In a whirlwind trip to Seoul, I had only one more lunch while waiting for my airport transfer in the hotel. I settled for Ondal, the traditional Korean restaurant in Sheraton Walkerhill
Set on the lush, green mount Acha that looks over the Han River on the eastern side of Seoul, Ondal gives one a chance to get away from it all. Located at the Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel, this fine-dining Korean restaurant has hosted a number of dignitaries including participants during the G20 summit held in Korea. The restaurant sources the highest quality ingredients in Seoul and then diligently prepares them using modern and classical techniques.
Royal Court Cuisine
In the past, Royal Court Cuisine was a mystery for most in Korean society for only the royalty and nobility could enjoy it. The descriptions of colorful, artistic foods made with exotic and opulent ingredients would capture the imaginations of the working class. The main principles behind the cuisine is that it should be a harmonious balance of color, textures, and of ingredients from the land, sea, and mountains.
Traditionally, the king would sit in a room as servants would bring tables set with food for him to dine by himself. The food would be brought out all at once and the king would be able to see all the products of his kingdom before him. By tasting pollack from Inje, the tofu from Paju, or apples from Daegu; he would be able see how his people fared. These days Royal Court Cuisine is typically reserved for special meetings and guests.
In the top restaurants in Korea, families might meet to discuss the marriage of their children and it is also a place where important contracts and meetings are held. The cuisine is an important marker in a person’s life.
It is unusual for a Korean restaurant to serve an amuse bouche. But Ondal Executive Chef has also been trained in the French technique, he has paired a delightful amuse bouche with the Executive Royal Lunch Set.
The amuse bouche comprised of two well thought parts. The mesclun salad was dressed with a sweet date and berry vinaigrette with dried mandarin orange, and a scallop carpaccio with abalone slices, tomato and orange dressing. While differing in taste and texture, the two worked harmoniously together to offer the vision of Royal Court Banquet in a French amuse bouche.
Banchan or bansang is a collective name for small side dishes served along with cooked rice in Korean cuisine. As the Korean language does not distinguish between singular and plural grammatically, the word is used for both one such dish or all of them combined.
Gamja jorim (알감자 조림) – Soy sauce braised baby potatoes are a popular Korean side dish. Baby potatoes were soft inside but the outer layer was somewhat sticky, chewy and it’s irresistibly delicious. What’s more, it’s coated with sweet and salty braising sauce, making it a perfect side dish to simple steamed rice.
Kimchi is the quintessential Korean side dish. Every Korean would feel empty without kimchi with their rice. There’s thousands of variation of kimchi, the main variation is spiced with gochugaru (chilli powder), garlic, scallions and lots of salt. Because of the fermentation, properly made kimchi contains microorganisms that are beneficial to the human, similar to bacteria found in yoghurt and Yakult. Of course, they are tasty too.
The other bananas offered ar zucchini with octopus dressed with sesame oil, and fried dried shrimp with pine nuts.
자소엽 간장게장 Perilla Leaf soy sauce Marinated Crab
This was an ala carte order, a rare and expensive treat only to be found autumn and winter. Locally well known as the rice stealer, raw marinated crabs (ganjang gejang) may sound odd but it was heavenly! Best way to start the meal is to put your rice in the crab shell with its roe, scoop a few spoons of sauce and mix well. The crab meat was sweet and fresh, no hint of fishiness at all and the accompanying sauce was not over salty, just nice enough to keep you wanting more.
한우 불고기 Hanwoo beef bulgogi
Korean beef (Hanwoo) is a breed of small cattle native to Korea. This breed is raised mainly for meat and is the source of Hanwoo beef, one of the most rare and expensive meats in the world. It is one of four indigenous Korean breeds, the others being the Chikso, the Heugu and the Jeju Black. Similar to Japanese wagyu, but with a beefier taste, Hanwoo is rarely exported due to demand at home.
Bulgogi (which means firemeat in Korean) is traditionally grilled, but pan-cooking has become popular as well. Whole cloves of garlic, sliced onions and chopped green peppers are often grilled or fried with the meat. Here at Ondal, they served it pan-fried with mushrooms on a hot-stone
So which do I prefer? Depends on what you like. I’ve had both. In general A5 Japanese Wagyu is far more expensive and the meat is far more tender than Hanwoo beef. Eating A5 Wagyu is almost like eating the beef version of Foie Gras due to the way it melts in your mouth.
Hanwoo beef tends to be somewhat similar to Wagyu from US or Australia in my experience – it has the chewy ‘beef’ flavour but with markedly more tenderness than the typical steak – halfway between an Angus steak and a Japanese Wagyu steak – and the fat/marbling content is usually right in between these two as well.
The set lunch came with a traditional bean past radish soup and lettuce to wrap the bulgogi.
It was a sweet ending to the fine lunch, but it was really the rice wine soup that a fine digestive for the heaviness of the meal.
Overall a really good experience in a hotel restaurant, but I am sure you can find similar in town at a lesser price.
Gwangjin-gu Gwangjang-dong San 21 (광진구 광진동 산21);
Tel : 02 450 4518
Date Visited : 2015