Occasionally my life is very charmed, and last week was one of those occasions as I was invited to try the tasting menu at Ryunique in Sinsa. The name rang a bell as it was where the In-N-Out Burger pop up had been located but I had no idea about the restaurant itself. A quick search revealed that it had been voted one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants in 2015, in fact it was voted 27th. So after a quick peruse of the menu, I said they could count me in, and as an extra special treat they let me drag TFB along with me.
Ryunique is a very unique mix of Korean, French and Japanese style food. Head chef Tae Hwan Ryu has worked all over the world including Tokyo, Sydney, and London, alongside some great chefs including my favourite, Gordon Ramsay. However the flair and style he’s providing in Ryunique is more akin to the modern gastro-scientific efforts emerging from Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen.
We were both given the, what appears to be 10 course, tasting menu for 180,000 per person. Though in the end it was closer to 16 dishes! I want to preserve Chef Ryu’s secrets so in this review I’m just going to share the highlights leaving a few surprises for you to discover yourself. Along with the food I had the wine pairing which was an extra 120,000, and TFB the tea and juice pairing which costs 50,000.
To kick off the night a glass of french bubbly, and a carbonated date tea for those who don’t drink. The carbonation in the tea replicated the bubbles in the wine to provide a parallel experience. The tea couldn’t quite compete with the delicious brut from the Loire valley, but I appreciate what they were trying to do.
The first course, according to the menu, was merely titled amuse, which in itself contained 7 different elements across 3 different platings. The first selection was made up of a shrimp with a pipette of sauce to squeeze on it, what can only be described as a melt in the mouth teabag of pickling spices, and “walnuts” that were a lot less walnutty than first glance would glean(they were made from potato!).
After this we were brought 2 more exquisitely plated bites, but our final amuse bouche was the real showstopper. The dragonfly was exhibited beautifully with its kimchi wings, fried potato tail, chestnut puree body, and a head made from a mixture of gochujang and pureed kimchi. The presentation in this dish was perfect, I half expected our food to take flight, such was the effect of the illusion.
Foie Gras was next up, and this one was excellent. The foie was lovely and soft and I especially enjoyed the burnt carrot puree that the sliver of foie gras was sat upon. The chocolate braised anago(sea eel) that was paired with the foie gras added an extra depth of flavour that was balanced beautifully with the rest of the dish. As a whole this dish was one of my favourites of the evening.
After the pleasant pummeling our tastebuds had been subjected to, it was time to cleanse the palate with a bowl of soup in preparation for Chef Ryu’s signature dish, the quail. The first sign that something interesting was about to happen was when our sommelier brought over two glasses of what looked like a smoking witch’s potion. “Do not open!” was the instruction so we waited. Incidentally the glasses contained beetroot juice, one of which was spiked with some kind of fancy soju.
We were each presented with a card explaining the origin of the dish in the chef’s childhood memories, and then he came out to explain the dish to us personally. There was a seared quail breast served with beetroot puree and half a pickled quail egg. The other part of the dish was a quail leg wrapped in bacon and presented inside a smoke filled bell jar. The smell that permeated our table really captured the idea of burning hay, which was one of the main ideas behind the dish. The concept was right on the money, and the result was also pretty special.
After a walk through the hay fields it was time to venture under the sea by way of dried chicken. The next dish was seared cod served with mandarin orange prepared in two ways. The dried chicken was grated ultra finely on top to finish the dish. The dried chicken is almost like a poultry version of a Jamon Iberico and added a salty kick to the sweetness of the fruit.
All of a sudden the witches had been at it again. Two smoking glasses filled with seaweed were placed in front of us. These were NOT for drinking, purely to invoke the feeling of the mist rolling across the sea. The dish itself was made up of a seaweed paper, a clam soup with a provalone balloon, sous-vide abalone, and a smoked oyster. The oyster was fantastic, however I nearly choked on the abalone. It was far too fishy for me! The creamy rich soup, however, was divine and the ball of provalone was heavenly. I shall never eat soup without a ball of cheese again.
After a fun palate cleanser, a sorbet in a test tube that needed to be melted in you hands, and a couple more main courses, it was time to move onto the sweeter side of life. This passion fruit and kataiff mixture had a wonderful tropical tang to it and devoured in seconds.
The forest of magic was pretty magical, so much so I would have lived in that little chocolate log! Everything on this plate was edible and delicious, from the meringue mushrooms to the candy floss clouds. The sweetness was provided by the fruity sorbets while the chocolate log provided a counterbalancing richness. The presentation alone blew me away, but on tasting you can really sense the work that has gone into the flavour profile of the dish. It was really fantastic.
We finished the meal with a glass of Calvados and a dish entitled Jewelry Box which you will have to see for yourselves. The whole meal took just over 3 hours from start to finish, though I’m compelled to call it more of an experience than a meal. While there are some moments of pure pleasure of the palette it’s the exquisite plating and presentation that really entertains. Chef Ryu does things would food I could hardly even imagine let alone replicate and I’m blown away by the hard work and talents of his kitchen. I just had no idea that this style of food was even available in Seoul. If the tasting dinner menu seems a bit out of your price range you’ll be pleased to know that lunch starts at the much more affordable 68,000 per person for a four course lunch, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they included a few extras and a little bit of magic in that too.
Ryunique is located at 520-1 SInsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul. To get there take a train to Sinsa Station(line 3) and come out of exit 8. Take the first left and then right and quickly left again. Walk about halfway down this road and turn left just before you hit Mr. Holmes Bakery. Ryunique is just 50 metres or so along this street on the left hand side. For more information you can call them on 02-546-9279, or check out their website.