13th October 2012. Written by Xin Li and Qian Rou.
Seoul, South Korea.
Located along one of those elusive streets in Itaewon, okitchen seemed to have garnered a positive impression from several food bloggers in Seoul. Tempted by the positive reviews and the possibility of some really good Italian and French cuisine for an affordable price, I made it a point to visit this cosy little restaurant located in the heart of Itaewon, known for its multicultural atmosphere.
What was supposed to be a solo dining affair became a group affair when my fellow exchange students such as Christopher and Qian Rou joined in. Dining in the group was more relaxing yet stressful at the same time because we are charting unknown dining territory upon my recommendation and two of my friends have almost opposing diets. For a moment I was worried this meal might end up as a disappointment for either one of them.
From Qian Rou:
“If you frequent the posts here, you may have, once or twice, read about this mysterious friend of Xinli’s, who does not eat meat. That would be me. Hi.
Most of the time, eating out in a large group poses problems for us here in Korea; I eat no meat, but seafood, another friend is allergic to seafood but loves meat, another can’t take much spiciness, so on and so forth. So while we were at OKitchen today, it was practically a miracle when the chef agreed to adjust the set menu to cater to our… problems.”
While the reservation process was bumpy (It was partly because of our incapability to communicate in Korean). All was made up for by the friendly and Susumu-san who catered to the diets of both Qian Rou and Christopher and to our surprise even have a cream pasta item available for another friend of mine who craves for a cream pasta (the typical Korean ones just aren’t the same, they are sweet!)
There are two lunch set menus available at OKitchen, both are five courses including the seafood platter, soup, salad, choice of main course, desserts with coffee or tea. The only difference is that Menu B costing 36000 KRW before tax, features a Hanwoo Striploin Steak. Menu A, costing 21000 KRW before tax offers 3 choices of mains usually featuring pastas. Except for Menu B, I think the items on the menu change frequently.
Our meal started off with three kinds of bread (warm!) including shortbread, pita and a very fragrant focaccia served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The first course is the Seafood Platter, which is 6 beautifully and interestingly prepared petite morsels of different kinds of fish including saba, sawara, ebi and halibut….each of them offering a unique range of flavours and textures.
“The first thing we were told about the seafood platter, besides the identities of the small slices of fish, was ‘eat it from left to right’. Ok. Right. Please look at this photo here. Left to right… but up to down? Down to up?
Turns out it didn’t really matter; the pairs of fish had flavors of roughly the same intensity, starting out delicate and progressing to the most intense. What was interesting though was that for me, despite the distinct flavor of the sauces provided, the taste of the fish was not overpowered but rather, complimented and lifted; a rare thing when you’re talking about seafood in Korea.
My most and least favored were both from the duo on the far right. The green mass of… halibut, I assume, did not have an apparent flavor other than parsley. On the flipside, the other morsel (marinated, judging from the yellowish underside), went well with the delicate bits of capsicum, and the marinate, which I took to be just olive oil, released a subtle fragrance into your mouthful of fish.”
From left to right, the flavours seemed to get more intense, but like what Qianrou has written, the fish continues to be the center of attention except for perhaps the halibut which was kind of slightly overwhelmed by the herbal earthy flavour of its sauce.
Next up was Mussels and Tomato Soup with barley and home-made sausage. This savoury soup was surprisingly light and not at all oily. The mussels are simply divine, each of morsel has soak up the flavours of the soup and it reminded me of xiaolongbao.
As Qian Rou could not take meat, the kitchen prepared a Vegetable Terrine for her instead:
“The terrine was a bit terrifying to look at, honestly. It was too neat, the layers arranged so systematically and held together by some kind of jelly. Strange.
The experience of eating this unnatural looking thing, though, was amazing. Each layer of vegetable was cooked to perfection; the beans were still crisp, the capsicum sweet, the onions tender and caramelized, and the mushrooms juicy. The arrangement of the layers, with the lightest veg on the outside and the more ‘meaty’ ones in the center, also helped with the overall texture of the dish. The outer layer of what I think is spinach, though, was tasteless and quite unnecessary.
Served with this terrine were a few spots of sauce, including a champagne reduction, garnished with sprigs of flavorful flowers, as well as a rather tasteless hunk of ricotta accompanied by a chedder cheese wafer.”
Christopher had the specially made Bouillabaisse (Christopher could not take shellfish) which he described as “awesome”. “The bread soaked with soup and cheese was really good.”
The last of appetizers was the Ok Farm Salad , Beans , Black Pork Testa. Overall the salad was on the bitter and earthy side and the bean salad reminded me of a milder version of hummus. I am guessing the dish took its inspiration from Jeju as the terrine of pork was served with some mildly spicy and sweet orange sauce.
Qian Rou’s salad does not have the Black Pork:
"Normally I’m not a big fan of salads, and I’m kind of mixed about this one. The ratio of red to green was a bit too skewed for me, but some prefer their salads bitter. Just not me. Either way, the real kick to this salad was the bits of herb hidden amongst the leaves, including dill, mint and what tasted a bit like thyme; more restaurants should start doing this.
The bean salad on the side was… Well. Firstly, perhaps I’m just too used to my beans being mashed up and in soup, but the texture of these beans was a bit weird for me. They didn’t seem to possess a skin and were a bit dry. The sauce they were accompanied with, though, was interesting; a sort of watered down hummus with slight flakes of chili in it, so that the impression one got was the flavor of a Mexican chili."
Just before our mains, we were being served a Bay Leaf Sorbet, a light, refreshing palate cleanser.
Finally we come to the mains. Both Qian Rou and I picked the Linguine with tomato sauce, ricotta cheese and fried eggplant:
“There’s not much to say about the linguine that Xinli hasn’t, just that while I wished that I’d ordered the mushroom pasta instead (those mushrooms were amazing), the linguine was overall extremely well-balanced. Although… where was the eggplant?”
I wasn't disappointed at all by the pasta. It was a classic pasta that was superbly executed. I could taste the fresh tomatoes, not some ketchup spaghetti. But I agree with Qian Rou, not much eggplant eh?
Others had the Casarecce with assorted mushrooms and cream. This definitely satisfied my friend’s crave for cream-based pasta. The cream sauce carries a rich and fragrant mushroom flavor and the mushrooms were good too. In my humble opinion, this may well be one of the best mushroom pastas so far.
Our meat-lover, Christopher, went for the Hanwoo Striploin Steak (3 Oz). Sitting innocently amongst a bed of salads dressed in balsamic vinegar dressing, the medium steak was done perfectly with the outsides seared all around and in the inside still juicy. On top of that, the steak was consistently medium throughout. Unsurprisingly, our meat lover was delighted with his steak.
He also noted that the potato chips that came with the steak was very good.
Lastly our meal rounded up with the desserts which include a Walnut Tart, a rich Chocolate Cake served with Berry Sauce and Cheesecake topped with grapes served with Passionfruit Sauce:
"Dessert was good but then again when is it never? The chocolate cake though was too rich for me. The walnut pie was just nice, although my favorite was definitely the fantastically light cheesecake with the passionfruit sauce. Definitely the kind of cake you’d want after a fairly heavy meal." - Qian Rou
"Most of the others chose coffee, but of course I’d prefer the tea. When the waiter brought me green tea though, I was a bit skeptical of how it’d fare with the Italian meal I just had. It wasn’t, however, the Japanese green tea I had expected, but a Korean version of it, with buckwheat. If you’ve ever had buckwheat tea you’ll know what I mean when I say that it ties in surprisingly well. The aroma and depth of a toasted tea is present, but the buckwheat adds heartiness as well. So while it is light, and thus cleansing, it is also flavorful. Perfect end to a perfect meal.
Seriously though. If you’re in Seoul you have to try this place. The food is amazing, the atmosphere is wonderful, and it’s really, really not all that expensive for the quality it serves." - Qian Rou
Echoing Qian Rou’s opinions, my meat lover friends and fellow diners look forward to dining at okitchen once again. At the end of the meal we had a small chat with the man behind Okitchen, Susumu, a widely travelled individual. It turns out he has been in Singapore for a brief period at the Sunrice GlobalChef Academy and Susumu-san also enjoyed the king of fruits, durian.
The passionate chef is always eager to try out the various cuisines of his travel destinations. He shared with us his experience of dining at local hidden finds in Italy instead of Michelin-starred restaurants, his unique encounter of consuming game meat left to age with intestines intact and likened jackfruit to truffles.
Despite the limited command of English, service was above average, drinks were refilled without fail and we were being asked several times if we wanted any refills of bread but used plates weren’t removed for some odd reason. The rating on local food rating website, Wingspoon wasn't as enthusiastic, and I could understand why after tasting the food. It doesn’t cater totally to the mainstream Korean palate. Taste is subjective after all and I hope Okitchen continues the way it is, providing a different dimension of flavours.
Overall, the food was nothing short of great and like what Qianrou mentioned, atmosphere was amazing, it was rather casual, reminded me of good ol’ Black Sheep Café and Dezato.
Yongsan-ku, Itaewon-dong 168-14, Seoul, Korea 140-864