More wood and bricks for Seoul
This is what Yoon Young-jo, the goateed proprietor of Wood and Brick, the well-known downtown deli/eatery/wine bar, has done, opening his third location (after Gwanghwamun and Hongik) in Gahoe Dong, north of Insa-dong/Anguk Dong. The new restaurant is named, appropriately, Gahoe Heon (“Gahoe Home.”) Why this location?
“Gwanghwamun is more casual; this one is designed to be a fine restaurant,” says this artistic chap. “I am oriented toward traditional culture, but Insa-dong is finished! This area is the last part of Seoul to show something traditional.”
The new Wood and Brick is a large, stylishly designed modern building of (you guessed it) wood and bricks, plus a fair bit of glass. Next door, behind a couple of pines, is a modern hanok, or traditional-style house: with fresh-smelling wooden walls and the traditional gray-tiled roof. This is the private dining room, seating 14.
Inside the restaurant proper, it is open and airy. Downstairs is a deli, which will be familiar to those who have frequented the Gwanghwamun outlet. There is also a wine bar, complete with standing cellar and long, wooden tables. Management is converting the windows to French-style windows, so that they can open out for continental-style streetside eating.
The restaurant dining room is on the second floor. A potted tree dominates the center, while a long, rectangular window frames views over the traditional roof next door. There is also al fresco seating, under parasols, on the balcony. Fellows: This will be a cracking spot for romance in the evenings for the next few months.
Grasping for a description of the ambience, I grab the adjective book and ― hey presto! ― a term leaps out at me. “Rarified” is what this is.
The menu is identical to Gwanghwamun’s. We kick off with what I have found to be the most dependable salad in central Seoul: Spinach, Walnut and Gorgonzola (14,000 won or $14.85). This is a big platter ― it serves two as an appetizer, one as a main ― and is loaded with, unlike most salads, tasty ingredients. This has it all: chopped walnuts for texture, spinach for vegetarian virtue and plenty of creamy gorgonzola for flavor.
My only reservation with the mains here is price: Frankly, these would be steep prices for dinner pastas. For lunch, they are fearsome. I will pass no comment on the meat and fish courses, beyond stating prices: They range between 30-40,000 won per dish. (I am tempted to add an exclamation mark here, but my editor would not approve.)
Desserts, thankfully, are not quite so ruinous. Black Cherry Pie and Assorted Sorbets are both 8,000 won. The pie offers plenty of black cherries, is not overly sweet and comes with a commendably well-flavored, home-made vanilla ice cream. The sorbets consist of three scoops: one of strawberry, a second of mango and a third of grapefruit. All are good but it is the grapefruit that stands out; it is wickedly tart. (If the sweaty weather is getting you down and you require a jolt of refreshment, my recommendation is drop in here and request three scoops of the grapefruit sorbet.)
Given the trendiness of Spanish grub globally at present, it is odd that restaurateurs in Seoul have not picked up on it, but Gahoe Heon has. The wine bar offers a range of tapas to accompany a bottle or two. Dishes include Bruschetta with Tapenade (a Provencal spread of mulched olives) for 7,000 won, White Fish with Tartar Sauce (12,000 won) and Marinated Octopus Salad (8,000 won). Of course, you are salivating and wondering how good it is, right? Alas, I can offer no guidance: We were there for lunch and tapas service starts at five.
Service is a bit unsure, but training is underway: It is reassuring to see the familiar face of Mr Lee, Gwanghwamun Wood and Brick’s friendly and dependable maitre d’. Having just returned from hols in Southern France ― excellent food, reasonable prices but diabolical service ― it is nice to know that wait staff here are being whipped into shape.
Verdict: Given the prices, this is not somewhere you will visit every day, but for that special occasion, especially in the evenings, it is recommended. And with its consistent dishes and the unusual ambience of the hanok, the private room here could be the perfect place to bring visiting foreign guests.
English: Spoken, on the menu.
Tel.: (02) 747-1592
Address: 5-2 Jae Dong, Jongno-gu.
Hours: Deli: 8 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Restaurant: Noon - 11 p.m., seven days.
Dress code: Business or smart casual.
by Andrew Salmon