A guide to navigating Seoul's hip dining scene
For the 'Gram
If pretty spaces and a caffeine hit are your thing, visit Proper Coffee Bar in Songpa district. It's about 40 minutes by bus or metro from central Seoul, but definitely worth the effort as their toasts and coffee are exceptional. What first attracts visitors here is its interior design — expect the likes of Balmuda toasters and Louis Poulsen lamps. Order a flat white (its smooth, creamy texture will delight) and pair it with one of their mouth-watering fig or avocado toasts. As their toasts sell out right after lunch hour, it's best to make your way to this joint as early as you can.
Get Some Coffee in located in chic Garosu-gil and is touted as one of the city's most stylish coffee places. Wooden tables and chairs surrounded by lush greenery add a Scandinavian touch (an interior design keyword that Seoulites are wild about at the moment). Coffees here are also more affordable compared to other cafés in the neighborhood. An Americano is priced at 3,000 won (SGD $3.60), while most other places sell it for at least 4,200 won (SGD $5).
Those with a sweet tooth should hit up Café Layered in Anguk-dong — located a stone's throw away from the Gyeongbok Palace, one of Seoul's most popular tourist attractions. This homey café is famous for its array of scones, from earl grey to basil to chedder & bacon. What's more? Café Layered is also located inside a newly renovated hanok — traditional Korean housing with signature roof tiles — for a truly unique experience.
A TOUCH OF TRADITION
If you want a uniquely Korean experience over copious amounts of beer and wine in the evenings, Juban in Jongno district should be included in your visit. This pub inside a 1990s hanok features a small courtyard — and in our opinion, the best place to have your meal, especially in the spring or fall when the weather sits beautifully at 18 degrees Celsius. Juban serves its food and drinks on a soban, a traditional Korean small tray-like table. Popular dishes include donghae, a salad made with octopus, potato and celery, and namhae — steamed mussels with puttanesca sauce.
For an authentic Korean meal, try Chef Tony Yoo's Korean restaurant, Dooreyoo, in Jongno district. Call for the restaurant's signature dish, seolyamyeokjeok, a Korean barbecue dish using a traditional technique of grilling with charcoal fire and snow. The chef personally comes out with a torch and the charcoal barbeque pot and cooks the beef in front of your eyes — trust us, this is your Instagram Stories moment.
Two-Michelin starred Kwon Sook Soo in the Gangnam District, makes for an unforgettable meal at any time of the day. Headed by chef Kwon Woo-joong, the restaurant only serves set meals, priced at 66,000 won (SGD $80) for lunch and 135,000 won (SGD $164) for dinner. Chef Kwon's specialty is the fact that he can make anything from scratch, including Korean sauces and a selection of kimchi, which he serves at his restaurant. He also crafts his dishes based on seasonal ingredients to create unconventional flavours. Tip: Reserve a seat at the counter for all the finest action in the house.
Looking for a nightcap and some Korean pub grub? Pop over to Anssi Makgeolli in the trendy district of Gyeongnidan-gil near Itaewon. Order yourself some makgeolli, a Korean-made liquor made with fermented rice. The drinks are served in old-fashioned ceramic bowls — and if you're hungry, the chef will recommend different Korean dishes that best suits the type of makgeolli you're drinking. If you're stuck in a rut, our favourite dish is their 'kimchi and rice' as long as you're able to handle the heat. It's not on the menu, so treat it as our little secret — this piping hot bowl of rice and three different kinds of kimchi make a moreish combination and pairs well with all kinds of makgeolli.
Want a taste of New York City in Seoul? Try Oasis in Hannam-dong, one of the must-tries on any insider's list at the moment. Its sleek, minimalistic interiors pay homage to cafés in Brooklyn or Melbourne, and so does its menu, with dishes such as eggs benedict, avocado salads and hearty omelettes. Don't be surprised by the number of obsessive Seoulites getting their selfies taken here. The restaurant's official waiting area — a little wooden deck outside the front door — has now become an unofficial 'Instagram selfie' zone.
About Sharon Seunghye Yim
Sharon calls herself a professional generalist, as she attempts to learn about things happening around her and in this world. She writes for a living, and plans to do so until her fingers can't move on the keyboard any longer. When she's not writing, you'll find her documenting her adventures as culture enthusiast reporter on her personal Instagram, or drawing illustrations for postcards.