheres of cut wood, a jazz trio pumps out the numbers at an appropriate volume (i.e., quietly).
Clientele is a mixture of families and media types. Among the latter, the chaps all look as if they’ve been coiffuered by “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” while the ladies look as if they’ve stumbled off a catwalk. (Note to self: Acquire some designer threads before revisiting. And get a haircut.)
Serving stations include the fish station (a king salmon, smoked, lies in regal splendor, flanked by fresh oysters), two salad stations (a cornucopia of colorful ingredients), the pasta station (make your request and the chef will not only cook it, he’ll bring it to your table) and the dessert station (surely that can’t be a white chocolate fountain? ’Pon my soul ― it is!). But unlike other buffets ― where the unedifying spectacle of gasping, gluttonous slobs staggering from the serveries to their tables, plates piled high with inconceivably disgusting assortments of ill-matched grub, is frequently inescapable ― here the service comes to you.
First: Champagne. None of your sparkling wine rubbish here, thank you very much: On offer is Veuve Cliquot Brut. Attractive maidens flit around keeping your flute filled ― you can have as much of the stuff as you can drink. (It goes great with the oysters, need I add.) No sooner have we parked our bums than chef brings a “welcome platter” ― tempura, fish stuffed with rice, tomatoes, steamed pork, dill pickles and a fermented bean paste dip. All fresh. All delicious. Only then do the dishes start to arrive.
Would sir like some meatloaf with deep-fried onion gravy? Yes, my good man, he would. (Excellent ― all the more so for being unobtainable elsewhere.) How about seafood in gazpacho? Certainly! Swordfish chunks on a skewer? Don’t mind if I do. (Poetic justice for this fish, I couldn’t help thinking.) Curried crab on saffron rice? Try and stop me. (Delicious!) A slice of anchovy pizza? Please. (First class.)
If one can heave oneself out of one’s seat, one should visit the serving stations. I returned from a trip to the salad bar with a plate of green lentils, cubed tomatoes and blue cheese, and from the pasta station with macaroni cheese and a spinach and fish ravioli. All recommended.
For those who think this food a bit light, a bit healthy, a bit trendy, meat ‘n’ spuds are also to be had. Stroll into the standing cellar, select a parcel of meat ― from sirloin, T-bone, ostrich, etc. ― tell the chef how you like it, and it will be conveyed to your table with beans, potatoes and sauces. I ordered venison ― fine.
Finally, the sinful dessert stand offers fresh fruit, parfaits, souffles, handmade chocolates, slabs of chocolate, the white chocolate fountain under which you can dangle pieces of sponge ―ye gods, is this what heaven is like?
Of course, nothing is perfect. The squid in the seafood gazpacho were frozen, and the sauteed potatoes were overdone. But generally, you are getting excellent ingredients here, creatively combined. Service is ubiquitous ― if anything, the place is overstaffed .
Should you come to The Kitchen on a non-Sunday, you’ll find roasted rib of aged beef with chili dal and coconut rice, wood-fired whole baby snapper with red pepper leek sauce and other examples of what is charmingly billed as “homestyle cooking.” If this was homestyle cooking, I never would have left; then again, if my old duck had charged me these prices, I would never have been able to afford to move out.
Verdict: Ah. Did I mention that brunch costs a heart-stopping 120,000 won ($107) per person ― exclusive the customary extortion of 10 percent + 10 percent tax? (That was no typo: 120,000 won. Per person.) But I’ll concede that you can get what you pay for, assuming you fast for a week before coming. There is nothing like this in Seoul; it’s the modern equivalent of the Roman banquet, sans vomitorium. Degenerate? Yes. An experience? Certainly.
English menu: Available.
Location: W Seoul-Walkerhill Hotel lobby, eastern Seoul.
Subway: Gwangnaru station, line No. 5.
Hours: 6:30 a.m. “till the last guest leaves,” daily. Sunday brunch hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dress: Stylish casual (with a loose waistband).
by Andrew Salmon