After a couple of days of exploring Seoul’s street food and cheap and cheerful dining options, I was ready to see what fine dining looked like Korean style. Accordingly, I booked lunch at Soigné which also served to get me out of Myeongdong to see another part of the city.
Just south of the mighty Han river, Soigné is buried in a slightly unlikely part of town, behind the main bus station and just near a big hospital.
It took a bit of finding and I was lucky to stumble upon their valet parking attendant by accident. He showed me the way to the entrance which takes you down a few steps and into the world of chef Jun Lee.
Soigne, the French word for style and elegance, has been co-opted as the watchword for Lee’s take on contemporary Korean cuisine which he is defining and redefining with his seasonally changing menu which he divides into ‘episodes’, themes on which he hangs a range of dishes exploring a particular facet of flavour, ingredients, society or culture.
I was there for episode 18 which was called Stamina. Aside from the obvious exploration of energy giving foods, it sought to offer lighter dishes more suited to the summer season than some of Korea’s classic dishes, such as the hot stone pot of bibimbap.
The restaurant has built quite a reputation with 1 Michelin Star awarded in 2017 and retained in 2018. The menu offers both the episode theme alongside the opportunity to try some signature dishes, and allows you to choose alternative main courses for a supplement.
I opted for paired drinks which comprised three glasses of wine and a glass of Korean fermented ginseng wine. I chose the Korean beef as a main for an extra 30,000 won.
The first course were snacks of fermented milk with toasted oats and shredded macadamia, and a perilla leaf topped with beetroot and garlic tofu sauce which you wrapped up and munched. These were subtle and quite unusual, but confident openers.
Next we had two seafood appetizers. First was an excellent dish of cubed cuttlefish and nasturtium served with a watercress granita. It was splendid. The yam with eel wrapped in cham-namul – a Korean mountain herb – was good but rather subtle for my palate.
We were then on to a pasta course of casoncelli stuffed with goat meat. The goat is apparently the epitome of stamina in Korean culture. This was an excellent dish with the topping of orange peel and fennel particularly memorable. The goat meat was flavourful and tender and the pasta beautifully crafted.
The main course of Korean beef was introduced by chef Lee himself. The beef had been slowly roasted then seared and was accompanied by a braised little gem lettuce topped with parmesan and a crumb. The beef was exceptionally good with incredibly skilled cooking of the tender meat. The lettuce was fantastic, too. It was the standout dish of meal.
The next course of beef broth was both palate cleanser and enhancer of immediate nostalgia for how good the main course had been.
The pre-dessert of grape sorbet with a mint sauce was fresh and full of zing. The dessert of beetroot ice cream closed the loop on a meal that had begun with beetroot in the perilla leaf. The ice-cream was accompanied by fresh raspberries, pistachio and an orange cream. It was elegant and completely delicious.
I finished with coffee and very stylish petit fours. They were a suitably refined way to draw the curtain on an exceptional dining experience.
So overall, Soigné served me one of the most well-considered and elegant meals I’ve ever eaten. It was packed with memorable flavour combinations and top-notch cooking with the cuttlefish and the beef likely to live on in my food memory banks for quite a while. For a modern take on Korean cuisine, this is a must-visit next time you’re in Seoul.
Blythe scores Soigne
4.5/5 for food
4.5/5 for presentation
5/5 for setting
5/5 for service
giving an overall 19/20
I ate: episode 18 – stamina
I drank: paired wines
I wore: highly soigné action footwear
Total bill: 168,000 won
Address: 46 Banpo-daero 39-gil, Banpo 4(sa)-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul