Sadly, not all German grub is equal
German grub just does not get the respect, internationally, that its neighbors in such culinary strongholds as France, Italy and Denmark enjoy. And yet, here in Seoul I would say that, while the Italian scene is thriving, I can count the decent French independent restaurants on the digits of one hand, and as for decent smorgasbord ― zilch.
But ― a big but ― if I were pressed to name my top 10 Seoul restaurants, two German joints (Barlin in the Somerset serviced apartments downtown, and Memories, next to Geckos in Itaewon) would probably make the cut ― as would my favored watering hole, Itaewon’s Three Alley Pub, run by Australian/German Gunther Kemp, who maintains a strong Teutonic slant on both his menu and his (numerous) beer taps.
Why is it, then, that German fodder ― so maligned elsewhere for its hearty but unsophisticated pairings of meat and spuds ― beats the odds so often in Seoul?
Frankly, I have no idea. There is no great historical or culinary connection between Germany and Korea. (Although the first Western restaurant in Korea, back in the 1890s, was indeed run by a Russo-German.) And culturally, there are no great similarities that I can discern, apart, perhaps for a penchant for mass parades, and that particular habit lapsed in Germany after 1945.
Enough meandering. The point is, when I heard of a new German restaurant ― established by a bona fide Korean master of meats who trained in the Fatherland, no less ― I was highly expectant. Rasting is the establishment, in Daehangno. Which sets me off on another tangent.
Daehangno is, on the face of it, one of the best areas to wine and dine north of the river, as no competing entertainment zone, neither Sinchon, Hongik nor Itaewon, can boast an equivalent range of al fresco dining spots. With summer just around the corner, is this the hot area in which to eat, drink and be merry?
No. I find that with one honorable exception (Pizzeria di Matteo ― the first authentic pizzeria in Seoul) “foreign” or “fusion” establishments here are absolutely woeful.
So would Rasting live up to its proud Germanic colors, or succumb to the curse of Daehangno?
The place itself is nice enough. It is an L-shaped establishment. There are private rooms, but the best tables may be those next to the tall windows overlooking a samgyeopsal restaurant’s open air terrace. On the wall are cartoonish paintings of porcine chefs in action. Service is attentive and pleasant as we take our seats. So far, so good!
Then a glance at the menu fills us with foreboding. There are hamburger steaks and spaghetti on the lunch sets, which range from 7-8,000 won. We avoid those and order what look to be more authentically German dishes.
The Bratwurst Cheese Melt (28,000) is the flagship sausage dish. The sausages ― ominously cut lengthways ― arrive in a garish gravy that looks suspiciously like the kind of sauce “fusion” hofs drizzle over hamburger steaks. And, verdammt! it tastes like it too: sweet and cloying. While the sausages themselves are OK, the combination of garish sauce and tasteless (and entirely unnecessary) cheese turns my stomach.
The North Rhine Westphalian Saeurbraten (20,000 won) is no better for the same reasons. It is a platter of decent-enough braised beef on a bed of yellow rice ― but drenched in the same vomit-inducing gravy.
Our third choice is a touch better. Schweine Haxen (28,000 won) is a plump juicy joint of pink, fatty pork that has, blessedly, been spared the saucier’s ruinous attentions. There is also a smidgen of pretty decent German kimchi (that’s sauerkraut to you). Even so, for the quantity it is overpriced, and in lieu of a German mustard, it comes served with the kind of sweet, honey mustard usually found in American family diners.
The other outstanding sin committed is one of omission. Where are the spuds? There is rice and side salads ―in a characteristically horrible, sweet mayonnaise ― but not a potato in sight. And yet this is, allegedly, a German restaurant! Our meal, which we were hoping would be the equivalent of the triumphal blitzkrieg through Belgium and France, turned into a culinary Stalingrad.
Thank God, liquid rations are dependable: There is Krombacher pilsner or alt beer on tap. The alt is an excellent brew: brown, raspy and full flavored. After eating here, you will want to drown your sorrows with several mugs (5,000 won for 300CC) of this hoppy nectar. And as noted, the service is friendly.
Verdict: I suppose I could commend the management here for trying to fit German food to local palates. But I won’t; do it right or don’t do it, say I.
English: No English
Address: 2 Floor, Dongseung Dong, Daehangno, Jongno Gu,Web site: http://:www.rasting.co.kr
Parking: Ticket parking available next door
Hours: 11:00AM - 10:00PM, seven days a week
Dress: Come as you are
by Andrew Salmon