Seoul Quick Eats: Red Mango

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I know Red Mango’s already in Singapore but the first time I tried it was in its hometown of Seoul. We had it after a food court dinner at COEX mall.¬† One of our colleagues treated us: I had a little portion of blueberry yogurt while Shinta was persuaded to have a massive fruit topped dessert. The frozen yogurt was smooth and creamy, very good stuff. Plus the fruit toppings were generous and fresh. My blueberry dessert was pretty good too. The blueberry tasted like it came from fresh berries and not from processed blueberry sauce. Good stuff!

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Seoul Eats: YongSuSan

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Another day, we had lunch at YongSuSan, famous for its classy traditional Korean fare. Being on a budget, we limited ourselves to the lower end of the set lunches, but it was enough to wow. There seemed to be endless courses of appetisers. First up were the “translucent mung bean noodles, crunchy pickled cucumber, threads of sweet marinated beef and julienne mushroom and julienne mushroom, sprinkled with black-green seaweed” and the “Kaesung style mixed vegetable salad of crunch bean-sprouts radish spinach and slices of dried persimmon.” Both were spooned directly onto our plates and after a bit of prodding and sniffing, we wolfed it all down. Which was just as well because the next appetiser was soon spooned onto our plates: “gold strands of jelly-fish with crisp pears and cucumber in a mustard dressing.” It was so redolent of wasabe that I couldn’t finish it (no picture, it looks just like below except pale wasabe green).

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A soft creamy pottage served with water kimchi came next. It tasted just as it looked – bland.

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It wasn’t too bad considering my tongue needed a respite from the early wasabe starter.

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For many of us, the highlight of the meal was “a plate of steamed tender pork belly chunks, served with cabbage and radish marinated in a red chili pepper.” The pork belly tasted very familiar. It also helped that fatty pork with kimchi is one of those heavenly combinations, a match made in heaven. Soon after I took this photo, the plate was wiped clean.

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The next dish was more of a palate cleanser: “seasonal fresh vegetable and lettus salad in a Korean dressing.” A pity that the Korean dressing seemed more like Thousand Island Dressing to me!

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I missed out taking a picture of the “soup with snowball shape rice pasta” as it was simply salty soup with a glutinous rice ball in it. Nothing much.

I quite liked the “traditional pancake dish a la Yongsusan” though, it was chewy like nian gao and deep fried. Not much to dislike her. The “seasonal brochette marinated in a Korean sauce” was a skewer of grilled vegetables, nothing much really.

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And we finally finished the starters and got to the astonishingly simple main dish. Koreans seem to have a rather strange concept of main course. Anyway, mine was “five grains of rice cooked in a bamboo bowl” with “soybean vegetable soup with various kinds of side dishes.” The wrapping was so pretty.

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The rice really seemed to be only five grains of grain on unpolished rice. It was an incredibly elegant wholegrain dish with rather forgettable miso  cabbage soup.

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Desserts were “Korean rice cake and cookie” with fresh seasonal fruits. I can’t remember what the brown thing was like except sweet. The cherry tomato encased it what seemed like the stuff from snowskin mooncakes was rather original I felt. Quite yummy.

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And last of all, to round off every Korean meal is the very yummy “seasonal fruits punch of variant style.” I really digged how cute the little flower shaped pear punch-out was!

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YongSuSan Taepyungno
Seoul Finance Center

Seoul Eats: Traditional Hotpot Noodles and Porridge

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One of our contacts brought us to a delightful place in the Seochu area. I have no idea how to get back there as it’s in a back alley in a business district. On first glance, the place looked like a barbecue place as it consisted mainly of long private rooms where people sat in the sunken area around similarly long tables. I was surprised and relieved that we weren’t having barbecue for lunch as I wasn’t looking forward to an entire afternoon of business meetings smelling like charred beef.

First came the typical side dishes. There were a few types of kimchi: cabbage, turnip and one that the locals themselves argued about. It was a spicy salad of Korean shiso leaves, but not fermented, hence the hot debate. There was also oddly enough fried spam and a sort of potato salad with sweet thousand island dressing.

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Next, the hotpot was cooked in front of us, with plenty of beef slices, leek, Chinese cabbage and siew bak choy. There were also mushrooms, noodles and plenty of spice. Strangely enough, we didn’t do anything ourselves. Having the pot in front of us was strictly ceremonial as the waitress quickly whisked the pot away when the noodle soup was done and portioned them out into individual servings.

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Each serving was huge as it is. It was a hearty and simple noodle dish that hit the right spot of warming and spicy. Deep inside, I wondered if it was a tad too simple for a business meal.

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Of course, the Koreans never stint in their hospitality. That bowl of noodles was only part one! There was plenty of stock left in the noodle pot and they mixed in rice, seaweed and other yummies. This was all done away from the table so we had no idea what else went in. This porridge was even more delicious than the noodles and we happily slurped it all up despite the premonition that food coma plus afternoon meetings did not add up well!

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So-so Park Hyatt Seoul: Potential to be Better

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I stayed at the Park Hyatt when I was in Seoul for business a couple months back. The room was lovely and I was very pleased the first night in. The room was big and very comfortable, with good views overlooking the city.

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The bathroom was huge, with separate shower and toilet areas, plus a vanity area. I liked how the wardrobe opened on both sides: one side facing the bed and the other facing the vanity area.

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The shower area came complete with separate rainshower and deep bathtub. Plus, it all came with Aesop toiletries which I like but think are horribly overpriced. They made for a happy me since I essentially got a set of toiletries thrown in with the hotel stay.

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So the room was great, but the service left quite a bit to be desired. I had a sense that while everyone was trying desperately hard to do his or her job, there was invariably something lost in translation. This not just because of the language barrier, but also because the different departments of the hotel didn’t seem to communicate well with each other. Some of our luggage took ages to be sent to the rooms, even though specific instructions and descriptions were given to the hotel rep in charge of our rooms. One of them didn’t get sent to one of our higher-ups because he accepted an upgrade from the hotel and word hadn’t been sent to the bellhops. His luggage sat outside the old pre-assigned room for four hours even though he had been upgraded (by the hotel mind you) to another room. Subsequently, a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine were sent to his room, but bearing no sign saying that they were complimentary, both remained untouched.

If you’re on business and anticipate having to rush in and out of the hotel, the Park Hyatt Seoul probably isn’t your best bet. The lifts have the oddest configuration ever. There are 5 lifts in total, but only 3 serve the ground floor entrance. When entering for the first time, my party was taken up to the top floor where the lobby was. Here was where we realised that 2 more lifts served the room floors. In essence, the middle lift shaft served all floors from ground to rooms to lobby, while the pair on the right served only rooms to lobby, and the pair on the left served only ground to 2nd floor restaurant to lobby (and not the rooms). It was a bit mind-boggling and it took ages for us to wait for the one middle lift serving the 4th floor breakfast area and the rooms. Such a difficult system for busy people on work trips.

Other little annoyances? The lack of thought in housekeeping. The first night, I knocked over a bottle of water. Nothing was done to get rid of the huge wet patch on the rug. I’m guessing that by now the rug would have gone mouldy since no one bothered to replace it in my three nights there. (The damp grey spot was still there when I checked out.) Occasionally, housekeeping would stash the complimentary water in a drawer together with the mini-bar snacks. It didn’t help that the bottles weren’t labelled “Complimentary” and only had the hotel label on it. Not friendly. My room package included complimentary in-room internet access, but it didn’t come on automatically. We all had to select the “one day” option which would be charged to the account and then removed on checkout. It was ridiculous because almost all of us dialed 0 to check with the reception. What was worse was that we had to be vigilant on checkout to make sure that we were mistakenly charged for complimentary stuff (I had to get them to reverse one day’s internet fees. Ridiculous.) Last grouse? On the final night, the turn down people didn’t bring down the blinds properly. Somehow the automated function jammed and I had to climb up and pull the blind down myself. Such a simple thing as doing a last all round check that the room was OK wasn’t done.

There was also another major no-no that involved promises made but not met. Let’s just say that insufficient followup and service recovery came from this. They had lovely rooms and a lovely hotel, but as always: the devil is in the details.

Park Hyatt Seoul
Korea Seoul
995-14, Daechi3-Dong
02-2016-1234