+ A

Seoul’s top chefs find new homes at hotels: Big names in the culinary world are trying out new styles in hot locations

June 14,2019
The Plaza’s lounge area is open to guests visiting Joo Ok at the hotel in central Seoul. Diners will get to see an unobstructed view of Seoul City Hall and Seoul Plaza right in front of them. It also has a view of the green garden outside so that visitors can relax while they play a Korean board game called yutnori. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Chef Shin Chang-ho of Joo Ok, left, runs the restaurant which displays the fermented vinegars he uses. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Chef Kang Min-goo of Festa by Mingoo at Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul, right, introduces rustic European-style food. [BANYAN TREE CLUB AND SPA SEOUL]
Chef Goo Min-sool of Millennium Seoul Hilton, right, offers a chef’s choice Japanese course meal. [MILLENNIUM SEOUL HILTON]
Hotel restaurants are getting sexier with big-name chefs from outside the hotel joining the kitchen as they try to market themselves as something more than just family buffet spots.

While some are asking star chefs to consult them on how to make their dining options more appealing, others are inviting the culinary bigwigs to relocate their own restaurants to their hotels.

The biggest change comes from the Plaza Seoul, Autograph Collection, located in central Seoul, which invited four different chefs to come inside the hotel to run their own restaurants. Chef Shin Chang-ho of Michelin-starred restaurant Joo Ok, previously located in southern Seoul’s Cheongdam-dong, was the first to bring his restaurant to the Plaza. The location started its service on Monday to cater not only to hotel guests but also to those looking for more fine dining options in central Seoul. The restaurant serves modern Korean food.

“We wanted our hotel to go beyond our own brand and help position Seoul as a gastronomic destination by having food by chefs that could represent the [culinary scene] in Korea,” said a representative from the hotel.

A lounge area where diners can sit down with a drink, a service widely available overseas yet rare in Korea, has been opened inside. An unobstructed view of Seoul City Hall and the Seoul Plaza, and the green garden outside the window creates a tranquil atmosphere in the middle of the hustle and bustle of city life.

Tabletops and shelves are decorated by Korean designers, including Ha Ji-hoon and more, and show how traditional Korean patterns and shapes can be used to make modern design. Small tables like soban, which was used to serve meals in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), are made in different colors, and candle holders with bubble-like designs are also on display.

“We hope this restaurant becomes a place not only where people get to experience modern Korean food, but also where local art and designs are discovered,” said Kim Hye-joon, who coordinated the restaurant’s move.

Joo Ok, which became popular for its use of different types of restaurant-fermented vinegars, has a refrigerator window that displays jars with vegetables and fruits inside to better show its diners how some of their ingredients are made.

Chef Lee Jun of Michelin-starred Soigne in Seocho District, southern Seoul, will soon open his third restaurant called Dear Wild, which will serve European-style food. After opening his contemporary Korean restaurant Soigne and Italian restaurant Doughroom in southern Seoul, chef Lee plans to make something different for diners in northern Seoul.

Chef Lee Young-ra of Le Cabaret Dosan, known for its champagne service and rooftop parties, has joined the hotel to open up the bar Le Cabaret Cite, and chef Park Joon-woo, the winner of cooking competition show “Master Chef Korea Season 1” will serve desserts in The Lounge. The official opening of all four new spots is tentatively scheduled for July 3.

Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul, located on Mount Namsan, central Seoul, is giving a well-known chef the opportunity to try something new. Chef Kang Min-goo, known for his Michelin two-star restaurant Mingles, which serves modern Korean food, is set to present more casual and rustic plates at Festa by Mingoo. In order to appeal to their location inside the city’s mountain, the restaurant will be decorated with more plants inside. The restaurant is set to open on June 17.

Many fans of his analysis of traditional Korean into modern style plates have been following the news about his new take on more casual, Western-style food to see what more he can do outside of Mingles.

“What I do here is going to be completely different from what’s done at Mingles,” said Kang.

A luxury brand hotel that tends to not recruit outside experts without hotel experience to run a kitchen has recently opened its doors to local talents. The Millennium Seoul Hilton brought in chef Goo Min-sool, who has about 23 years of experience in restaurants, to make omakase-style meals to diners at its Japanese restaurant Genji in September. The chef said that many hotel guests are intrigued by many different creative dishes that have been rarely offered at hotel restaurants before.

There has also been a rise in luxury hotels providing space to popular pastry shops and cafes. L’Escape Hotel in central Seoul, invited a bakery from Seocho District, southern Seoul, called Maison M’O, to make tea snacks at Le Salon de Maison. Hell Cafe also joined up with the hotel to provide their coffee.

Lotte Hotel Seoul has brought in chefs from France to run many of its food offerings, including chef Pierre Garnier of French restaurant Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul and chef Yannick Alleno, who runs Signiel Seoul’s restaurant Stay.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]