A signature Seoul hotel steps out in new design

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A signature Seoul hotel steps out in new design

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Korea’s “old money” has luxuriated at the Shilla hotel in central Seoul since 1973, when the hotel named after Korea’s ancient kingdom first opened. The hotel is to this day where wives of bigwigs gather for luncheon, after which they shop “hush-hush” using cash ― “Please don’t wrap the dress in the orange bag!” ― at the Hermes store in the basement arcade. But, over the past decade or so, ordinary citizens and travelers staying there have wondered what’s so special about a hotel with such a tacky interior. It was beyond time for a change.
The belated renovation cost a steep 30 billion won, or about $27 million, which revamped the first two floors only. The grand job of uplifting the hotel’s overall class went to Peter Remedios, a world-renowned architect based in California whose resume boasts New York’s Four Seasons, the Tokyo Grand Hyatt and Hong Kong’s Oriental Mandarin hotels. After five months of intensive construction work, in place of gaudy chandeliers and orange carpet is a sophisticated sunlit lobby that exudes the Euro-chic aura of a billionaires’ club ― complete with a library-themed wine and cigar bar fitted with black-leather furnishings. Gone, thank god, is the 1980s-style lounge and coffee shop where professional go-betweens used to set up dates for future tycoons.
The hotel’s new cafe and restaurant, The Parkview, is only an extension of the American designer’s concept to combine the hotel’s original Korean motifs with modernity; the ceiling design for example pays tribute to wooden beams in Korean traditional houses. All visible elements ― the scenic view, terrace dining, minimal and naturally lit interior design ― reflect the de rigueur fashion of the world’s top-class hotels. At last, The Parkview can appeal to the hip, young generation seeking pleasure and class in a hotel cafe, which offers an attractive buffet lunch (41,000 won, or $38, plus 10 percent VAT and 10% service charge) and dinner (45,000 won). Already, trendy fashion industry professionals seen in Cheongdam-dong restaurants are lunching here to discuss their plans.
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The selection and display of dishes here made me smile as they were result of rigorous market research and benchmarking. The concept of “food stations,” where buffet dishes are freshly prepared on the spot, has been upgraded, offering three most preferred sections: Hot, cold and desserts. All around the spacious hall (with three private rooms and a terrace, seating 214 diners), the delicious scent ― smoky, salty, cheesy or fruity ― of hundreds of dishes being grilled, boiled or sliced everywhere is accompanied by a number of visual appetizers. Here and there spotlights point to abstract art works by leading American artists Bill Thompson and Tom Wesselmann.
As if to impress the most fastidious critic, each dish is presented photo-shoot-ready for a magazine. Remember, this is a buffet, a method of food delivery where quantity usually overrules quality. Assistant chefs in some other elegant restaurants might simply pile up crabs like a mountain, but here at The Parkview, the assorted pink crustaceans are arranged one by one on ice like sculptures, next to tall, green tree branches, and the cold crabmeat definitely tastes a grade higher. The sushi and sashimi bar displays only several varieties deemed popular, such as shrimp, halibut, tuna and flying fish roe. The Italian selection includes extra-fresh caprese, grilled asparagus, prawn and scallop salad and sauteed mushroom topped with parmesan cheese. For gourmands, it’s so easy to overlook the make-your-own salad bar with gorgeous ceramic bowls.
Moving on, the hot station gets more exciting. At the Asian noodle bar, one can choose broth, ingredients, toppings and sauces; mine was rice noodles cooked with slices of beef tenderloin, bok choy, and bean sprouts in a clear chicken broth, then topped with coriander leaves and Thai chili sauce. Chinese dishes nearby featured a Peking duck, but because the skin ran out fast leaving only the meat behind, I skipped it, along with the other stir-fried dishes. But, I couldn’t resist the dainty shrimp dim sum, my favorite, because the huge steaming bamboo vat had been luring me from afar.
Fresh from the open kitchen’s grill, I picked up a small piece of lamb chop with a little rib bone, which was smoky and tender, the way good lamb is supposed to taste. By now, though, I was very, very full so skipped the fabulous cheese selection, which I would have devoured at another time, but in front of the delectable desserts The Parkview had on offer, I couldn’t help getting giddy. Passing melons, kiwis, cookies and chocolate cakes, displayed like a page right out of a magazine, I went straight to the rare coffee and champagne puddings. The barista served yogurt ice cream from the machine and strong coffee in a tall mug. It’s no longer surreal to savor a champagne pudding with perfectly frothy coffee at the Shilla; it’s actually quite becoming.


The Parkview
English: On the menu, spoken
Tel: (02) 2230-3374
Web: www.shilla.net
Hours: Open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; 5:30-9:30 for breakfast; noon-2:30 for lunch buffet and 6-9 p.m. for dinner buffet
Location: First floor of the Shilla Hotel in Jung-gu
Parking: Available
Dress: Business or elegant


by Ines Cho
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