Eclectic menu drives new Cheongdam eateryCheongdam-dong has long been prime dining territory, but if you are looking for anywhere with a touch of coziness, you are largely out of luck: Cool, stark modernism or overly plush interiors are de rigeur here. A recent entrant to the local scene, however, offers an alternative.
“Kate’s Kitchen” is set in a converted villa in a quiet Cheongdam side street. With white walls, large windows, tiled terraces and lots of balconies, I thought it had a rather Mediterranean look, but owner Kate Cho set me straight on this.
Anyway, while it is attractive enough at present, I suspect it will really come into its own during the warmer seasons.
Inside is equally pretty. Large windows let in lots of light, and the chunky furniture and tables are all brushed white wood.
The addition of several baskets of wildflowers gives it a bit of a rural, village kitchen look and feel. We were there to have lunch, but the presence of a number of thick candles on and around the table suggest it would be a good bet after dark as a romantic dining spot.
Appetizers range from 9,000-30,000 won ($8-$27), and include foie gras with caviar, deep fried oysters and the currently modish tuna tartare. As for our order? Salted cod fritters (15,000 won) and spring rolls (15,000 won).
The fritters are a blend of mashed spud and cod in a croquette-type shell; apparently these are a Brazilian recipe, but if you have tried a British fish cake, these are similar, offering a soft, textured interior, with the potato firmly in the foreground and the subtler aftertaste of the fish in the background. Pretty good.
The spring rolls are served deep fried in a skin of fried rice glaze; inside are blended vermicelli noodles and mushrooms. The things are dipped in a Southeast Asian-style sweet chilli sauce.
It sounds sophisticated on the page, but quite frankly, I found it looked and tasted rather like a pork sausage. Eating it wrapped in basil and lettuce leaves imparted a slightly cleaner taste.
Mains are equally eclectic and include steak, fish, pasta and lamb dishes. We order a Thai-style green chicken curry (16,000 won) and the Kate burger (23,000 won). The former comes attractively served with plain rice.
The chicken is not too lonely here: He is accompanied by shrimp, courgettes and peppers. The curry is thick and heavy on the coriander: powerful stuff, with quite a bite to it, making it one of the better Thai curries I have eaten in Seoul.
The latter is a rather more stylish beast than you find in McDonalds. It comes in a ciabatta bun, accompanied by a side of fries and a lightly dressed salad of romain lettuce.
The patty is thick, soft and pink in the middle ― hang on, that ain’t beef, that’s foie gras!
The cheese is gruyere, adding a ton more flavor than I have had in any other Seoul burger, thought the caramelized onions ― again, not something you usually expect to find in a bun ― are a little overpowering in the taste department.
In terms of upgrading a widely abused dish, this effort deserves plaudits: I am writing while eating Burger King, and the comparison is not favorable to the latter (I am comparing taste, not price, of course; in the latter terms, the BK wins hands down).
The wine list is a five pager, with a few bottles in the 30,000 won range, but most pretty far north of that. Kate also offers a much better beer list than most, with wheat beers and stouts as well as the usual blah lagers.
Owner-chef, Kate Cho, has lived in New York, Brazil, Thailand and Hawaii, which explainins the eclectic menu. A former sculptor, her artistic instincts have been brought to bear on both the attractive interior design and the stylish presentation of the grub.
“I want this to be a Long Island or Hampton-style beach house, with good food and an international crowd,” she says.
The verdict: Prices are steep ― but you are paying the Cheongdam-dong premium. The menu perhaps suffers from its lack of specialization, and there was nothing that really blew my socks off, but it was, overall, pretty good: a strong B+ in all departments.
Location: 81-2 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu
Subway: No close stations
Tel.: (02) 3444-9936
Hours: Noon-Midnight, closed Sundays
Parking: Valet parking
Dress: Smart casual
by Andrew Salmon