We booked a date at JUNGSIK before we even made any of our other itinerary plans in Korea. That indicates more than enough about the priorities in our bucket list. Behold, two 5 course lunches worth of glorious food porn.
Having climbed the Baegundae Peak at Bukhansan Mountain the day before (a treacherous cardio intensive hike I certainly did not enjoy as much as Shauna did; but both of us paled in comparison to all the Korean elderly skipping up like mountain goats), we splurged on a five instead of four course (but shied away from the 8 course tasting menu, which remains one of my biggest regrets).
I stumbled across JUNGSIK while researching online for good restaurants in Seoul (with the intention to splurge on at least one good meal, although you can be assured I did much more that that), and my eyes lit up at the phrase "2 Michelin Stars". It was a bit of a cop-out though, since it's actually the New York branch that has the accreditation, but this worked as good as any for two of us and our measly budget, and the experience was well worth it. (We take some consolation in the fact that this is 10th in the Asia Top 50 Restaurants List, and the highest ranked one Korea has to offer on said list). And the fact that it was still "Korean cuisine" ('modern Korean cuisine') did add some tourist validation to our visit, nestled in the shiny and glitzy neighbourhood of Apgujeong (read: one of many dream homes).
In order and with as much detail as my shabby brain can muster:
Raw fish with ginger, Jelly with seaweed, Rice balls, Deep fried potatoes, Vegetable roll, Peanut meringues
Highlights include the amazingly crisp and salty seaweed that just crackles in your mouth and the delicate balance of their meringue. Not too sickly sweet like the ones I'm used to avoiding, but much more mellow with a strong peanut taste. Would have bought home a box if they'd care to sell them.
Slow cooked octopus with ssamjang aioli, Egg salad with quail eggs
Everything about appetiser hit the spot. I can only dream of the taste of the divinely cooked octopus tentacles (absolutely melt in your mouth) that paired perfectly with the creamy ssamjang aioli sauce. The egg salad was another standout, especially since the scotch eggs were done (apparently) with angel hair pasta, and the result was an intensely crunchy outer coating. The pieces of lime jelly in between were also surprisingly refreshing and delicious.
Pork belly with picked gomchwi, Hoe with roasted seaweed
Less to comment here, since although I do love to indulge in my carbs now and then I'll admit I don't have a very discerning palate for them. Shauna thoroughly enjoyed the short grain rice, and I admit the seaweed bowl was delectable (mainly because of the seaweed), and that both bowls had really good texture because they pepper it with loads of little nuts and spices that make for a good crunch.
Croaker with clam EVO, Sea bass with sea cucumber
Really well done. That's all I can say. Both fishes were perfectly cooked, and Shauna took really well to the croaker (whose presentation I have to commend). Personally I liked the sea bass much more, especially because of the broth it came with, and all the bed of vegetables it sat on, because it made for a really crunchy and light tasting dish. Not too salty either.
Pork jowl with ginger vinaigrette, Duck 2015 with jangjorim sauce
To be honest I found this the letdown course of the entire meal (sentiments shared). The duck was really well cooked by itself, but the jangjorim sauce was a bit too salty and reminded me a lot of certain Chinese dishes back home, which is not a large criticism in itself because Korean and Chinese cuisines do share some similarities, but we avoided the sauce anyhow. The pork was not bad, though it's most interesting point was that at first bite it really tasted (and looked) like chicken, and only really subtle hints of the pork flavour would come through towards the end. Can't decide if that's a good or bad thing though.
Cheongdam Pie (apple pie), Cherry blossoms ver. 2 (raspberry panna cotta)
But if the land dishes were a bit of a diminuendo in this concerto, then the desserts brought us back to our final climax. The cheongdam pie was intricately plated and the coloured lumps of apple made for really good texture both visually and physically, although the rest of the cream and the pastry didn't stand out much to me. The cherry blossoms however, were a real stunner. Gorgeously plated on a huge circle plate with only a depression in one corner, covered with chocolate branches, sugar and cheesecake, it looked like a spring-time pond blooming with cherry blossoms, exactly as the name suggests. And it tasted even better - luscious panna cotta matched with raspberry sorbet and thick creamy cheesecake (ultimate personal weakness). Before this course I was arguing that desserts were roughly the same everywhere - I take it back.
Financier, Korean rice cake, Strawberry meringue
JUNGSIK gave us a choice of tea, which they cutely presented in a test tube rack with the service staff slowly explaining to you each one while you look at the raw tea leaves/grains. In addition to that, they served us a little plate of nibbles, which were honestly as good as the rest of the meal. Don't cut corners even at the very end: the best way to make sure your customers have a good eating experience. The meringues made another appearance (cue internal shout of joy) and I was almost at loath to eat them, because they're honestly one of the most well made meringues I've eaten. But I would say the green cubes in the middle won out - Korean rice cakes coated with (what I think is) roasted soybean powder. Lovely and chewy, almost like Japanese mochi. I'm not sure if JUNGSIK changed up the recipe or they went traditional with it, since we never tried any from the streets, but damn, that was good.
I have no concluding remarks for this meal. I loved every second of it. (Except the crappy red wine). Loved it so much I could deal with the bill afterwards and still walk out with a smile on my face. My utility for good food and good ambience is exceptionally high.