- AmbienceEditor: 100%
- FoodEditor: 90%
- ServiceEditor: 95%
- ValueEditor: 80%
I'm not too subtle about my love for the W Hotel at Walker Hill. I used to make fun of bleeding-techno-edge-modern places-out-of-Sprockets places like this, but I have been hooked on it since my first experience there. It's the first W Hotel built from the ground up as a W concept. Most others in the world are refurbished structures. It's full of gorgeous people, and the Woo Bar makes pricey but killer cocktails, where you could possibly rub shoulders with Boy George or Beyoncé when they're in town. We've concentrated on The Kitchen, their western restaurant, with our features on the W180,000 X Burger and their contemporary Korean tasting menu. But it's the Japanese restaurant Namu, located behind the Woo Bar and the front desk, that has been unfairly neglected. Let's hope this post is part of the change for that. Before we go into the sushi love, let's give a brief summary of the state of sushi in Seoul. It sucks. Expats are consistently disappointed that they're moving across the world, this close to Japan, and the sushi doesn't fare better than in their home countries. Korean sushi is limp watery fish on flavorless gummy rice and usually consists of two flavors, halibut and shrimp. Forget having any fish with flavor or Omega-3 like salmon or tuna. We do have places that specialize in tuna, but it comes out frozen solid. My guess is that Korean diners don't like actual flavor in their raw fish. The freezing numbs all the mineral goodness from the fish, and I usually let it thaw out in my soy sauce. Now Korean hui is a different experience and is good, but it's not Japanese sushi. That's a very Korean experience. But the dirty secret about Japanese sushi bars in Korea is that they're clandestine places where people go for extra-marital affairs. So the food doesn't really matter. There are exceptions. The small string of sushi bars in Ichon-dong are talked about in hushed tones, and there's that one really good place I went to in far eastern Seoul. But Chefs Ciaran Hickey and Jayden Kim have been doing their research. They've been secretly going around these sushi bars, taking notes and figuring out ways to top them. "I haven't found a place that beats what we're doing here," says Chef Ciaran. And I agree. Jennifer "Fatman Seoul" Flinn, Eun Jeong and I got invited by the hotel and between us indulged in over W400,000 worth of sushi. And this is definitely the place to indulge. Omakase runs between W120,000 and W150,000. Considering that's not much more than a mediocre steak dinner in Seoul, that ain't bad. The magic and memories are the real treats. I'm not saying that because we were treated. This is something I would pay for to experience again. Namu has gone through a major renovation in concept, interior and menu. There's now a sushi bar that acts as the hub of the restaurant. It's shaped like a Japanese parasol with wooden rain running down the sides. There are even more bars towards the sides. And there are more private dining alcoves with a circular sliding metal curtain. Now let's get on with the food. In restaurant posts, I usually take a picture of the menu or bring a copy home because I have the memory of a goldfish. I then use the menu and the pictures to recall what I ate. Since this was all omakase--meaning the chef takes care of you through improvisation--I couldn't remember what we ate by the time the next piece landed on our plates. And EJ and the chef were chatting away in Korean the whole time while I struggled with my camera, trying to get steady shots in the low light. So, sorry if I forget some details. Your experience likely will be different anyway. But generally here's the sushi menu.
Sake cocktail Welcome dish (Amuse-bouche) 5 pieces sushi Soup 10 pieces traditional & modern sushi Hosomaki (1 roll) & temaki (1 piece) Dessert & buckwheat teaJen and I each ordered the sashimi omakase while EJ ordered the sushi omakase. Even though the sushi was the cheaper of the two, Jen and I were consistently ogling EJ's food. The menu starts you off with a sake cocktail from a wide selection. This was the house favorite. Sake with dry champagne and a plum. Now that I think about it, it made a great match with the fishies. Since EJ is pregnant, she had some really nice tea instead. The starter was bold for the western palate, using what we call ma in Korea, a slimy root vegetable that is popular in Japan and Korea. The consistency is off-putting to the uninitiated, but the flavor was strong and citrusy. I always look silly trying to eat this with chopsticks. It's like trying to pick up snot. But don't let that turn you off. It's hardly that at all, and that's my point. Despite the gooeyness, I ate every last bit because it tasted so good. Here comes the beef. Yuk Hui (Korean steak tartare) with microthin pear. They always find new elegant ways to show off the most elegant of Korean dishes. Oh, this is a Japanese restaurant. I'm sure this is a Japanese dish. Either way, it's fresh minerally raw beef. The caveman in me rejoiced. Yes, this is a salad. And it's an amazing salad! The shiitake mushrooms stand out in my memory with that crispy sweet potato chip. Lots of interesting greens and soy sesame dressing. EJ went nuts over the soup. Deep and rich with dumplings. At this point, I start getting my sashimi. Oh, how it glistens. Clockwise from the token veggies are halibut, sea bream and toro tuna. And you know what I had my eye on from the start. Hello unfrozen tuna. Have you met my tongue? No? Let me introduce you. A little vegetable interlude as we check out EJ's first sushi round. Ah, it looks like EJ got some tuna, too. Some fatty tuna. With a little yuzu and miso crown. Creamy. Bright. Orange. Protein (okay, umami). Here's a little halibut. Sea bream with red miso. Very red miso. In the meantime, I was getting some nice firm slices of some interesting fishies. Check out the Katsuo (Bonito). But I kept eyeing EJ's little morsels of nigiri. Should I have gotten the sushi instead of the sashimi? Now EJ got her white fish, which seems to be the favorite among Koreans. Sea bream. This halibut nigiri piece sports a sour ponzu jelly that EJ really liked. She kept going on and on about it. I had some striped jack from Japan. I love the scoring. Ah, here's something I got that EJ envied. Lightly seared tuna with that sour jelly and crispy garlic chips. Why don't they sell garlic chips at GS-25? I could eat these by the handful. And the tuna--oh jeez, the tuna! The ponzu jelly acted like the malt vinegar on fish 'n' chips, and I think that this was a homage to them. This was the pinnacle to EJ. Fresh mackerel with miso. This makes it so much worth it. After taking pictures of this, she put it in her mouth and did this. That's a look of complete surprise and ecstasy. I have never seen her react that way to a single bite. She had to pause and close her eyes. I think something clicked inside her that made her understand why we love food so much. She covered her face so people couldn't see how much she was in her own private thrill box. I thought something was wrong. When she came up for air, her first words were, "Oh... my... God..." And then I had my little fish. No, all my sashimi was super, and look at those knife strokes. At this point, though, looking at what was going on EJ's plate, I wanted say, "I'll have what she's having." I mean, look at this one. Kampachi (amberjack) with yuzu skin and seaweed. I then got some yummy abalone. And EJ really got some abalone. But by then the meal was winding down. Even though the chef would make us whatever we wanted, and he was itching to show off his skills some more, we were cursing our stomachs for having seating capacities. But I did get this little morsel. I've loved eel from the first days I ever ate sushi. This was wrapped with some yuja peel. Sweet smoky orange with that fresh fish finish. The maki rolls were definite signs that we were nearing the end. I was still envying EJ's sushi parade and all those unique creations coming from the chef. Then he put this in front of me. Hokkadio scallop garnished with caviar. Real osetera caviar. And staying in the realm of roe, we also had me some sea urchin roe. This was EJ's first time to have it. I was waiting for the taste to disturb her, but she mostly complained about the creaminess. She's not a fan of the creamy. But I don't mind. That sea urchin just made my night. In Korean sushi bars, the hand rolls are just rubbery seaweed with a little bit of rice and flying fish roe. These cones of wonder were stuffed with even more tuna and some rice, and they were really stuffed. We finished with some hot beverages, fruit and ice cream--done in the W style on top of a bed of crumbled cookies. Then they brought out some special ice creams--green tea and sake. Guess which one was everyone's favorite? Oh, and they remembered the cherry. I'm still a kid about that. Cherries always make ice cream special. Here was the magic maker for our evening, Takashima Yasunori from Osaka. He's not only a sushi chef. He's a great talker. We ended up just lingering for another hour after ice cream talking about Japan, Korea and food. Seriously, if you're looking for a memorable sushi experience, this is the place. The ambience is just right. The food is fresh. Creativity abounds. And the flavors are transcendental.