Bite-size delights make a kingly Sunday brunchBrunch is hip, and at the top of the menu for hot locations is the Cornerstone restaurant at the new Park Hyatt in southern Seoul. Every nook of the restaurant emanates European simplicity and elegance.
That’s good news for epicures with style. The hotel’s excellent reputation, flawless service and elegant atmosphere has attracted a throng of well-dressed weekend socialites looking to get their money’s worth at the spacious 110-seat restaurant with a street-side view of the adjacent business district.
At 55,000 won ($50) plus 10-percent VAT (the Park Hyatt doesn’t charge a 10 percent service fee), a four-course meal, which can last up to four hours running from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a lazy Saturday or Sunday, starts with a snow-white table covered with starched linen, creamy porcelain and sparkling silverware.
At Cornerstone, knowledge is pleasure. If you can give an understanding nod when asked to choose between a bottle of Surgiva and S. Pellegrino, or among bellini, mimosa, Kir Royal or Moet & Chandon, then relax and get ready to enjoy the house specialty: refinement.
Most entrees, prepared freshly and served buffet-style at two counters during the brunch hour, are sampler-size dishes on the restaurant’s regular menu. Unlike most buffet tables, which are a virtual United Nations of food, Cornerstone exercises restraint, featuring select Italian dishes.
Overseen by the hotel’s executive chef, Giorgio Pappalardo, a native of Besnate-Varese in Italy near the Swiss border, 13 Korean chefs hastily mix, toss, bake, roast and grill fresh ingredients in the open kitchen over the counter. Mr. Pappalardo has been with the Hyatt chain for six years.
“The idea of the brunch here is not to overeat,” Mr. Pappalardo said. “If you missed breakfast, there’s freshly baked bread or salad. But the point is to be able to enjoy the real lunch at the end.”
Ah-hah. Skip the rest and try a bit of the good stuff in small portions ― like tender slabs of tuna and beef tataki, or little artichokes immersed in extra virgin olive oil and grilled oyster mushroom and paprika.
During the meal, extremely courteous staff members dropped by every now and then to offer more dainty little dishes. Homemade tomato soup served in an espresso cup was nice, warm and homey. Tiny scrambled eggs looked like buttons; and beef carpaccio like weightless red coins. Vongole spaghetti with short-necked clams came with a lovely dollop of cream, also in a teeny-weeny tasty size.
Salads are customized on the spot and delivered to the table.
I was already so full I couldn’t touch the fresh-smelling bread and waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries brought ahead of the main course.
My tablemates selected a large platter full of surf and turf, Italian-style, along with a bowl of potato gnocchi (dumplings) and eggplant cooked with tomato sauce.
The green aroma of pesto smeared on orange prawns and rosemary stems cooked with lamb chop was an intoxicating invitation to the serious business of eating. The baked scallops had a toasty crust of breadcrumbs and tomato confit on top of a juicy slab of meat.
I’m not a great fan of baked salmon, but this fish had a succulent texture and a nice woody flavor that rose from the small oakwood board underneath. We also had our choice of luscious cuts of lamb and Australian wagyu steak with two kinds of mustards, dijon and whole grain.
The grilled platter, which the Italian chef is most proud of, is a vibrant cacophony of colors, flavors, textures and tastes that deserves an occasion of some kind to celebrate. Knowing what was coming deliciously next ― dessert ― didn’t leave me much time to think about what was in already in front of me.
The Korean pastry chef at Cornerstone was trained in France, but has taken a creative tack with Valrhona, one of the world’s finest chocolates and something connoisseurs would die for. He is to my knowledge the only person in Korea working with what is pure chocolate gold.
The dessert of the day was just one dainty cookie ball dipped in lustrously rich Valrhona, served with one tiny deep ruby-colored candied cherry, over just one cup of dark coffee. The result is a gorgeous composition that’s only too tempting after a bite and a sip. Popping dozens of the chocolate marbles over a gallon of coffee would do nothing to boost the diner’s gratification. It is a sheer, satisfying sense of indulgence that can come only in small and elegant sizes.
English: Spoken, on the menu.
Hours: Open from 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Location: Second floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Samseong-dong; Samseong station, line no. 2, exit no. 1.
Parking: Valet parking.
Dress code: Elegant.
by Ines Cho
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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