Even though my father was born in Indonesia and I am planning on turning my life upside down by travelling around Asia, I have never actually made a proper visit to the continent. Until several months ago, when I got to go on a chance business trip to Seoul in South Korea.
The trip was exciting for a number of reasons: I got to fly first class (that being the upside of travelling for work) and I got to stay at The Shilla Hotel, which was stunning. There was an amazing pool area where I got to relax for half an hour when I arrived in the late afternoon, and I loved the bathrooms in my suite so much that I almost measured the entire space and wrote down the specifications. However, the most exciting part was quite possibly the breakfast, which offered, simply, everything. I just kept loading up on the pastries, but all the food was fresh and luscious and so, so worth it.
I went from meeting to meeting for three days and unfortunately did not get any time to explore on my own (that being the downside of travelling for work,) but luckily I was with a lovely client, who took the time to take us to a variety of restaurants for lunch and dinner and left me with some serious cravings.
Here are six places I believe you must visit when in Seoul:
◊ The Shilla Hotel. Arguably the best hotel in Seoul. There are several restaurants but I only visited Ariake, where they serve sushi. The space was extremely tranquil, and the quality palpable, and it is also extremely expensive. I would suggest going to the hotel for breakfast. It is the best in the city and you will know why when you are there. The food is fresh, the choice is plentiful and very, very tempting.
◊ Gogung (Insadong.) When I mentioned to the client that I liked bibimbap, they immediately directed us to Gogung. The Insadong branch is down a set of stairs and the interior is authentic and unfussy. The food was plentiful and amazing. Get some kimchi and bibimbap and you are doing it the right way.
◊ O’sulloc Tea House (Myeongdong.) This tea shop sells authentic Korean tea and with that, all the tea flavours you could possibly imagine. When you go to the café on the first floor, you find the most amazing green tea drinks, cakes and ice cream. We must have ordered pretty much everything on the menu, and it was all mouthwateringly delicious.
◊ Tutto Bene (Chungdam.) With the chef having accumulated his craft in Tuscany and Piedmont, the interior of this Italian restaurant is like being time and space warped into the most cosy and picturesque corners of Italy. The details are magnificent and there is just so much to see in such a small space. It’s cosy and romantic with table lights and books and all sorts of props that just really seem to make sense when you are there. This place must be experienced. And whatever you order, always end with the tiramisu.
◊ Gida Sushi (Itaewon.) It looks like the back entrance to someone’s shabby kitchen, but there’s most likely a queue to get in and some of the best and most popular sushi you can get. It’s down to earth, authentic and a much better experience than visiting any fancy sushi restaurant in town.
◊ Kuai 19 (Gangnam.) Because you just can’t say no to Psy’s mother’s Chinese fusion restaurant. (And the food is good!)