We didn’t have much time after arriving in Seoul to go out or even really search for a place to eat. Sly had to jump on a work call later in the evening and there was no way we would have been able to go all the way to Shake Shack (our original Valentine’s Day plan), grab a burger, and then be back in time for the call. So we did the unthinkable: we ate hotel food.
In Asia, and especially in Seoul, some of the top, Michelin-rated, expensive dining experiences can be found in fancy hotels. But I wouldn’t necessarily classify the hotel where we were staying as “fancy.” It was definitely nicer than we are used to staying whenever we travel outside of work, but then we are simple people who like simple things. Clean sheets, an en suite bathroom, and street food (or a 7-11) within walking distance and we are good to go. Bonus points for a balcony. We appreciate fine dining every now and then, but there are so many cheap and tasty eats – especially in Seoul – that we prefer to eat instead.
I think this table could use a little more silverware
poached oysters with sweet pear, wasabi, and balsamic sauce and baked oysters “Bienville”
This was supposed to be “baked filet of sea bass with herb crust, glazed veg, potatoes, and poached oyster with wine sauce.” Instead it was basically sea bass topped with the same “Oysters Bienville” sauce and toppings, broiled kumquat (?), lots of mushrooms, steamed kabocha squash, and two baked oysters topped with a taro (?) tuile.
Poached oyster and filet of turbot with champagne sauce. Once again, the “champagne sauce” tasted suspiciously like the “Bienville” sauce.
strawberry and citrus fruits yuza zabione and strawberry tiramisu with kumquat confit, ginger and orange sauce
This hotel seemed to be more geared to business clients with inflated per diem rates and therefore, every single restaurant in the hotel featured menus with extravagant prices. The going rate for a can of Budweiser was $13. We chose between two of the “budget” restaurants, the other being a “starting at” $65 dollar AYCE buffet, and settled on Café de Chef (which I kept calling “Chef de Cuisine”) for the sake of time and convenience and because it received pretty good reviews.
I don’t put much weight in restaurant reviews in Asia because for the most part, the people who tend to write the English reviews for American review/travel sites, seem to only like steak and pasta regardless of which country they are visiting. (If you think I’m exaggerating, look up the top rated restaurants in Hanoi, Vietnam on Tripadvisor.) This was definitely one of those types of restaurants, and I think we both knew that going in, but I think we were both a little bit hopeful since we ordered the promotional set menu oyster feast dinners.
We arrived at the restaurant right when it opened and were taken to our own, private, toasty, candle-lit room, with a sliding door that never fully shut, and a strip of unfrosted glass that one of the servers used to sneakily peer in/check up on us from time to time. Our server set our elaborate table, Sly ordered a few glasses of wine, and we immediately devoured the bread basked as we waited…and waited…and waited…and waited…and waited…for our food to arrive. At that point in dinner service, I think we were one of maybe two couples dining at the restaurant, so we couldn’t quite figure out what was taking the kitchen so long to push out our apps. After we finished an entire bread basket, we asked for more. The waitress returned with a basket of cheese bread and several dishes of bar snacks.
Nearly an hour after being seated, our appetizers arrived: plump, juicy baked and poached oysters topped with two different sauces. The fresh oysters were delicious and were by far the highlight of the meal. In retrospect, we should have just eaten platters of oysters, but instead our dinner continued with course after course of what we called “glorified cruise ship and/or hotel wedding food.” It certainly looked nice in a 1980s sort of fine dining way, but for the price, it was very average. Sometimes I think that people in Asia like this kind of food because they think it’s what Europeans or Americans like? So it would be like Chinese people paying a load of money to eat Americanized Chinese food? We didn’t get it.
The icing on the cake, or should I say, the foam on the dessert, was Sly’s “strawberry and citrus zabione” served in a frickin’ wine glass. Nothing screams 1980s cuisine more than a desert in a wine glass. I have always thought of zabiones as having a more pudding-like texture, but this was more like a glass of champagne after it had been sitting around and lost all its bubbles, topped with a thin layer of mysterious foam, and garnished with grapefruit and orange slices. I think it may have been one of the worst desserts we have ever eaten. I think it was also one of the first times ever when I didn’t ask for a bite of Sly’s dessert.
We know we are spoiled food snobs so take what I say with a grain of salt. The food here was perfectly edible and it’s not like we had a bad time, it’s just that for the cost, it could have been so much better, even for “hotel food.” Nevertheless, it was a very memorable Valentine’s Day meal, though perhaps memorable for the wrong reasons.
Now you know why we tend to stay away from hotel food.**
Café de Chef | CUISINE: Euro-American-Asian-fusion? | COST: Expensive | DESCRIPTION: Cozy dining with ambient lighting, able to accommodate large groups. The menu items range from pasta to steak to sandwiches to pizza as well as Korean menu items. You can order from their a la carte menu or from one of their seasonal special set menus. The menu and presentation felt super dated to me, which isn’t a big deal if the food is good… | VERDICT: Under normal circumstances, I would have probably ordered my usual burger and fries, but at $23, it didn’t seem like a very good value. Let’s just say I regret not getting the burger. The food wasn’t intrinsically bad, but it definitely tasted like hotel wedding food – like when the kitchen has to make a large portion of something at a time and it’s been steamed and sort of sitting under a heat lamp for who knows how long but you eat it anyway because it’s not the worst thing you ever ate, but then it’s not the best either? This restaurant is exactly that.
** except when it comes to free breakfast or brunch buffets