[Seoul] Dining at upscale Korean restaurant La Yeon which serves the traditional cuisine of ‘hansik’, may make you feel like Korean royalty. The food is that remarkable.
It has just been awarded 3 Michelin stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide Seoul 2017.
Many fine dining restaurants are focused on European, molecular styles of cooking. Finding one which serves Korean Haute Cuisine, also capturing the elegance and dignity of traditional Korean cuisine is invigorating.
La Yeon is found on the 23rd level of The Shilla Hotel (people may be familiar with their duty free shops).
Though recently opened in 2013, the restaurant headed by Head Chef Kim Sung Il swiftly earned a spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, also noted as “The One To Watch”.
The view up there is spectacular, with a sight of its surrounding buildings and downtown Seoul, since the hotel is on a hill. (My little recommendation would be to actually visit the washroom, which should promise a spectacle in terms of scenery-viewing.)
La Yeon offers four different set menus, each concluding in dessert and Korean tea, and with optional wine pairings – The Propriety (98,000 Won, SGD$112), La Yeon (170,000 Won, SGD$195) for lunch, and The Feast (150,000 Won, SGD$171), Shilla (230,000 Won, SGD$264) for dinner.
The thorough and filling Propriety menu featured a Welcome Dish of Seaweed crackers and red date chips, Chilled Seafood Salad, Sauteed Dish, Char-grilled Beef Sirloin or Braised Korean Beef Ribs, Hot Pot Rice with Vegetables and Abalone, and a Dessert.
I ordered the main of Thin Slices of Korean Beef Marinated in Soy Sauce (additional 30,000 Won, SGD$34). Without exaggerating, this is one of the best Korean AND beef dish I ever had.
Every piece of the beef true to its name, thinly-sliced, delicate yet not lacking the bite beef should have. The meats are mildly marinated, subtle but still flavoursome. While the dish looked dry on its appearance, there was no shortage of succulence.
I must have let out an “OMG” when I first took a bite of the Braised Korean Beef Ribs, the allowing the piece to linger in the mouth, while relishing its softness of the texture, and leniently sweet sauce.
A Bibimbap is a typical dish found in a Korean restaurant, but La Yeon’s version brings it several levels up with the incorporation of abalone – why was that abalone so incredibly soft and pleasantly chewy. Like nothing I ever had.
Its accompanying side dishes of pear kimchi, crispy anchovies and spinach miso were all strong in their own ways. I can imagine the past Korean emperors craving for this.
Most of us would have impressions of Korean dishes which are robust, rich and marinated with excessive flavours. La Yeon goes quite the opposite way, subtle and not losing its focus.
On the flipside, in a culinary world where presentation strikes a strong impression, some may find the dishes plain, not fanciful enough.
Many of the dishes were presented simply in elegant (and probably expensive) tableware, without the elaborated plating one would expect from a fine dining restaurant.
Look beyond that, and let the quality of the food truly do its talking.
* Daniel’s Food Diary pays for food reviewed unless otherwise stated.