VIPS (pronounced, um, vips) is Korea’s version of Sizzler. It’s a chain steakhouse run by CJ Foodville that has been around since 1997. When I first came to Korea in 2004, it and Outback were the only places to get steak, really. Back then Outback was even better. But over the years Outback really slid in quality while VIPS made an effort to upgrade their restaurants. It was around 2008 and 2009 that they started putting better quality foods in their salad bars. I remember because I was working with a then executive who told me flat out that they knew what their reputation was, and they were trying to improve it.

That exec is long gone, and VIPS has devolved back into depressing hilarity. Let’s start with this food crime.


The VIPS Porterhouse

This is a steak for W207,680. That’s around $200! I never get the steaks at VIPS anymore because they’re awful. They don’t train their staff well. They slather it in cloyingly sweet sauces. I come from the school that sauce is used to cover up your mistakes. I know that beef in Korea is some of the most expensive in the world. And the business strategy of a lot of places in Korea is to just slap a huge price tag on it, and it’s instantly a luxury item. And Koreans in restaurants like to show off to guests by buying the most expensive things on the menus.

This. Is. Ridiculous.

Even by Korean standards this is too expensive. It’s an 800g steak. It’s a big steak. But gram-by-gram, it’s running on par with the best, most exclusive steakhouses in Seoul. VIPS ain’t running at that level. They’re VIPS. What I’m about to show below shows you the level where they’re at, and it isn’t $200 steaks.

The Salad Bar.

VIPS has been running these monthly promotions for a year or so, where they zip you off to another land around the world. Italy. Brazil. And this past month…


They’re also doing the puzzling marketing strategy of dressing actor Kim Soohyun in the attire of each country each month and photoshopping his autograph on the promotional posters. Because you know nothing says good cookin’ like pretty Kim Soohyun! Did he at least play a cook on TV?


Gee, Soohyun, thanks for the recommendation!


"I'm thinking how British I am."

“I’m thinking how British I am.”

So, what British food did they have at the salad bar? They marked their special British dishes with the Union Jack.


Queen Elizabeth Salad

This was exactly what it looked like. Chicken in honey mustard. The standard Korean shortcut for making any food “foreign.” There is nothing the Queen likes better to tuck into than shredded chicken breast and honey mustard!

"We are not amused."

“We are not amused.”


Cavatelli Pasta Salad

I think this is Welsh, right? Cavatelli pasta comes from Wales. I’m sure of it. Didn’t you learn that famous quote from Edward II, “If I be cruel and grow tyrannous, now let them thank themselves and have some cavatelli pasta salad.”


Cinnamon Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Salad

Maybe–sorta–you could see this in the UK. I noticed this was the least touched of all the dishes.


British Salad

Yep. That’s all it was called. British Salad. Sorry, my British friends. Your salad consists of mushrooms in oil. That’s the best we can do.



Tofu and Shallot Pickle Salad

Tofu salad.

Okay, we’re not even trying here. Walk away. Just walk away. Nothing to see here.

Oh, and other things they advertised, like trifle, didn’t make an appearance. Maybe I should have been thankful.


One thing that VIPS has going for it is that they are able to get their hands on ingredients that aren’t widely used in Korea. Too bad they don’t know what to do with them once they get them. Here, I see they have received a shipment of beets. They’re at the salad bar. Cubed. Raw. They were like eating raw chunks of potato. I’ve heard of salads that use raw beets, but they usually shred them to make them more palatable, like this.

From Mark Bittman

From Mark Bittman

VIPS has ovens. They could just toss them in a little oil, salt, pepper, and roast them.But it’s the rule in Korean-run foreign restaurants: Get a dish almost perfect and then find ways to fuck it up.

Can’t wait for the Provence promotion–if only for the healing recipe.



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