Diary: Monday 03 August
One thing we miss in London are the 반찬 (banchan – side dishes) which appear instantly to accompany the main dish in any restaurant in Korea.
It is daylight robbery to charge £2 – £3 per side dish here, when these should be offered on the house.
Well, free banchan in London is not going to happen, so let’s move on. Imagine a restaurant where you not only have as much banchan as you like, but also as much Korean main dishes as you like, plus an assortment of desserts and drinks.
Welcome to the Korean buffet.
I have only been to two eat-all-you-can restaurants, both of which I recommend. I didn’t manage to take any significant pictures* because the customers were seriously filling their plates with all manner of delicious things to eat. Taking photos would have meant getting in their way and that would be very rude indeed.
비비고 계절밥상 – Bibigo Gyejeol Bapsang – Bibigo** Season’s Table: InsadongMARU, 35-4 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul. Phone number: 02 2223 2551 or 02 2223 2552. The restaurant is open on weekdays from 10:30 to 16:00 for lunch (KRW 13,900) and from 16:00 to 22:30 for dinner (KRW 22,900). On weekends the opening hours are 10:30 to 22:30 and the price is KRW 22,900 at whatever time you visit. (Details correct as of 01 August 2015.)
If there is a long wait for a table, leave your name and telephone number with the receptionist. There are many shops to look at in the area or you can head next door to the Pulmuone Kimchi Museum.
Once you reach your table, you will see a wooden ‘order ticket’ with the table number printed on it. This is for the hot stone menu (typically bibimpap or a vegetable stew) which is cooked to order. Look for this station and pop the ticket in the box; when the dish is ready it will be delivered to your table. There is a 2 hour time limit on dining but to be honest, there is just so much to do in Seoul you would not want to hang around for too long.
자연별곡 – Jayeon Byeolgok: 5th floor, D Tower (D타워), 36 Jongro-1-gil, Jongro-gu, Seoul. Phone number: 02 2251 8540. The restaurant is open on weekdays from 11:00 to 16:00 for lunch (KRW 12,900) and from 16:00 to 22:00 for dinner (KRW 19,900). On weekends the opening hours are 11:00 to 22:00 and the price is KRW 22,900 at whatever time you visit. (Details correct as of 01 August 2015.)
Unless you arrive by 11.30am for lunch, there will be a queue, but there are chairs as you wait so bring a book or better still, bring a couple of friends and chat while you wait.
The plates here are square and set into it are nine grooves or dips, the idea is to place a different type of food into each dip. However there are bowls for soups and desserts. Compared to Gyejeol Bapsang, I felt the food here was slightly more traditional. One feature I liked was the different types of teas on offer, and I tried tangerine peel tea and lotus root tea for the first time. Later I found similar types of tea at Lotte Mart.
If walking around and getting your own food seems like too much hard work, then I can suggest a few sit-down restaurants serving traditional Korean dishes in the next post. Meanwhile here are a few more photos of side dishes while you wait.
* I have just had a thought and searched the internet using the Korean words so here is a piece (in Korean) on 자연별곡 Jayeon Byeolgok and here are further images. A short piece (in Korean) on 비비고 계절밥상 Bibigo Gyejol Bapsang and further images.
** As mentioned before, I love Bibigo. Its parent company, CJ Foodville, has other food brands under its direction. They are mentioned in an interesting article about Korean food (hansik) in Korea Joongang Daily. Should we be loving Korean conglomerates? Definitely…since they bring Korea to the rest of the world. Although sadly, sometimes their family feuds are the stuff of Korean Dramas.