Kwonsooksoo is the restaurant that most appealed to me from the Michelin guide in Seoul. Guests eat from a “dok-sang”, a small “single table” on top of the conventional table or counter, a tradition from the Korean high-class dining culture. A small card on your table reads: “Kwonsooksoo presents modern Korean cuisine with valuable ingredients from all around the country and house-made Jang (Korean paste), Kimchi, Jeot-gal and Jang-a-chi (Korean Pickle)”.
I want to eat at restaurants that have integrity, offer quality food presented in an understated manner, and are not relying on gimmicks such as dry ice. This two-star restaurant fit my criteria. Michelin says: “The name of the restaurant is derived from an archaic Korean word 'sooksoo' which means "professional cook." Chef Kwon Woo Joong interprets traditional Korean cuisine with a decidedly modern flair, using both rare and readily-available seasonal ingredients to create unconventional flavors.”
Since I knew very little about Korean food, every new ingredient felt like a challenge, something unknown, and you cannot avoid feeling out of your depth, faced with a new world of flavors and ingredients. Many of the restaurants featured on Chef’s Table aim to represent the ingredients of their country and give a sense of discovery for the diners, among others D.O.M. (Brazil) and Central (Lima).
I am generally suspicious of blindly seeking the discovery of new flavours and ingredients. The range of fruits, vegetables and animals in this world is endless. In fact, many remain undiscovered by mankind. Seeking novelty for its own sake is misguided. Jiro said something that I did not understand at first, since it seems so simple: Innovation is good, but only if it improves the taste.
At Kwonsooksoo, I had the chance to encounter a new sensibility, a different palate and sense of culinary pleasure. The 4 Korean liquors that came with the meal were much stronger than nihonshu, tasting clearly of alcohol and having a stronger aroma, with one exception.
In the end, I felt that the experience of discovering a new palate – the modern Korean palate – was interesting, but did not compare to the shock I experienced having my first kaiseki meal. Perhaps that is too high a standard. The presentation was understated and the dishes were delicious, interesting and of high quality. I hope that young Koreans will discover that their food culture can be more wide-ranging than Korean BBQ and the otherwise strong flavors that are typical of Korean food. The dishes were subtle and sophisticated, with reminders of the ruggedness of Korea.
There are many quality things to do in Seoul and I know that there must be a lot that is hidden. I enjoyed walking in Gyeongbokgung Palace. In particular, Leeum Samsung Museum was of the highest quality, with one half devoted to traditional Korean arts (Celadon, Buncheong wares and white porcelain, painting, metal) and one half for international and Korean modern art. The Olafur Eliasson installation “Gravity Stairs” about our solar system was great: the ceiling is made of mirrors and the illusion is perfectly done. The planets and the sun appear differently when moving around. What was most striking for me was the illusion of the mirrors, which raises the question of whether what we see in life and the universe is actually reality, or an illusion, or both. If what we see is an illusion, is there a reality that we do not see? Do we enjoy seeing the illusion and do we want to avoid thinking about the fact that it is simply a mirror? The sun seems perfectly spherical. The planets, on the other hand, never fully reveal themselves, as part of their light is always hidden no matter where you stand. Famous for his “Weather Project”, Olafur Eliasson’s installation about our solar system was speaks highly of this quality museum.
Looking back months after my visit, there is much that I did not know about Korean food, such as siwonhan-mat (시원한 맛), which refers to a feeling of deliciousness felt by the body that emanates from fermented foods and broth-based soups. I believe it also has something to do with curing hangovers. I hope to go back, experience siwonhan-mat and discover what is hidden within and outside Seoul, behind the superficial.
Kwon Sook Soo: 2F, 27 Eonju-ro 170-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art: 60-16, Itaewon-ro, 55-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
*Although I do not like to post pictures, because there is a lack of posts about this restaurant, I thought that pictures would add value in this case.
The only true voyage of discovery would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes.
Den, Kichisen, Kurogi, Dozono, Manger, Tagetsu, Goryukubo, Saiho-ji, Ogata, Ren, Kohaku, Ajiro, Saito, Tai-an, Kasumicho Suetomi, Suetomo, Sasada, Ichita.