Ristorante Eoh is the real deal for gourmets who like it small
Take Italian. The Italian cuisine loved across the world is essentially the food of the peasantry.
Colorful meats and fishes, fresh vegetables, creamy pastas, bread dipped in olive oil; all rich, simple delights that hark back to mountain and fishing villages, with mamma at the stove, pepper grinder in one hand, vino in the other.
But there’s more. Today it is fair to say that French cuisine has, de facto, captured the “high end” of the market, but Italy, like every nation in Europe, has its upper class, and these aristocrats have their own dishes. Where, in this day and age, do commoners like us sample such provender?
Ristorante Eoh, that’s where - an Italian restaurant unlike any other competing establishment where I have filled my face in Seoul. But given that the gent in the kitchen is Eoh Yoon-kwon, this should not be surprising.
Old timers may recall when he was in charge at Apgujeong’s La Doree, which was far and away the finest foreign restaurant in Seoul at the time; it is still sorely missed.
When management decided that running a gourmet restaurant was not the path to riches and shut up shop, chef packed his bags and went back to school, apprenticing for four years under Michelin-starred maestros in Milan: Sergio Mei at the Four Seasons and Antonio Marches at Giannino. Now he’s back, with his very own restaurant.
Ristorante Eoh is a wee establishment, offering only four tables, which makes reservations absolutely essential. There is art on the walls, a standing cellar in the corner, and an open door into the kitchen and that’s enough about decor. There is no menu. The fare changes daily or weekly “depending on what is at the markets.”
We start with a carpaccio of beef that was red, well-marbled and topped with a cube of what looks like butter but turns out to be a very rich brie mixed, remarkably, with vanilla.
What follows is something more delicate: a raw fish (chosho in Korean, I couldn’t get a translation, but it is something like a mackerel) with fresh tomato. The fish is seasoned with just a hint of oil and vinegar. It was delicious.
Then we are served scallop, fresh mozzarella, fig and a semi-grilled dried tomato, all prettily arranged in the center of the plate; the fig and the mozzie provide a particularly fine combination of both flavor and texture. Then, yet more fish: A carpaccio of translucent plaice, with herbs, olive oil and lemon juice, topped with green salad. It is easy to forget, in this part of the world, that it is not just the Japanese who enjoy raw fish.
What comes next is a more familiar dish and what a dish it is: pine mushroom and parmesan risotto. The mushroom is lightly cooked in truffle oil and the risotto is creamy, with sudden shocks of black pepper. All is topped with whispery shavings of parmesan. The rice, by the way, is done to a “T,” not steamed to stodge, but retaining the essential texture of the grain. Superb.
Then the main. Steak (a rather miserly chunk, I must say) in a red wine gravy with a spear of asparagus, with grainily textured mashed spud which tastes halfway between regular mash and polenta; on top of the mash, for a frisson of taste, is minced black olive. This, apparently, is spud Joel Robuchon style. (Surely Joel is French? But never mind.)
Dessert is a dreamily creamy pannacotta, accompanied by the contrasting sharpness of lemon sorbet; both are served in white porcelain.
Finally, chef Eoh himself appears at the table with a bottle of grappa.
Speaking of alcohol, there is a very decent wine list served at oddly reasonable prices for this district; damage begins at 25,000 won.
We sank a bottle of Villa Sparino Gavi di Gavi 2004 (45,000 won) which has a strong, flowery bouquet, and a hint of vanilla in the mouth.
Cost per head: 66,000 won. Given the quality of ingredients and the care of preparation, this is unquestionable value. Lunches go for 33,000 won.
This is “cucina boutique, moderna and creative,” says Eoh. And that’s not all. Assuming ingredients are available, you can order your own menu. Chefy also offers “Italian palace” cuisine, though be warned: It takes six hours to get through the full monty, and you need to order 10 days in advance.
Verdict: Given the open table settings, this ristorante will not be discreet enough either for business or romance. And the novella cuisine-ish dishes may not satisfy your “meat and potatoes” man. What it will attract is the serious gourmet. Nobody else I know of in Seoul, even at the top hotels, is preparing grub at this level of detail. Eoh marks a new high in Seoul dining.
Address: 134-140 Seoul, Gangnam Gu, Cheongdam Dong, 100-13F.
No nearby subway.
Hours: Monday to Saturday.
12:00-3:00; 7:00 - closing
by Andrew Salmon