PIERRE GAGNAIRE a Seoul
Wow! I finally got to have a meal here. PIERRE GAGNAIRE à Séoul (listen to SeoulPodcast #128 to hear how Stafford pronounces it) is widely considered to be the best restaurant in Korea. The menu has been out of the price range of this little food blogger, but luckily Sarah at Seoul in the City was able to get us a complimentary lunch. On top of that, Chef Pierre was in town for a week, and we got to meet him–actually, I ended up meeting him three times that day. I’m giddy around great chefs, like a Korean tween meeting 2PM. Chef Pierre was very polite, warm, had a firm handshake, and looked you directly in the eye, full of confidence without arrogance. I’d say that described the style of his restaurant too.
The restaurant occupies the top floor of the Lotte Hotel, near City Hall. Our seat was by the window, overlooking north Seoul.
As we settled down with an opening glass of champagne, the maitre d’ stopped by and showed us some lovely black truffles, waving his hand to spread the dark forest scent. They had a special W300,000 truffle menu going on. This is quite a way to upsell. Despite the great temptation, I chose a different menu. I wanted to see how Pierre Gagnaire highlighted local Korean ingredients.
Immediately some little amuses came out. I started to learn the style of the restaurant. They serve a lot of little things in each course. Each little thing is highly complex, usually mixing flavors that push your palate to the edges. Even though they describe everything in detail, it’s so much information that you need to keep your menu with you as a cheat sheet.
The lens is making this look larger than it is. It’s around the size of a thumbnail in real life. I don’t remember the details of the first line of tasties, and they weren’t written in the menu. But I think the yellow stuff was saffron. It was tiny and light. Explosion of flavor.
The menu is seasonal, as it should be. So what we had today likely will be different when you go. (Click for the latest menu.) This is to give you an idea of the style and flavors. What stood out to me most, other than the warm professional service, was how the flavors were so surprising. Dishes were playful interpretations of classics, familiar dishes with surprise ingredients, or completely new flavor combinations.
More little delicacies to start the meal.
The bread came out warm and sliced tableside with nice butter.
Now, I thought what had come out before were the amuses, but the menu said these were the amuses. They were more like appetizers to me. We were to eat them clockwise from the center. First up…
Root vegetable veloute with foie gras chantilly. Mmm… I rarely get to eat foie gras. It usually turns out to be once a year. Deep flavors on top of deep flavors.
Apple ice cream with pineapple, endive, and grapefruit marmalade. The apple chip was so thin and delicate. The ice cream and marmalade gave a pleasant chill and were full of natural fruitiness. Not overly sweet.
Beetroot jelly with acidulated cream a la georgienne. I’ve really grown to love beets. The acidulated cream, to me, is a fancy way of saying “sour cream.” So this was a play on borscht. A chilled borscht. Going more with the winter root vegetable theme.
Beef tartare mimosa, sweet potato pulp with mustard. The flower pollen looking granules are egg yolk. I was expecting a play on yuk hui, but it was more French with a cameo by Korean sweet potatoes.
Osole oyster with ginger, guava infusion, and frosted banana. Surprising flavors here. I was not sure what to make of the banana, but the ginger was just perfect. Grabbed the shell and slurped it down with gusto.
Fishing from Jeju
Bouillabaise jelly, tomato concasse with anchovies and cauliflower aioli. I was told there was smoked herring in this, too. It reminded me of a Scandanavian breakfast.
Ok dom fillet, roasted and poached in butter in mussels marinere, baby squids and leek. This dish stood out the most to me, and I can still feel it in my mouth. Ok dom is a fish whose scales can be fried and eaten. In this case, the filet was placed scaleside down on an oil pan and cooked until they puffed up and raised. Cool effect. Crispy like fried pork rinds. The fish itself was moist and perfectly cooked, along with the oceany mussel and squid marinere. I used the bread to mop that up.
Pissaladiere–arugula, onion, provolone, and fish liver. Elegant yet homey.
The cheese course was optional. We opted for it.
Endive ice cream, walnuts, Bleu d’Auvergne, jellied juniper berries, lamb’s lettuce, and walnut oil. Savory ice cream that was strong with blue cheese. Classic cheese plate flavors done up like an ice cream sundae.
Okay, now we get to the parts that I don’t remember well. I think that was Camembert mousse on the bottom. The red jam was omija, which makes perfect sense. Omija tastes a lot like cranberries, which greatly match ripe cheeses.
A type of blue cheese terrine with lychees and a tangerine sauce.
Gruyere cubes with coconut yogurt and white chocolate.
Chocolate Souffle Dessert Course
Manjari chocolate souffle biscuit with praline parfait. Oh yeah! Hot fluffy chocolate souffle coming my way. But wait, there’s more!
Drizzle some warmed chocolate in the middle.
Top with praline ice cream. Funny that we missed National Chocolate Souffle Day by one day. Yes, there is a Chocolate Souffle Day.
I deserve this. So do you.
Arabica jelly with Armagnac, orange marmalade, cappuccino. Pleasant adult cocktail dessert. Have your afterdinner coffee and brandy at the same time, why not?
Pear tartlet with cinnamon and dark chocolate. Lovely! By this time, I was really stuffed.
Coffee and Petit Fours
Here we finish with housemade rose marshmallow, a delicate bon bon, and I think the one on the right was yuja in a what I surmised was a sugar straw. In the rear was a green tea finisher. Not too sweet, which was welcome.
And that was it. The lunch took a leisurely two hours. Again, the service was really at the top of the game. The food was so surreal that, well, you can see that it left me speechless. I hope the photos can tell the story well enough. This really is the pinnacle of fine dining in Seoul–as if you needed to hear that from me. I truly wish that more people in the Korean food industry would dine here and take notice of the details and atmosphere. Pierre Gagnaire excels at fine dining because it makes the diner feel welcome and comfortable. They don’t push you out the door. In fact, they let me linger for another hour to absorb the view a little more. They’re not snobby, they’re personable. It’s not the cartoon stuffy waiter theater that passes for fine dining in many Korean “upscale” restaurants. They’re a model for what the future of Seoul’s fine dining scene can be.
Thanks again to Sarah, Lizzie, and everyone who made this possible. Please inform me about some of the dishes I forgot or didn’t get quite right.