Food Report: Pierre Gagnaire à Seoul

During a recent trip to Korea, I had the pleasure of eating at the relatively new Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul restaurant. This stunning restaurant and attached bars occupy the entire top floor of the new wing of the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul. The three-star Gagnaire has recently gone down the route of expanding his culinary empire, but less so that some of his colleagues such as Alain Ducasse or Gordon Ramsay.

The restaurant is very stylish and features great views over Seoul. I snagged the last table in the main dining area, but there are also three private dining rooms available, which is practically a must in Asia.

There were two menus to choose from: L’Esprit de Pierre Gagnaire and the Hommage à Séoul in both short and long forms. The prices were fairly eyewatering at approximately €120, €165 and €225 respectively, including service and VAT. You can really pay through the nose for western food in Seoul and wine is also incredibly expensive. A glass of nothing-too-special Chianti Riserva cost €21.

I plumped for the L’Esprit de Pierre Gagnaire menu, which was at the limit I would countenance paying. An small amouse bouche and bread arrived. To my shame, I can’t remember exactly what the amuse bouche contained, but it was very tasty. The bread was excellent. An array of five starters then arrived, each little bigger than amuses bouches themselves. These were: salpicon of strawberry and key jo gae, chives cream with white balsamic; oyster foam, beetroot purée, buttered yuzu sablé; fried potatoes stripes, jun ao and salad with orange; Sicilian small ravioli, fresh goat cheese, bang ao tomato-basil; and Burgundian snails, eggplant purée with black chocolat. These were all little flavour bombs, with the snails being outstanding.

The main course was built around lamb cooked three ways: cutlet roasted with an aromatic blend, nayng-i (like spinach) with Bleu d’Auvergne, coconut milk with soft garlic; thin slices of saddle with cumin, slow braised chicory, fresh beans with black rice creaml; and melted shoulder with dry fruits, navarin garnish, vegetal cocktail. These were all very good, although the chicory may be a bit too bitter for some tastes.

The traditional cheese course was interpreted somewhat differently. A mousse-like ‘unctuous’ Camembert with apple juice, cucumber, calvados and guava leaf granité managed to be cheesy and refreshing at the same time. I followed this with a feather-light soufflé flavoured with yuzu, a East Asian member of the citrus family. This was washed down by a frankly disappointing espresso – especially at €9.

So all in all, it was a very memorable meal, but at those prices, it could only be considered on very special occasions, when you just happen to be in Seoul.