by Ock Hyun-ju
At a glance, Korean restaurants may seem to be far from high-end.
People often cram into hole-in-the-wall restaurants looking for wallet-friendly, everyday Korean meals. They are served a bowl of rice, soup and several side dishes all at once, for the whole table to share.
In recent years, however, a growing number of Korean restaurants have been seeking to offer a slightly different experience.
Among them is Poom Seoul, located on Mount Namsan, with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow diners to look out on South Korea's skyscraper-filled capital.
Roh Young-hee, 53, a food stylist and owner-chef of Poom Seoul, opened the upscale restaurant in 2008. She saw the demand for high-end Korean restaurants before Korean cuisine gained global recognition.
"There are already too many Korean restaurants that lay out a huge spread," she said during an interview with The Korea Herald at her restaurant. "But it is more important to make customers savor the taste and flavour of each food."
|Royal banquet:Poom Seoul was one of the first upscale restaurants to serve Korean fare. Six- or nine-course meals inspired by royal cuisine allow diners to focus on exploring the food.
Address: Huam-dong, just off the road leading to Namsan's landmark N Seoul Tower
Time: from noon to 3pm and 6 to 10pm Mon-Sat, closes on Sun
Tel: +82 (02) 777-9007 or visit the website www.poomseoul.com.
Roh, thus, chose to present authentic Korean dishes, inspired by Korean royal cuisine, in a modern style. Instead of loading a table with numerous dishes all at once, she offers six- or nine-course meals, allowing diners to focus on exploring the food.
Along with the food presentation, the interior of the restaurant also adds to the modern vibe with its minimalistic white decor and abundant natural light.
For Roh, however, there is one thing she wants to keep traditional: the taste of Korean cuisine. She's not interested in the latest trend of "fusion food", helmed by Western-educated chefs.
"Westerners could find it hard to use chopsticks or eat meat that isn't deboned," Roh said. "We should make it easier for them to eat Korean food, but not abandon the real Korean taste."
Authenticity is what Roh views as the key to globalising Korean food.
"Korean food is already delicious so we should introduce the authentic taste of real Korean food abroad," she said. "Foreigners just need time to get used to it."
After witnessing that high-end, modern Korean restaurants can appeal to foreigners, Roh wants to take her dining room global.
"I think our restaurant contributed to recreating Korean food's image. I would like to open Poom restaurants in cities such as London, Paris and New York to broaden the presence of authentic Korean cuisine abroad," Roh said.
At Poom Seoul, the menu changes every season to deliver traditional Korean flavours made with seasonal, local ingredients. It also has dishes for vegetarians and diabetics.
Reservations should be made at least a day in advance to keep the food quality as high as possible as the labor-intensive dishes take a long time to prepare. "We need to know how much to cook and who we are cooking for to serve heartfelt dishes," Roh said. — The Korea Herald