Fine Dining

Soul Dining @ Seoul

Dining that comforts the soul, that’s what Soul Dining in Seoul sets out to do. The new 1 Star Michelin restaurant was a wonderful eat in my recent trip.

Love is in the air

Soul Dining is the labour of lover from husband-and-wife team of Chef Yoon Dae-hyeon and Chef Kim Hee-eun, who challenged stylish fine dining in a secluded basement in Namsan. The diverse culinary traditions and ingredients one may encounter in modern-day Korea converge with flawless French-Italian techniques to form unique fusion creations.

Located in a quaint part of Seoul, this operation is Chef Yoon Dae-hyun’s bold experiment in stylish fine dining. Among many connotations of the establishment’s name is a play of Korean homonyms of the chef’s desire to serve 소울 Soul food, as well as 疏鬱 (소울) release the frustration of everyday life with the food.

At Soul, the blissfully married couple show their creativity by merging Yoon’s western cooking techniques with Kim’s aesthetic take on Korean heritage. Chef Kim Hee-eun started her career at a hotel restaurant and developed her career as a culinary researcher and chef. It was during the latter stint that she met Yoon, and they started to dream of a future together, one in which they could understand and support each other.”This is literally our home, and we really hope our guests to find happiness while they are with us,” says Kim.

Welcome Dish | 맞이음식 Maj-ieumsig

Flounder with Mama Kim’s year aged soy sauce on nori cracker and perilla leaf

Amuse bouche

The 맞이음식 Maj-ieumsig was a parade of the Korean heritage of the chefs using flounder sashimi and perilla leaf, both ingredients often used in Korean cuisine. But the binding flavour was from Chef Kim’s mother’s own backyard – soy sauce that were left in the ceramic urns for that extra aging.

맞이음식 Maj-ieumsig

None of the ingredients seems out of place or out of sync. The vintage soy sauce gave the flounder that special savoury taste, while the perilla leaves provided the freshness. The nori chip became an utensil and also the texture of the amuse bouche bursting with flavours.

Apple and Persimmon | 홍시와 홍옥 Hongsiwa Hong-og

Persimmon sauce with sliced apple with assorted vegetable fillings

홍시와 홍옥 Hongsiwa Hong-og

It’s autumn and persimmon 홍시와 is in season. Apple 홍옥 is also associated with autumn, even though the fruit is not perennial. These ingredients formed the backbone of this next course.

Apple and Persimmon

The persimmon has been made into a puree and used as a sauce for the thinly sliced ribbons of apple that were used as a container like a cannoli. And in each tube of apple were place juliennes of different vegetables like jicama, cucumber, scallions, and more apple.

We were encouraged to take a cannoli and dip it in the persimmon sauce. An innovative play of the salad course.

Foamy Poached Egg | 들기름 Foam은 수란 Deulgileum Foam-eun Sulan

Sous vide egg with perilla oil foam and consommé gelee

Foamy Poached Egg

The humble chicken egg has been on the plates of fine dining in recent time. From Andre (“Memory”) to Odette (rosemary smoked egg) to The Modern (egg on egg on egg), they have inspired me to buy my own sous vide heater to make my 65˚C eggs.

들기름 Foam은 수란 Deulgileum Foam-eun Sulan (Poached Egg with Perilla Oil Foam)

As you popped the perilla oil foam, whiffs of pepper and citrusy fragrance of perilla filled your senses, And the perfectly poached egg (I suspected it was sous vide) was revealed sitting on a layer of gelatinised consommé. Decorated with micro greens and edible flowers from Soul’s own backyard, you scoop a bit of everything and enjoy the delicious simpleness of the course.

Mrs Abalone Kim | 미세스김전복 Miseseugimjeonbog

Sliced abalone with abalone liver sauce and mascarpone seaweed cheese

Mrs Abalone Kim

The Korean name of this course, 미세스김전복 Miseseugimjeonbog, is a play of words which can sound like Mrs Kim Abalone or foamy seaweed abalone. It is a signature dish that captures the essence of Soul Dining.

미세스김전복 Miseseugimjeonbog (Foamy seaweed abalone)

Abalones are wrapped in kelp and radish, and then steamed to the correct doneness. The abalone is well harmonised with rich abalone liver sauce enhanced with sesame powder and paired with seaweed mascarpone and lemon oil. The abalone skirting are sliced and mixed with torched 백목이 white fungus. The presentation looked like an accident had just happened on the plate with the guts spilling all over the place. Shocking, but tasty.

Umami on the Shrimp | 감칠맛을 새우다 Gamchilmas-eul Saeuda

Red prawn with local sourced caviar and seafood gelee

Umami on the Shrimp

When this course was served, I frowned at the size of the entire dish, which is exactly the size of typical gunkan sushi from the supermarket. Am I expected to eat everything in one mouthful?

감칠맛을 새우다 Gamchilmas-eul Saeuda (Savoury Prawn or Savour the Umami)

Upon closer examination, you can see how much work has been put into the gelee covering the prawn underneath. The black caviar (which is sourced locally in Korea) and gold foil (which I have no idea why chefs use it as it is tasteless) aside, the aspic include finely slice scallions encased in a gelatinised seafood consommé of shear umami.

Under the umami cover is a coarsely chopped red prawn that is dressed with garlic oil and a little Albariño white wine and kimchi pickle juice for kick. You spoon a little of the caviar, the gelatine and prawn into the mouth and they exploded like umami bombs. Delicious and only if it was slightly bigger.

Potato Pancake | 감자전과 마걸리 Gamjajeongwa Mageolli

Grilled potato cake on potato mash and potato chip with plum salt and truffle oil

감자전과 마걸리 Gamjajeongwa Mageolli

Seemingly simple by complex in texture, flavours and presentation, this is potato done in three ways. Imagine having a potato chip, hash brown and mashed potato all at the same time.

Potato Pancake

Individually the three types of potatoes were not outstanding. But when you mixed it up with a little of the quenelle of apple chutney and plum salt that surrounded the potato pancake, the flavours and texture played around in your mouth. Interesting, but I only liked the truffled mashed potato.


The subtle makgeolli taste in the rice cakes were accentuated with the real thing. It was a sweet alcoholic beverage that seemed harmless, but packed a bad hangover if overdosed.

+ Special Dish “Makgeolli” Rice Cake | 별미 한 접시 구운증편 Byeolmi Han Jeobsi Guunjeungpyeon

Special rice cake with garlic butter, sesame butter and seaweed butter

별미 한 접시 구운증편 Byeolmi Han Jeobsi Guunjeungpyeon (A Plate Of Delicacies – Baked Jeungpyeon)

Makgeolli is Korean fermented rice wine and it is the star ingredient in this special item. It has been incorporated with rice flour to produce the special rice cake that is steamed and then grilled. It is served with three types of butter. I loved the seaweed butter the best, although the garlic butter stood out as well because of the savouriness. I find the sesame butter was the least contrasting with the slightly sweet rice cake.

Charcoal Grilled Fish, Sweet Laver | 생선구이와 감태 Saengseongu-iwa Gamtae

Pomfret with seaweed and stock with kimchi extract

I never expected to be served a piece of pomfret in Korea, and it happens to be my favourite type of fish. Served as a grilled fillet and topped with a head of dill with a fish broth made with some kimchi pickle extract. Hidden under the pomfret are some local spinach called 포항초 pohangcho.

Lamb | 양갈비 Yanggalbi

Scottish lamb with black garlic sauce and assorted grilled local vegetables

Lamb | 양갈비 Yanggalbi

My choice of the main course is 양갈비 Yanggalbi or lamb ribs. I always pick lamb instead of beef if they are available because this red meat is complex in flavour and more nutritious compared to other red meats. The only downside is that it can be gamey or musky. But this Scottish lamb was of a high quality that it did not taste gamey.

The ribs are marinated with fermented apricot syrup and oyster sauce, and then grilled with charcoal just like you would in a Korean style BBQ to give the meat a smokey flavour. The ribs are accompanied with Myeongnamul (wild garlic leave) pickled vegetables, roasted vegetables, Uji rice (black glutinous rice) and burdock chips.

양갈비 Yanggalbi

Surprising in this course, a bowl of seaweed soup was served together with the lamb rib. It is customary for the birthday boy or girl to get a bowl of seaweed soup. This is to remind them how difficult mothers have to endure during the childbirth.

Seaweed soup is purported to help in expressing milk and given to mothers after childbirth. The clear beef broth was cooked with 완도산 곰피와 Wandosan Gompiwa, a delicious seaweed from Wandosan, I have to say that this was the most delicious bowl of seaweed soup I have tasted by far and perfect complement after all the wine I have been drinking.

Sirloin | 한우 채끝 Hanwoo Chaekkeut

Hanwoo beef with banchan

Sirloin | 한우 채끝 Hanwoo Chaekkeut

For a small upgrade, the lamb can be substituted with Hanwoo 한우 or native Korean beef. Because of the rarity, Hanwoo is almost not found in overseas markets. 한우 채끝 Korean beef fillet was used and I find them better tasting than Wagyu because they had a better beef taste and not too much of the greasiness.

Together with the grilled hanwoo were some traditional Korean banchan and grilled mushrooms that you would find standard with Korean-style BBQ.

Korean Noodles | 겨울 후식 국수 Gyeoul Husig Gugsu

Handmade somen with faux bacon, cheese sauce with Parmesan shaving and gojuchang tomato

Korean Noodles | 겨울 후식 국수 Gyeoul Husig Gugsu

In the cold winter, a bowl of warm 설렁탕 Seolleongtang (Ox bone soup) comes to mind. The noodle course was inspired by familiar Korean food culture but by looking at it from a different perspective, a classic Italian dish is reinvented into an Korean innovation.

At first look, I thought it was angel hair pasta, but it turned out to be somen, a traditional Korean noodles. The “carbonara” was made with creamy beef stock that reminded one of Seolleongtang. The “bacon” was made from compressed herbs and vegetable. The “tomato” is actually gojuchang paste mixed with tomato for some heat. The only thing Italian was the shaved parmigiano reggiano.

The only downside to this elaborate dish was that it was served room temperature. Otherwise it would have been a wonderful noodle dish.

“Bingsoo ” with Truffle | 남산 트러플 빙수 Namsan Teuleopeul Bingsu

Sea salt and milk Bingsoo with winter black truffle

The palate cleanser was often mistaken as a dessert because it is sold as a dessert everywhere else. Bingsoo is shaved milk-flavoured ice that is like powdery snow. Sea salt and truffle oil had been added to the ice with a single slice of shaved winter black truffle.

Sweet Pumpkin Cheesecake | 단호박 우유 Danhobag Uyu

Pumpkin cheesecake with milk ice cream and winter melon and brown sugar crumble

The dessert of the evening used another autumn ingredient, the symbol of Halloween – the sweet pumpkin. Decorated with a cinnamon chip that resembles the fallen leaves of autumn and topped with a ball of milk sorbet with red date, the pumpkin is used in two parts – as a cheesecake as well as it original form.

“Da-kwa” and Tea | 꼬두람이 Kkodurami (Petit Four)

Matcha cake, pumpkin macaron, black sesame marshmallow, sweet potato cookie

꼬두람이 Kkodurami (Petit Four)

The final course is curiously called “Da-kwa” 다과, which in refreshment in Korean, while the Korean menu simple called it 꼬두람이 Kkodurami, which is Korean for petit four. It consisted of four thoughtfully put-together sweets that have a bit Korean in each one of them.

“Da-kwa” and Tea

The first purple-looking cookie is made from sweet potato. The black, gauze-like thing is a sesame marshmallow. The macaron is pumpkin flavoured and fit the autumn theme. The final piece of cake is made with matcha and topped with vanilla cream. What a wonderful end to a lovely meal.

Wine Pairing

We picked a five wine package with our dinner. But I want to mention the IPA from Barcelona Beer Company – I really enjoyed this fruity, easy to drink beer even though it did not pair with anything in the evening menu.

A bubbly to start with, Champagne Pierre Paillard à Bouzy Grand Cru Les Parcels XVII 2017. Les Parcelles is a precise expression of Bouzy terroir, combining a rich ripeness with chalky finesse. Harvested primerly in 2018 with 20% of reserve wines, this cuvée is composed of 70% pinot noir and 30 % chardonnay and has spent 3 years on lees before disgorgement. Rich on the nose. Almost sweet, which makes the Extra Brut all the more remarkable.

Paired with the foamy egg, Albariño wine is a delightfully refreshing coastal white that grows on the Iberian Peninsula. It’s loved for its rich stone fruit flavours, a hint of salinity, and zippy acidity. 2020 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefinanes ‘Albarino de Fefinanes’ has a bouquet of green pear and lemon zest. Flavors of Seville orange, pink grapefruit, peach and white flowers wind down to a soft floral finish.

Casa La Rad Tinto Rioja DOCa 2017 is a Rioja in the modern style not overpowered by the injudicious use of oak, with layers of complex aromas and vibrant fruit. Paired with the prawn, the palate delivers a very nicely composed, concentrated and seamless array of black-cherry flavour. The tannins are really soaked in fruit. 

2010 Cuvelier Los Andes Grand Vin from Vista Flores, Argentina has high alcohol content and a dried raisin/prune, pepper, and hints of vanilla on the palate with a lingering fruity finish. Paired with the lamb, I find that this wine has moved past its prime drinking age.

And finally a sweet wine for the desserts. 1982 C. da Silva Presidential Colheita Port (Single Harvest) is aged for a long time in Portuguese or French oak barrels through an oxidative process of ageing. Good easy drinking with flavours of dried figs with peach and hints of vanilla with peppery spices. My favourite among the choices tonight, glad they saved the best for last.

The Decor

The decor is straight forward and clean; everything is white with mood lighting to differentiate the different areas. Because it was evening when we came and the sun went down very early in autumn, we could not see the backyard where Chef Yoon kept his edible greens and flowers.

The diners are seated around the kitchen theatre to watch the action going. Every cutlery and utensils are custom made by Mujagi Studio on the ground floor. Simple white ceramics that complemented the decor of the place.

Worth a Detour

I have to say this place is difficult to find for even the local Uber drivers. It is located in a quaint district in Namsan, and the narrow alleyway does not give confidence to the drivers that their car can reverse out safely. My Uber drove right up to the doorway because he followed the SatNav and found himself stuck. And because it was in the basement, you would only see a small signboard outside that whispered Soul Dining.

Worth a detour? You bet. Even though they have only been awarded a lone star in the latest Michelin guide for Seoul 2023, I would watch them with bated breathe to move up the charts with those bold use of ingredients while adhering to traditional Korean flavours.

Korean Soul Dining
B1F, 35 Sinheung-ro 26-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel : +82 2-318-7685

Visited Nov 2022

Michelin Guide Seoul 1 Star 2023 (New), Plates 2021-2022

#소울다이닝 @soul.dining.seoul

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