Il Gattino – Sneak Preview

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As your favourite food blogger I always try my best to find you the best food in Korea. And for once in my life I’m ahead of the crowd and sharing with you a restaurant that isn’t even open yet! Il Gattino is having a secret opening and they have the best Italian food in Korea bar none. With Italian chef Flavia in the kitchen serving up her classic Italian cuisine and Giovianni as the warm and inviting host, HBC finally has a restaurant which is worth queuing for.  For a bargain price of only 35,000 we shared the most sumptuous meal. Prices will remain cheap during the secret opening while they test their recipes and see what proves to be popular, but even after this Giovanni tells me that main pasta courses will only cost around 10,000 each and desserts at around 4,000-5,000. He wants the prices to reflect those in Italy and not just overcharge like many restaurants do here just because we are in Seoul.

To kick start the meal we were given their home baked ciabatta bread, chili jam and olive tapinade. The bread was especially good, and perfectly accompanied with the salty tapinade and sweet chili jam. You can never go wrong with freshly baked bread to start a meal.

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The bread course was swiftly followed by baked aubergines in a rich tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella. I love this dish, and often make a similar version myself. Tomatoes, cheese, and aubergines work perfectly and it’s also a great option for vegetarians.

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Next we were presented with two different kinds of homemade gnocchi. The first were simply cooked in butter and topped with parmesan cheese. The light pillowy delicate flavour of these was outstanding. Probably the best I’ve ever eaten, they were little clouds of heaven that just melted on the tongue. All they needed was a touch of freshly ground pepper on top to complete them. We actually fought over the last one!

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Our second dish was the gnocchi covered in bolognaise. Made using Giovanni’s  grandmother’s recipe, it was everything a bolognaise should be, simple, rich, and full of flavour.  Again the gnocchi were pure perfection but the sauce really stood out in this dish. I can’t wait to go back and try their lasagne.

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In true European style, no meal is complete without dessert and we were lucky enough to try two. A  sponge topped with a luscious lemon mousse, and my favourite, tiramisu. Made in the traditional way, both were like eating lavish creamy clouds. With homemade mascarpone, light sponge and rich coffee, the tiramisu was flawless. Both were fantastic and I suggest you get one of each because it was very hard to decide which one we liked best. I gave the edge to the tiramisu, the Fat Boyfriend preferred the lemon. I also heard they have a rich chocolate creation that they will be debuting very soon which I am desperate to try.

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The restaurant will be open at the Good to Go location in Hae Bang Chon. But sandwich fans don’t despair, they aren’t going anywhere as the restaurant will be dual run. As I mentioned Il Gattino isn’t even open yet, but they are open to reservations of small groups. Giovanni will find out your tastes and prepare a special set menu just for you. They take lunch and dinner bookings, so if you would like to try their incredible food, please message them using their facebook page.

Il Gattino is located at 46, Yongsan 2 ga, Yongsan gu, Seoul. To get there head to Noksapyeong station(line 6) and come out exit 2. Walk straight and bear left at the kimchi pots. Keep walking up the hill until you see Good to Go/Il Gattino on your right just across from Bonny’s Pizza.

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Din Tai Fung

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Oh dumplings, I am quite the fan shall we say. I could pop those little babies in my mouth until I can no longer move. I’ve had a hankering for some Shanghai soup dumplings for weeks now, so since we were staying in Times Square over the holiday I thought it would be rather prudent to check out Din Tai Fung. I’m a huge fan of Crystal Jade having visited a couple of their branches but I had yet to try Din Tai Fung so I had high hopes ahead.

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After a good gander of the menu, we ordered 10 of the Pork Xiaolongbao (9,900) to start us off. They arrived promptly and we dived in. I pierced open the pocket of goodness and let the soup spill out into my spoon. However my high hopes turned to ash as I supped up the soup. It just really lacked in flavour, not a patch on the meaty gravy it should be. If anything it was just fatty and greasy. I bit into the middle to find the ball of pork completely tasteless, not even seasoned. It was very disappointing. Dipping it into the vinegar and ginger made it better but not really the standard it should be.

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The Beijing Pork (16,000) showed up and immediately bucked up our spirits. It was a triumph. A light yet crispy batter, with the sweet yet slightly sour sauce to pour on top. With the preserved lemons to give it extra oomph it was a knock out. We got the small portion which was ample for two people. This is certainly where I plan to head next time I have a craving. Sweet and sour is my favourite dish and this one knocked the socks off most other places that serve it like Ho Lee Chow. The only one who can compare is the Dongdaemun Mutton Refectory, but even still I’d give Din Tai Fung the edge on this one.

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They were out of the fried noodles we wanted to order so we opted for the Fried Rice with Eggs, Shrimp and Pork (12,000). Another stellar dish. I just don’t know how they get that delicious Chinese fried rice taste. Home efforts are always in vain and can never match up to the real deal. One day I will find the secret.

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The steamed Charsiu Pork Buns (6,500) arrived and were yet another dismal offering. The filling was sparse and again tasteless not even a hint of the char sui sauce which makes them so good, I’ve had better ones from the 7-11. Without the meat we were just eating flavourless steamed bread. Though it’s no surprise they didn’t live up to my expectations after eating the Michelin starred ones from Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. Nothing can compare to those bad boys.

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On the whole Din Tai Fung was rather hit and miss, the dumplings which they are so famous for were such an anticlimax. However the fried rice and sweet and sour pork we ordered as an afterthought were exceptional. Similar to the Chinese style we all know and love I will definitely be going back for my next craving, but next time I want dumplings ill stick with Crystal Jade.

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Din Tai Fung is located 4th Floor, Time Square, Yeongdeongpo, Seoul. To get there take a train to Yeongdeongpo station (line 1). Exit the station and follow the signs to Time Square. Din Tai Fung is located on the 4th floor.

Hopscotch

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A few weeks ago I was invited to come down and check out Hopscotch. It had been on my list of places to try for some time now, so I of course jumped at the chance. It’s not very often I get to do things Gangnam style!

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Hidden in a labyrinth of alleyways, Hopscotch is like a speakeasy from the 1920s. Away from the hustle and bustle of the main roads, you would blink and miss it. If the main door is closed, the little red glowing sign is your only clue to what lurks behind. Upon entering the door you are transported in time, I really did expect girls in flapper dresses to be doing the Charleston.

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After taking a seat in one of the cosy corners we were presented with their cramazingly cool menu. They used the covers of old school note books which just exudes a retro feel. It’s all the details like this that really make the place. The owner told me that he and his partner constructed a lot of the bar and furniture themselves as one was skilled at wood work and the other at metal work. Every detail has been thought out meticulously.

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Cocktails were ordered of course, it would have been churlish not to. They have a small range of classics, which are perfectly executed. We tried the  New Yorker 16,000, and the Old Fashioned 16,000. Both whisky based and not for the fainthearted. The New Yorker was a nice twist on the whisky sour, The Old Fashioned was a touch too strong for me, but The Fat Boyfriend loved it.

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As well as their cocktails they also have a dedicated list of a scotch whiskys and selected craft beers. Hence the name Hopscotch, hop for beer, scotch for whisky. So we also tried a Great white (10,000). There are some darn fancy beers on the menu including one which was voted beer of the year and comes in a wine bottle.

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To accompany our drinks we ordered the very popular Duck Frites (9,000). Shoe string fries cooked in duck. I’m always a fan of cooking things in animal fat, even if it’s not particularly healthy, and duck fat is my mums secret ingredient for making the best roast potatoes in the world! You really can’t go wrong with a bowl of these babies.

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We also ordered the the Socal Salad (17,000) which consists of pulled chicken, mandarin oranges, apples, pecans, almonds, gorgonzola, cranberries, avocado, romaine lettuce, and citrus dressing. This salad was a true delight, and I would be all kinds of thrilled if I was taking this baby for lunch every day. So many tasty ingredients working together in perfect harmony. Some of the vegetables are even grown on one of the owner’s organic farm, no wonder it’s so good.

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After that healthy salad I needed some more deep fried goodies and couldn’t resist the Shroom Fries (10,000). Breaded shitake mushrooms served with garlic aioli, they are similar to the ones I made myself a few weeks ago. These are shaped to resemble potato wedges, and have a nice crispy exterior around the softer inside. Topped with parmesan and dipped into the scrummy garlic mayo they are nice bar snack to nibble on.

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For those looking for something a bit more substantial you can try the Brisket Bite (17,000). Smoked brisket pilled on toasted ciabatta, topped with emmental cheese and creamy southern style coleslaw. The bread was lovely as was the brisket. It was indeed a very tasty sandwich but probably not worth the 17,000 price tag. Though if you can afford it, probably not so much of an issue, the big ballers of Gangnam probably scarf down these bad boys like I do 2,000 won double cheese burgers.

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To round off our meal, the owner brought us over a dish of frozen grapes, that had been drizzled with balsamic reduction. A sweet and refreshing dessert to finish with. I will have to give these a go at home.

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If you are in Gangnam and looking for something a little different, this is an ideal place to bring and impress a date or a cool crowd of friends. The drinks and food are well paired and it’s worth coming for the luxe furnishings alone. Feel free to dress in 20’s attire as you really wouldn’t look out of place. They have also recently opened up a second location in Gwanghwamun too.

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Hopscotch is located at B1, 113-20, Nonhyeon-dong, gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea. To get there take a train to Gangnam Gu Cheong Station (Line 7) Come out exit 3 and immediately take a right. Then take your first left. Follow that road along for maybe 50 meters and keep looking to the right. It’s hidden away on a little side street. We found it just by using the GPS on our phone and the address, or just call and they will come out and find you! For more information you can call on 02-511-0145 or check out their facebook page.

Holy Smoke

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Holy Smoke opened  on Saturday, and as always I was one of the first through its doors. Although the close proximity of my house to the restaurant probably had something to do with it! I was just desperate to find out if all the banging in the early morning was worth it.

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Despite the mother Mary logo and the godly like name, the interior is dark and slightly satanic. Some cows are certainly getting slaughtered up in here to serve at the altar of deliciousness. With the glowing red lights they have a real juxtaposition of good and evil going on. Maybe it’s supposed to represent the glowing coals upon which the meat is cooked, but I really couldn’t say for sure.

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Hot on the tail of Linus’s success, some might say this is a copycat restaurant as the menu is somewhat similar.  However there’s room for more than one BBQ restaurant in Seoul. In fact there are thousands of them. Koreans love BBQ meat so I’m surprised the American style trend didn’t catch on sooner.

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I got a few sandwiches to go on opening weekend, and finally ate in last night. They have been running out later in the evening so I would advise going early to avoid disappointment. The menu offers a good selection of BBQ foods without having too much. We ordered the pulled pork sandwich (6,000), with fries on the side (2,000).  There is generous amount of meat served in a soft buttery roll. The meat is unsauced, allowing you to add your own. They have three available, Franks (a BBQ styled thousand island kind of sauce), Carolina Gold (a mustard laced vinaigrette), and Red hot chili. I find the Franks to pair best with the pulled pork, and with the coleslaw piled in on top this is a damn good sandwich for the price. The meat is tender and juicy but could possibly do with just a touch more flavour within it. Without the sauce it would be a bit bland though.

 

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We also got the rib platter (16,000). On the menu it said three ribs but we got five which was handy as otherwise my poor and long suffering boyfriend would have been left with just one. The meat on the bones was tender and well cooked, but they were just too plain on their own. The sauces that they currently offer completely overpower the flavour of the meat, so they need to serve some regular BBQ sauce. That or perhaps a dry rub before they are cooked. I’m not really into plain old ribs, they are missing that sticky crispy crust that you get when you cook them in sauce.  I asked the owner if he planned to serve BBQ sauce but was met with a resounding no. He was rather stand offish when I tried to talk to him. It was a soft opening and I thought these things are usually done so they can receive feedback, especially from your neighbours who are most likely to become regulars if treated well. The two counter staff were incredibly friendly though. I enjoyed the beans from this platter a lot, I just can never get enough baked beans in my life. The small rolls were a bit stale though, if they aren’t fresh they should at least toast them. If they get some BBQ sauce on the menu then I would have the platter again.

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I got the brisket sandwich to go (8,000). Again the meat was tender but unflavored, the mustard sauce definitely goes better on this one. I think if pushed though I probably think the pulled pork sandwich has the edge, it’s also cheaper.

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Between Sunday and last night they changed the fries. At the weekend they had the larger ones below, but last night they had the shoe string ones you get everywhere. Bring back the big chips and I’ll order double sides, the skinny ones I’m really not fussed about.

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Later in the evening I was in the mood for something sweet, so The Fat Boyfriend was dispatched across the road to pick me up the deep fried Snickers (6,000). This is for the very sweet toothed. It was just too sweet for me, I liked the crisp exterior on the outside, but the middle is supposed to be soft and gooey but the peanuts in the Snickers opposed this. It works much better with a Mars bar. I think I’ll try the lemon berry curd next time.

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I didn’t have anything to drink as they only serve craft beer. They have a couple of homemade sodas which look great but at 7,000 with no booze in them I had to decline. Maybe after pay day. This place has the making to be a great spot as the portions are large and good value. But they need to make a few changes to get to the same standard as Linus in the taste department. I would definitely continue to get the sandwiches to go either way, but the platters need more work to get me back inside.

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Holy Smoke is located at 1F, Sinheung-ro, 3-gil, Yongsan-gu, seoul. To get there take a train to Noksapyeong station (line 6) and come out of exit 2. walk straight until the road veers off and you see the kimchi pots. Walk along this road until you reach the turning just before bonny’s pizza and go left. Holy smoke is located on the left hand side just after HBC coffee shop. For more information you can call on 02-792-3719.

Coreanos Kitchen – Vista

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People have been talking about Coreanos for months now, and I have heard from several different sources that they have the best Mexican in Seoul! With a claim like that I was more than eager to try it. But once again my laziness got in the way of me leaving my hood to actually go and eat there. But if Mohammed wont go to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohammed and they very fortunately opened up a second store in Itaewon. Hurrah, all roads lead to Itaewon!

 

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I visited during their soft opening launch last week. We got there early, in just enough time to snag ourselves a window seat. Luckily the queuers hadn’t taken up their spots yet, but I’m sure it shan’t be long. The restaurant is large and set over two floors. Located on the hill just next to Berlin. After a good old gander of the menu we ordered up a whole host of tacos, a burrito, and a couple of cocktails.

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While we were waiting for our drinks we were presented with our complimentary chips and salsa. As you can see from the picture there are four kinds and it’s served in those adorable dishes. The spoons are probably a bit redundant, but it looks nice. The salsas varied in flavour and were rather scrumptious.

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After quickly devouring the chips, I glanced over to see our drinks being made. The bartender was using Rose’s lime cordial, a perfectly fine mixer if its going in a vodka soda lime, but not in a margarita (9,000) or a mojito (9,000). When my drink was presented my heart just fell. I tasted a sip and it fell even further. The manager asked me what I thought and I asked if they had any crushed ice.  He said he would blend it for me and throw in some extra rum. It was better, but it still awful. There is just no excuse for such a poorly made drink. I wish I had just sent it back, but it was busy and I didn’t want to cause a fuss (which strangely is very unlike me). I know the price of limes in Korea is ridiculous, and that most mojitos in Seoul using them cost around 15,000. Which I think is fine as long as they are exceptionally good. But there just isn’t any come back from using generic rum,  uncrushed ice, and synthetic lime syrup and calling it a mojito because there are a few mint leaves floating it it. You can get lime concentrate juice, frozen limes, or special mojito mixes and still make a decent drink and turn a good profit. So owners of Coreanos you owe me a drink, and I beg of you change the recipe or take it off the menu because its just not acceptable right now.

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The Margarita (9,000) tasted better than the mojito but really isn’t anywhere where it should be at that price. On the Border’s margaritas are cheaper and about 10,000 times better. So take note and work on the recipes. If need be I’m willing to offer my skills as a taste tester to help you improve!

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Thankfully the first round of tacos and showed up and really bucked up our spirits. We had ordered one of every flavour, as to not miss out on anything delicious. Above are the Galbi Beef (3,300) and the Braised Pork belly (3,600). I really enjoyed the braised pork belly, the meat was tender and and well flavoured, though combined with the taco it was a touch dry. A blob of sour cream or some dressing on top and it would be perfect. The Galbi one was nice enough too, though I can’t really say it was all that memorable.

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The Battered Fish taco (3,600) was the star of the day taco wise. You can’t beat a good bit of battered fish. The tartar sauce on top was delightfully fresh, and the red pickled onions balanced out the dish well. I would certainly get another one of these next time.

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We also ordered the Todos Burrito (12,000), which was tremendous! Stuffed with extra meat, beans, salad, sour cream, and guacamole. It was incredibly well balanced and tasty. It’s undisputedly the best burrito I have ever had in Korea, possible one of the best ever. Either way it was amazeballs.

We waited quite a while for the second set of tacos as they had lost our order, it being their soft opening and all I could live with that, if I hadn’t had to listen to the angry man at the next table screaming at the poor waitress as their order got mixed up too. Having been a waitress for a number of years in my youth I am fully aware that these things happen, especially during training. but it did dampen the evening a little. I have noticed a real trend towards soft opening these days, and I think its a great idea while everything gets perfected. However I do think if service and food aren’t quite up to standard yet restaurants should lower their prices by 10 or 20% to compensate for this. Our whole meal took over an hour and a half, which was frankly just too long for 5 tacos, a burrito, and a drink each.

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Eventually the second set of tacos arrived. We got the Citrus chicken (3,300) and the Grilled shrimp (4,000). The shrimp was nice enough but couldn’t compare to the Vatos shrimp taco which I would sell my own babies to eat. The chicken was the better of the two, a good mix between the zingy dressing and the flavour of spice braised chicken. I think after trying them at several different restaurants I’m just not sure if I’m sold on the whole corn tortillas thing. Call me crazy but I just prefer the wheat ones. I’m sure Mexican enthusiasts everywhere are calling me a culinary cretin but I just find them too thick and claggy. The wheat ones are what I know and love. I also enjoy the wafer thin ones you get at Vatos, but it’s horses for courses and just a matter of taste on my part.

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All in all I would give Coreanos another shot if only to get another burrito, in fact I would probably get two as they really are that good. But unless they get their cocktails up to par I would probably get it to go. Life’s too short for bad cocktails and for me they are integral part of the Mexican food experience.

 

Coreanos Vista is located at 457-3  Itaewon-Dong, Yongsan-Gu , Seoul. To get there  take a train to Noksapyeong station (line 6). Use the elevator to exit the building so you come out by the bridge. Walk over the bridge and turn right and follow the alley way around. Coreanos will be on your right just before Berlin and Buddha’s Belly.

 

 

 

 

Brew 3.14

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Brew 3.14 or Brew Pie is the first restaurant venture of Seoul foodie extraordinaire Daniel Gray. The establishment has a rather clever name, brew is for the beer and pie for the pizzas. The place has been open for about 9 or 10 months now, and I have been meaning to pay a visit for a long time, however my reluctance to leave Itaewon-dong has always triumphed over my go-getter attitude.

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Finally I was in the area paying a visit to Bangsan Bakers Mart. Shopping for baked goods always leaves me rather peckish, so I thought it was about high time I checked out Daniels goodies.  The pub is cozy and compact, but we were welcomed as soon as we walked through the door. It has a real local feel about it and despite the fact there’s only seating for about 15, people cram themselves in regardless.

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The menu here is short and sweet, with them serving up a handful of pizzas, calzones and fried chicken. With their choice craft beers on tap (7,000 -8,000) it’s a very clever take on the traditional Korean Hof. Beer and chicken is where it’s at with the after work crowd and the modern twist will really appeal to the younger generation as foreign food trends become more popular.

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I think we know by now that I’m not much of a craft beer drinker, so I was thrilled they had a range of cocktails served in bags! I opted for the Blue Lemonade (8,000), made from real blue lemons!

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After a glance at the menu there  was one pizza that just spoke to me; the Chicken Bechamel (16,000), was calling my name. I’ll take a white pizza over a red one any day of the week especially with a thin crispy crust like this one. With sliced chicken and peppers it was a delight.

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We also couldn’t resist the Meat Calzone (8,000). Made with the same great dough as the pizza, the edges were crimped beautifully. Stuffed with cheese and tasty well seasoned ground meat. It was perfectly sized for one. I also adore the cute little stamp they have to brand them.

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With a nice pizza and good beer, it’s well worth stopping by if you are in the area and in need of refreshments.  All members of Seoul Eats facebook group get a 5% discount so be sure to mention it. Every little helps!

 

Brew 3.14 is located at 39, Donhwamun-ro 11na-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul. To get there take a subway to Jongro 3 ga(lines 1, 3, and 5) and come out exit 7. Take a right, then cross the street and take a left after about 100m. Follow that road along for about 50m or so until you reach Hase Bar and you will see it tucked away in a little alleyway to the right. You can call them on 070-4178-3014 or check out their facebook page for more details.

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Route 66

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With the raise of Itaewon lately it’s no surprise that restaurants are popping up like like there’s no tomorrow. Restaurants are here today and gone tomorrow. Last winter I reported about The Pizza Pub, but it has since changed hands and is now Route 66.

Instead of the self-service bar it’s back to the traditional kind. And I for one am thrilled. I am far too drunk and lazy to walk and get my own drinks. Table service is where it’s at. I  don’t want to realize I’ve lost the function of my legs until the end of the night! And trust me after a few their mega strong Long Island Iceteas (6,500), you will!

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The menu is pretty similar, they still have their amazing boneless wings (9,000) and a variety of pizzas (12,000 – 18,000).

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They have also put on the menu a range of huge and hearty sandwiches. We tried the Pittsburgh and the Chimichurri. Both were large and in charge, and filled to the brim with tasty meat and salad. The bread was exceptional, soft and chewy and very reminiscent of the bread they use at Casablanca. I plan to go back to try the Grilled Cheese BLT and the Meatball Sub!

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For the month of August their sandwiches are 1+1 on weekdays if you buy a drink. An amazing deal as you can can 2 different kinds, so be sure to go before next Friday. They also have the best pizza night ever on Wednesday, charging only 1,000 for a slice!

 

Route 66 is located at 2F 131-3 Itaewon, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, 140-858. To get there take a train to Itaewon station (line 6) and come out of exit 3. Turn back on yourself and take a left at the crossroads. Walk straight past Taco Bell and look for the building 2 doors. The Pizza Pub is on the second floor. For more information you can call them on 02-790-6590 or check out their facebook page.