Just around the corner from our hotel, down a quiet street lined with trees and boutique shops, across the street from a gourmet ‘cream pop” shop (ice cream = popcorn = cream pop), awaits an unassuming minimalist restaurant just below street level. If you aren’t on the hunt for one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants then you might miss it entirely.
soy marinated shrimp with sauce
fried mustard leaf + fried chinese artichoke in rice paper envelope
Our set lunch menu began with an amuse bouche of soy marinated shrimp nestled in a beaker of ice and served with a pipette of pink sauce. For our next course a fried mustard leaf garnished with a home-grown micro tomato sat atop a bed of pebbles and moss and was served with edible envelopes filled with Chinese artichoke. But the dish that brought oohs and ahhs was the fish bowl of raw fish and micro tomatoes with a squirt of bubbly champagne foam served table side. Along with the dish came a potted plant of lavender and a set of tweezers. We were instructed to pluck the fresh lavender from the plant and, along with a few drops of fresh herb oil, add them to our champagne foam.
Playful, delicate and bright, each dish was a feast to our eyes and senses.
I ordered Ryunique’s signature quail dish. It came complete with it’s own story:
When I walk down a path of old memories,
I come across ‘yearning’ deep inside my mind.
The Southern Sea alongside the coast presents me with some
The curiosities of my father’s laboratory, the freedom of swimming
naked after school, and addictive nature of the smell of the sea and
burnt hay once come to my mind.
Originally inspired by my childhood’s rumination,
“Quail” is a signature dish of Ryunique, prepared to deliver
value of reminiscences to my customers.
‘The smell of flambant burnt hay brings back one’s memory,
and the resultant ashes bring regret.’
Not pictured is the large glass domed jar that contained half of the bacon-wrapped quail. Inside the glass jar, the quail drumsticks perched atop a nest of smoldering hay. Once the jar filled with smoke, our waiter removed the lid and a scent cloud of burning hay mixed with roasted meat filled the air. As a true sentimental soul, I always love when food is tied to memory; when a meal tells a story. I willingly rode along while the chef took me on his nostalgic journey with this dish. The taste conjured up every image and emotion described in his story and was my favorite of the meal.
Sly ordered a sort of surf and turf — pork belly with shrimp — cooked to absolute perfection. The texture of the shrimp and the pork together was the epitome of succulence. According to Sly it was one of the best bites of pork he’s ever eaten.
A tip if you ever find yourself at Ryunique: make sure you save room for dessert.
It’s truly art on a plate.
RYUNIQUE // LOCATION: Sinsa-dong neighborhood, 40, Gangnam-daero 162-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea // COST: There were two choices for lunch: a choose your own type of set menu which I think was something like 45,000KRW or the chef’s set tasting menu which I think was 70,000KRW. Some dishes like the signature quail dish are an extra 15,000KRW. Dinner will run you about twice as much. In addition to the set menu(s), you can order a la carte. Our friend brought her 10 year old niece who ate one of the side dishes and the dessert plate // DESCRIPTION: Asian fusion with a definite flair for the avante garde. The food itself was beautifully and artfully prepared with flavors that would be familiar to even those who think they don’t like “weird” or Asian food and felt more like eating Japanese + French fusion than Korean. Tae Hwan Ryu is a young chef – his food is playful, experimental, and exciting. Some dishes were phenomenal — the kind of stuff that not only challenged your thoughts on food, but also the kind of food you could just eat and eat and eat. Other dishes were more “interesting” — not in a bad way, just a very intriguing and curious way that maybe, with a bit more refinement and experimentation could hit a culinary sweet spot. // VERDICT: Despite being in a country that loves it’s food, there are very few fine dining establishments in Korea, or restaurants that push the boundaries of Korean cuisine. Compared to Japan (Korea’s arch rival) and Hong Kong, Korea has no Michelin rated restaurants (though it can be argued that the Michelin rating system is heavily biased in Western/European restaurants). At any rate the point is Korea excels at traditional home style cooking and/or street food, but it’s rare to find a restaurant that thinks outside of the box. You will not find galbi or bibimbap here but it’s for that exact reason why it’s worth a visit. It’s was not a flawless restaurant experience — for one, why were there no napkins? — but we loved anticipating what would come out next and how it would be presented. It will be very interesting to watch this young chef navigate and possibly change the Korean restaurant scene in years to come. // TIP: Fine dining restaurants can get pricey, and honestly sometimes after blowing a wad of cash on a meal we find it just did not live up to the hype. Lunch service is a less expensive way to try out a fancy restaurant’s food. Oftentimes the same signature dishes will be on the lunch menu as the twice as expensive dinner menu. I seem to find myself a lot more satisfied after a lunch service because I didn’t gorge myself on 10+ courses and could properly enjoy my entire meal.