Sophisticated decor, but uneven cuisineIn case you haven’t noticed, wine has gained massive popularity in certain circles here in recent years. One result has been the establishment of a number of upscale wine bars/restaurants, some of which are decent places to dine. The most prominent are in Gangnam, but others are north of the Han River ― including this week’s selection.
The Social was recommended to me by a foreign fund manager who is known among his friends for his picky tastes. We went expecting great things.
Rather an odd name, The Social, no? It sounds like an English working class bar (“What you doing tonight, mate?” “Heading down the social for a pint and a natter.”), but the manager, a very pleasant woman, tells us it is the name of a club in London. I suspect deliberate irony, because this is one sophisticated-looking joint.
In the second floor dining room, white-clothed tables stand on a slick, polished wood floor, huge pieces of modern art adorn the walls, and a brushed aluminum serving bar stands at one end.
Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows is a narrow balcony set with tables overlooking Gyeongbok Palace. This probably offers terrific views in daylight, but in the evening, all was black. (Note to government: Seoul’s modern architecture is dire, but the traditional stuff is gorgeous. Floodlights, please).
Jazz, a musical form that makes me roll my eyes but which is an eternally popular choice for restaurants that want to establish that certain je ne sais quoi, wafts from the speakers (at a commendably low volume, I am pleased to report).
Cuisine is “Continental” ― that rather dull mix of Italian and French limited internationally to hotel restaurants, but, given the dearth of regional French or Italian restaurants here, one that remains a top choice for Seoul socialites. The menu offers limited a la carte selections, but there are several sets (lunches: 15,000 won, or $15, to 30,000 won; dinners, 45,000 won to 52,000 won; plus 10 percent VAT). We choose a 45,000 won set.
Things begin badly with bread. Restaurateurs of Seoul! Sweet buns with raisins are appropriate for dessert or afternoon tea, not as part of the bread basket!
The appetizer, toasted mozzarella cheese in eggplant with gazpacho, is nicely presented but bland at best. Ricotta cheese salad is a pleasant surprise: A variety of fresh-tasting green leaves and cherry tomatoes, very lightly dressed. Simple, but effective. Chestnut soup proves a little dull, but is spiced up with black peppercorns.
My main course is roast lamb with gremolata. A good-sized chunk of lamb, but served barely lukewarm, and the gremolata ― a mixture of pungent ingredients designed to spice up stews and sauces ― is non-existent. The Missus has better luck with grilled rib. This is rolled, Korean style on the short rib, beautifully tender, served in a cross between a galbi marinade and a gravy. And there is lots of it. Superb.
Dessert, raspberry cake, proves to be a rather forgettable mousse.
The wine selection looks good, but.... We order a Pouilly Fume ― sorry, not available. OK, how about a Fumaio? Er, sorry, we don’t have that either. Finally, we nail down a Napa Valley Groth Sauvignon Blanc (Ah! Forgot to note the vintage) for 55,000 won, but are well into our first course before it arrives. It offers greenish hues for the eye, a smoky but citrusy nose, an oaky but acidic flavor, and a lingering aftertaste. All in all, a nicely versatile white.
Service is pleasant, but The Social seems a bit understaffed.
Verdict: Compared to its competitors ― hotel restaurants and Apgujeong establishments ― The Social is reasonably priced, the decor is sophisticated and the location is handy. The food, however, is very uneven.
Tel: (02) 738-0351
Address: Open Books Building, 35-23 Tongui-dong, Jongno-gu
Subway: Gyeongbokgung station line No. 3, Exit 3
Hours: Noon to 11 p.m.. Closed Sundays.
Dress: Business or smart casual
by Andrew Salmon