Fancy a meal of dried fish and other seafood? No, it’s not you salted fish and pickled squid that you get from here. Yun Seoul dry-aged their ingredients to create a totally different flavour and texture.
Getting to Yun Seoul
Walk past the bustling streets near Hongik University subway station, into a quiet alleyway. Here you will find Yun Seoul—on the second floor of a typical Korean suburban house.
This Michelin-starred restaurant operates at will for about 6-9 months a year. It’s a strange restaurant that doesn’t have a regular business period, but takes unplanned long-term closure in search of ingredients and culinary inspiration.
The space has adopted a lab-like design, and therefore, features a wide array of cooking utensils as well as fermented ingredients.
Yun Seoul’s Kim Do-yun believes time builds quality of Korean fine dining. Kim Do-yun, head chef reopened his restaurant in March last year (2022), eight months after closing its doors. Kim, in his late 40s, has been cooking for 32 years, but his eagerness and obsession to know more about ingredients that can show different aspects and textures of Korean food never ceases. He has since closed the restaurant (Apr 2023) to go find his next repertoire of ingredients.
Inside his restaurant where dried fish heads hang from the ceilings and on the walls are four gigantic machines used for dry aging ingredients to allow him to control the humidity and temperature. Most of these recipes incorporate dry aging, not just of beef or duck, but fish and even different kinds of mushrooms and fruits.
The Korean cuisine is an intriguing mixture of the familiar and bold, with each dish showcasing the inherent flavors of products and reflecting the chef’s firm belief in cooking from scratch using only fresh, raw ingredients. In particular, the house-made perilla oil noodles and dishes cooked with fish fermented on-site, highlight the culinary direction. One can experience the delicate yet robust nature of Korean food in this spot that flaunts a one-of-a-kind charm unseen in other conventional dining rooms.
The Degustation Dinner
When we were seated around the table counters, the course proceeded simultaneously, and the servers distributed around the worktop gave brief explanations whenever the food was served. We had no idea what to expect but these were served that night. Also the description of each course was entirely mine, as there was no menu given.
- Selection of dry-aged ingredients
- Steamed egg with grilled belt fish
- Oyster with yuzu sorbet
- Two fish tarts of dry-aged fishes
- Korean chapssal donut with white fish
- Pistachio mascarpone potato puff
- Marinated 2 weeks dry-aged scallop caviar potato pancake
- Fours types of shrimp, black olive pesto. pine nut sauce
- Royal cuisine – ochae with fermented bean paste
- Homemade three-flour milgugsu, perilla oil
- Stewed radish, dumpling skin, seolleongtang
- Baby calamari, yuba dumpling filled with mushroom and crab, burdock, black garlic, grilled lemon
- Gumtae, baby anchovies, fish soup
- Dry-aged Hanwoo sirloin, soy sauce, burdock, abalone, radish kimchi
- Rice with baby anchovies and mushrooms
Selection of dry-aged ingredients
Because we were late (our fault, we were looking for the front door), we were served the third course first. This course highlights the different dry-aging process that they do in-house on a variety of ingredients.
From right to left: White fish, ginkgo, chaeyam seed, dried squid , dried scallop, dried shrimp. Initial impression – they were not salted, unlike the Chinese dried seafood, which were heavily salted and then dried under the sun. The technique used were modern and aimed at removing moisture but not altering the taste.
Steamed egg with grilled belt fish
The dinner was supposed to start with the steamed egg custard on a bed of soybean paste porridge and topped with grilled belt fish, also known as the cutlassfish or galchi 갈치. Beneath the steamed egg is soybean paste porridge made with Samgwangmi rice. Although the seasoning is not strong, people will like or dislike it because of its unique scent, but if you mix it well with steamed egg, the scent will be slightly diluted. The grilled cutlassfish is so small that only the crispy grilled skin remains in my memory.
Oyster with yuzu sorbet
The oyster was supposed to the second course, but since we were late (and they needed to construct it from scratch), it came after the egg custard.
The freshly shucked oysters were from Tongyeong that have been farmed for six years old and were quite large. The oyster was delicious and there wasn’t any need for the sorbet. It had a slightly creamy texture, and Tabasco to provide a bit of heat.
Refreshing appetiser that showcased a beautiful gift from nature the oyster was. It was accompanied with a cold copper cup of duck(?) beer. I wanted to believe I heard wrongly, but the server had limited English and so we left it as that. It was fizzy, fermented but tasted more fruit and of poultry.
And now we were caught up with the pace of the dinner.
Two fish tarts of dry-aged fishes
Next, two types of tarts came out. One was a tart filled with goat cheese, shiny muscat slices and 4 days old dry-aged eel (L), and the other was a tart lined with natto and topped with 1 week dry-aged mussel, half a peel of orange and sole fish. Both tart shells were made with buckwheat.
The server recommended for us to do the tart in one or two bites, starting with eel tart. The goat cheese didn’t have a strong musky taste associated with the animal, but a rathe mild cream cheese flavour. The dried eel slight pan fried was a little fishy and required the sour grapes to cut through. Mussel, natto, orange and sole fish did not any synergy among the ingredients, but strangely I enjoyed this more pungent and complex tart better.
Korean chapssal donut with white fish
찹쌀도넛 Korean chapssal donut is a popular street food usually served as a sweet dessert. Here, it was used as a vessel to showcase the next ingredient, a mousse filling made with dry-aged white fish. It was served on a drop of wasabi yuzu aioli and topped with caviar for a one bite wonder. The intense flavour of the fish was balanced with the wasabi and yuzu, the chewiness of the donut made this an interesting one bite.
Pistachio mascarpone potato puff
Another one (maybe two) bite snack before the next “serious” course was a choux puff filled with mashed potato mixed and mascarpone cheese with crushed pistachio. Not sure why a dessert was served 1/3 into the meal. Seriously it reminded me of the “pineapple butter” bun 菠萝油 from Hong Kong.
Marinated 2 weeks dry-aged scallop caviar potato pancake
The only other dried scallop I know before this is conpoy, which I used a lot in my soups to enhance the flavour. This dry-aged scallop was like a softer version of the convoy, with all the intensity of the flavours of the scallops. The other chef that I have tried dry-aged scallop as a main course was Chef André Chiang.
The scallop was marinated lightly in gochujang (red pepper paste) and placed on top of crispy potato pancakes. Potato pancakes, made by rolling potatoes and frying them crispy, will break apart if you take a bite. So do it in one bite if you can.
Fours types of shrimp, black olive pesto. pine nut sauce
There were four different kinds of local shrimps on a single plate – small white shrimps, tiger prawn, Cooked head pressed into wafer
At this point I was reminded that I need to order an alcoholic drink as part of the meal. I asked for a recommendation and they poured me this very strong double-distilled soju from Myeongan-do. 감홍로 40도 Gamhongri 40% ABV has a distinct liquorice and cinnamon taste, and can be drank with ice and soda/water.
Royal cuisine – ochae with fermented bean paste
Joseon dynasty was the peak of royal culture in Korean history, and royal cuisine thus became the quintessence of traditional food culture in Korea. This course is a modern interpretation of the ochae or sukhoe (boiled vegetables and seafood). Although instead of blanched seafood, sashimi was served and this was the only raw fish tonight. Everything else has been dry-aged.
Five types of sashimi were present – kingfish (hamachi), tuna, squid, scallop and boiled octopus – beautifully plated with blanched pumpkin, asparagus, carrot on fermented soy bean pesto, and dollops of yuzu and pine nut sauce. Like royal cuisine, you focus on the ingredients and savour the taste each brings to the table, but it is a bit monotonous. So the extremely pungent and strong paste was there to perk things up. It was almost like eating our local rojak with prawn paste.
Homemade three-flour milgugsu, perilla oil
It was Chef Kim’s mission to come up with a milgugsu 밀국수 (wheat noodle) that exudes its own fragrance. And tonight he attempted to achieve that with a homemade wheat noodle using three types of organic wheat from France, Turkey and native Baekgang with nothing else except olive oil and salt.
The visual is ordinary noodles seasoned with perilla oil, but the focus is on the distinctive wheat fragrance.
As the noodles were made with a lot of effort, the texture was surprisingly chewy, and the more you chewed, the more savoury and fragrant it tasted.
Stewed radish, dumpling skin, seolleongtang
The radish had been cooked for over 4 hours in a rich and flavourful broth, and wrapped in dumpling skin before cooking again. The seolleongtang (beef bone soup) was cooked for over 6 hours to get a clear, rich soup to be added on the dumpling.
The radish was soft and full of umami, the dumpling skin helped to reduced the saltiness of the radish. The soup hit the spot.
Baby calamari, yuba dumpling filled with mushroom and crab, burdock, black garlic, grilled lemon
The next course (I lost count) featured a small calamari from Spain that is usually served deep fried as a tapas. Baby calamari are called chipirones, they are filled with scallops to give it a sundae feel. The texture of the squid when cooked was soft but because they were stuffed had a firm bite.
The baby calamari came along with a couple of yuba dumpling filled with mushroom and crab. They turned out to be even tastier than the calamari, filled with sweetness from crab and umami from the mushrooms. Garnishes include braised burdock and black garlic which provided a lot of flavours.
Gumtae, baby anchovies, fish soup
A fillet of week dry-aged geumtae 금태 blackthroat sea perch was pan fried and served with a fish stock that was boiled from dried fish bones and dill, and served with cucumber pickles and baby anchovies.
I love these little white anchovies in the soup. I often put them in my own stock as well, but since they were dry aged, they were not salty like ones we used. It gave the fish stock a clean, clear taste.
Dry-aged Hanwoo sirloin, soy sauce, burdock, abalone, radish kimchi
To accompany the rice course, an 8 weeks dry-aged Hanwoo sirloin was prepared medium rare with a soy sauce glaze, with sides of pickled burdock, dry-aged abalone and radish kimchi.
Rice with baby anchovies and mushrooms
Funky red miso, woody mushrooms, and smoky soy rice with a touch of umami from the anchovies. This freshly steamed mushroom pot rice will keep you craving for more.
Kamameshi 釜飯 or sotbap in Korean simply means “kettle rice.” It is a traditional Japanese rice that is cooked in an iron pot (kama). It has a long history in Japanese cuisine and came to Korea during the occupation. The pot of cooked rice was typically placed on the family table for communal enjoyment.
The soup was made from boiling dried scallop, abalone and dried shrimp. These ingredients were incorporated into the rice for more flavours.
The dessert ice cream and mignardises were made with traditional ingredients and packed much surprises.
This is like a pina colada in an ice cream. The homemade pineapple lemon ice cream was really refreshing after all the dry aged items. And it was quite creamy and comforting.
Dried goguma (Korean sweet potato) was delicately sweet with a mild chestnut flavour. Dehydrating intensifies the sweetness while giving it a chewy texture.
The burdock meringue had a strangely pleasant taste of ginseng.
Yakgwa is a deep-fried layered cookie made with honey, sesame oil, ginger, and soju, and covered in a sweet, sticky syrup. When you bite into one, syrup bursts out of the cookie and it’s juicy and crumbly in your mouth with hints of cinnamon and sesame.
Wow lost for words, just a straight up awesome experience, the team really has mastered the art of dry aging seafood, the depth of flavours achieved is immense. Each course builds up the complexities of flavours despite appearing simple. great example is the noodles made from three different organic flours of different vintages and finished with just salt and perilla oil.
It is a pity that there is no menu board, so you have to listen to the explanation to know what ingredients make up the dish. Nevertheless, dining was interesting thanks to the never-ending surprises and a barrage of creative and unique dishes.
Yun Seoul Dining 윤서울
2F, 31 Hongik-ro 22-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul, 04055, South Korea
Visited Mar 2023
Michelin Seoul Guide 1 Star 2022-23
@yunseoul_office @projectsyun #finedining #koreanfood
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