Mingles, Seoul | Fine Dining with a Korean Twist

Mingles, Seoul


It was our first day in Seoul. It is a bad idea to schedule a big meal on the night you arrive, especially if there is a time difference. Even more so if you came on an overnight flight... but that is exactly what I did. I have regretted this so many times, but gosh – I still never learn.

Mingles was my first foray into fine Korean cuisine and I brought with me little knowledge beyond the KBBQs and Bibimbabs (which I love). Even though I had little idea on what to expect, reading about the accolades of Chef Mingoo already set the highest expectations.

The dining room at Mingles is filled with dramatic lighting that accentuates the black and wooden interiors. When I visited, above the beautiful counter was a spread of cotton plants. Their light and fluffy characteristic brought a unique charm.

In the Chef’s own words, Mingles’s philosophy is “Mingling contrasting elements into harmony”. That is cute play on his name. While that phrase was initially puzzling, opening their menu made its meaning immediately apparent. Chef Mingoo injected Korean elements, infusing their traditional pastes and fermentation techniques with western ideas. Over the meal, we were also treated to plenty of locally-sourced ingredients (think beef from Gang Won, fish from Jeju, as well as 101 kinds of Korean chilli peppers).

Spring – Abalone Porridge with Korean Green Pepper. Kombu Cha, with Strawberry and Eel. Fermented Vinegar.

First to arrive was a shot of vinegar, infused with rosemary and fermented for several days. This brought an exciting punch, well whetting my appetite. Fantastic, because that got the tired me all ready for the big meal.

We came to Seoul for the Cherry Blossoms, which meant the start of beautiful spring. The abalone porridge is a “spring special” that celebrates this season. This was flavourful, thick, and smooth – just the way I like it. While the abalone is the star, the use of chilli peppers in this dish was equally prominent.

I love how the chef injects these little ideas that assertively claims “No, this is not Chinese Porridge. This is not Cantonese Porridge”. He deliciously reminds us that we are in Korea, and as we will see throughout the meal, respectfully pays homage to their culinary heritage.

Seasonality – Halibut Carpaccio, Pickled Vegetables, and Shiso, on Tomato Jelly.

Spring Clam – Fermented Fish Egg, Radish, Clam Ceviche with Makgeolli Sauce.

Rainbow Dubu – 두부 (Korean Tofu) wrapped in root vegetables. This was presented as intricate folds of rainbow. Subsequently, a thick brown stock of carrots and mushrooms was poured over. The chef was inspired by temple cuisine, and in using simple austere ingredients, he brought about harmony and balance. Dipping the side of Makgeolli Rice Cake with Carrot core into this rich stock was especially perfumed.

Makgeolli Rice Cake, with carrot core.

Spring Eggs – Spring Herbs Egg Custard with Chorizo. Deep Fried Spinach with Ricotta Cheese (background). Very very tasty, one of the best egg custards I have had. I was lucky to have 2 of these, since my mother doesn’t eat eggs that are not fully cooked.

Equally good were the deep-fried spinach with cheese, encased within the crisp wanton skin. This was deceptively simple but criminally delicious – each plump pocket was flavourful and oozing with creamy ricotta.

Conger Eel – Lightly Fried Conger Eel and Anchovy from Jeju, seaweed “Bu Gak”. The team at Mingles fry really really well. We learnt that they use a traditional technique of sticky rice batter “glue”, where the paste was applied on the surface, then dried and subsequently fried. The result was a light, crispy coating that gives a delightful crunch. The yuzu zest brings an added dimension to the sweet and sour sauce pairing.

Mingles Style Seasonal Fish – Red tile fish in Korean Pepper Oil. Broth of fish, seasonal clams and Korean herbs. As expected, the fish was tender and its flavours robust. Unfortunately, the Korean Pepper Oil just doesn’t work for me.

Palete Cleanser – Red wine vinegar

Roasted duck and seasonal vegetables, sourced from a local farm.

Charred lamb, “Doen-jang” vegetable ash, seasonal vegetables.

Gang Won Beef from Eastern Korea. Truffle “Jang” Sauce, Seasonal Vegetables. There were 3 main courses to choose from and our family of 3 just went with one of each. Having tried them all, definitely go for the beef. It was perfect– the decadent slices were a true indulgence. They simply melt in your mouth and go amazingly with the truffle jang.

The main dishes were delicious, but at the same time fun and innovative. Dessert time was equally creative.

As the mains came to an end, we were presented this peculiar set of flasks. There was a choice of Jerusalem Artichoke, Mulberry Leaves, Buckwheat, and Coffee. We went with the first 3, to have them brewed as accompaniment to our sweets.

Doraji – Doraji (balloon flower root) sorbet, Korean traditional cinnamon snack, Rice ice cream, Ginger compote.

Jang Trio – “Doen-jang” crème brulee, “Gan-jang” pecan, “Gochu-jang” blackrice, Vanilla ice cream, Whisky foam. Chef Mingoo takes soybean paste, soy sauce, and red chilli paste, integrating their salted, spicy flavours into a dessert item. The flavours go really well, and together they bring a lovely marriage of silky, crunchy, and velvety textures. As much as these seasonings are iconic of Korean cuisine, I would say this dessert is iconic of his restaurant.

Spring Cheese – Brie Cheese Mousse, “Deodeok” compote, Makgeolli Sorbet. This was both sweet and savoury. It is no contradiction, but a harmonious pairing that works. Any cheese lover will go head over heels.

Tea, Fritz, & Sweet – Lemon puff, Jelly. Korean Traditional Cookie. Pumpkin Paste with Pine Nut. Red Bean Paste with Rice Cake Centre.

Ahhh, Korean food is so much more than KBBQ and Bibimbab. This meal wasn’t merely a simple enjoyment; it was an education on Korean cuisine.

The dedicated team at Mingles are real food nerds. They know everything about every dish, and they passionately explained them one by one.

Mingles, Seoul


레스토랑 밍글스
서울특별시 강남구 논현동 94-9 더 채플 웨딩홀 1층
Gangnam-gu, Nonhyun-dong 94-9, 1st floor, Seoul, South Korea

Reservations:
(+82) 2-515-7306
info@restaurant-mingles.com


Hedone by Chef Mikael Jonsson | Fine Dining in London

Hedone


Before Chef Mikael Jonsson was Chef Mikael Jonsson, he was an influential food blogger at gastroville.com. He is the role model of authors I look up to, and to write about such an icon brings immense pressure to a new writer. I here humbly share my experience at Hedone.

We were the first to arrive at the rustic, dimly-lit restaurant. We sat at the counter, where we had first row seats to all the action. Mikael Jonsson’s obsession with sourcing for the best ingredients was immediately apparent, as we peered over the counter to see the crab, scallops and the fish we were about to have. Chef Mikael travelled across the United Kingdom and even beyond to source for the best ingredients. Still, top qualities are scarce, thus there is no proper menu. Diners are presented with a choice of 7 or 10 course meal, then leave the team to work their wonders.

Chef Mikael Jonsson in the house. He works with this quietly assertive aura, being mentor to the team of young chefs.

“Cornetto” cone of chopped tuna, citrus mayonnaise.

Yellow pepper meringue, Foie gras terrine, Spanish ham jelly. Foie gras is luscious. To serve this so early on, Hedone does so by combining it with meringue and jelly which cuts through the richness.

“Fish and Chips” of monkfish in potato, homemade tartar. In a square tube of potato crisp, the monkfish is expertly slotted such that it sits perfectly within. Oftentimes, blind pursuit of breaking culinary boundaries lead to clumsy dishes. Here, Chef Mikael reinvents a classic in a way that is both delicious and elegant – in a single bite, you have both your both fish and your chips. On its own, it tastes extremely clean and simple. But with a good scoop of their tartar, I felt a multitude of flavours exploding in my mouth.

The intricate preparation for the home-made tartar – individual pickle cubes are placed piece by piece with tweezers.

Poached Rock Oyster, Green leaf foam, Cucumber ice cream. The oyster was so incredibly creamy. I tasted the sea as a tinge of brine flirted with my tongue, then I felt an exciting contrast from the cucumber ice cream.

Venison tartare, Potato ice cream, Oscietra caviar. The caviar brought savoury bursts of richness, while the potato ice cream was velvety and silky. However, I am so sorry that the invisible barrier in my mind prevents me from liking this dish, because I cannot get past the idea of raw deer.

Devon Crab, Granny Smith Apple, Horseradish and parsley oil, Hazelnut cream. Chef Mikael’s way is to cook the crab ala minute, then take out the meat intact while it is cooling. He asserts that this technique holds the liquid within the meat, and it does – this is the juiciest crab I have had. Yet, these medallions were also the most delicate. At first bite, their flavours just burst out. Together, the hazelnut cream adds an earthy dimension, while the granny smith was a refreshing contrast.

Scrambled eggs, white truffle. I talked to my friends about this dish, and told them this was in the running for “best scrambled eggs”. Yet it is almost cheating – because the truffles are so good, they alone already smelled heavenly.

Scottish scallops with Japanese dressing

Sea bass fillet, Green olive sauce

Deer Sweetbread, Apricot puree. Sweatbread (when it is not one of those smelly disasters) is one of my favourite foods. This sweetbread had a perfectly silky texture. It was tender with a beautiful crisp on the outside.

Suckling pig, aubergine with miso, lemon puree

Rack of lamb, lamb belly bits

Ginger, pumpkin, and peach tart. Meringue bits, clementine sorbet.

Yuzu gel, milk ice cream, praline biscuit, chocolate mousse.

Chocolate, Sour Jelly, Canele

Hedone, like its name suggests, brings one on a journey in pursuit of epicurean pleasure. Chef Mikael Jonsson’s known obsession with sourcing for the best ingredients is further complemented by his relentless effort in cultivating techniques that allow them to best express their character. With an uncompromising take on both quality and handling, it is no wonder that the meal was such a delight.

Hedone

301-303 Chiswick High Rd, Chiswick, London W4 4HH, UK

Tel: +44(0)208 747 0377
Email: reservations@hedonerestaurant.com


Pollen Street Social by Jason Atherton

Pollen Street Social


To dine at a good restaurant is always an expectation-filled event, sort of an electric charge to the day.

That morning though, felt strangely disjointed. There was none of the usual pre-dining electric charge, because unlike the times where I research and plan my meal months ahead, deciding to dine at Pollen Street Social was a spontaneous decision made that very morning.

Coincidentally, that day was also one of London’s legendary mornings of interminable gloom.

Pollen Street Social – the name of the establishment itself conjures a wonderfully casual image of friends having a good time on a cool sunny day, dining on a busy street beside a planter of flowers amidst genuine peals of laughter and juicy conversation.

We must have looked overly eager that morning – being the first to arrive, even before their official operating hours. True to their name though, the decidedly social service crew greeted us with their broad smiles and warmly led us to our table.

I was impressed by the passionate service we received, wonderfully void of snobbishness and instead, was of genuine care. While the atmosphere at many Michelin-starred restaurants are stifling, I am happy to write that Pollen Street Social is not one of them.

The casual but sophisticated feel carries on through the décor – homely chic but polished. There was plenty of natural light alongside the warm pendant lighting, illuminating the beautiful white walls and wooden panels. The adorning Christmas ornaments hinted at the upcoming celebrations.

Our waitress, Celia, walked us through the menu items that day – and it was obvious that she was incredibly proud of their food. I could sense her unbridled passion as she described the dishes confidently, the way only a foodie would.

We eventually settled on their £39.50, 3 course lunch.

The dining room began filling with conversation. The surrounding atmosphere was light and convivial, in stark contrast to the gloomy weather we were in just moments ago.

Before long, the first items were on our table – Amuse Bouche Tower: Salmon with roe on bread, cucumber crème fraiche with dill on sweet corn cake, tart. “Cucumber” and “cake” together sounds incredibly awkward, but the truth couldn’t be further. The sweet base of the corn cake was followed by the refreshing wash of cucumber. It was a wonderful synergy that left my taste buds amused, confused, and impressed at the same time.

I was keen to discover what was to follow.

The next dish was the Parmesan Foam, Mushroom Consommé, a dish that I recall Celia sharing excitedly about – a layer of parmesan foam was presented in an espresso cup, then a mushroom consommé was subsequently poured in. That instant, the intoxicating bouquet of fresh mushrooms filled the air.

She explained that the foam would soon rise, but oddly mine did not. Another waitress suggested that it might take some time, but I couldn’t resist the olfactory assault any longer.

This was delicious.

Photos don’t do this dish justice, because everything is visually so nondescript – it is merely a dark brown liquid with some foam. Yet in this little cup, were contents so savory, intense, and altogether wonderful.

Now, on to the courses proper.

My dining company of the day, my mother, suggested ordering different dishes to share – so we could have a better idea of what Pollen Street Social has to offer.

The first starter course to arrive was the Pressed terrine of Lancashire duck & game, met pot garnish, duck heart jus. Absolutely the star of the meal.

This was a work of art, with lovely interlays of meat and liver. The meat was generous and firm, the liver perfectly melts in your mouth. And the jus! Seldom do I see a “wet” terrine. It was an unconventional take on a classic dish – savory, intense, well textured. Oh, and it is so pretty.

Our alternative starter was the Slow cooked Cackleberry Farm egg, turnip purée, parmesan, sage & kombu crumb, chicken gravy, which came highly recommended. This was not quite as refined as the first, but it was nice to have a hearty portion of comfort food on a gloomy day.

Next came the mains. Fish was a rather conventional grilled Cornish sea bass, roasted Jerusalem artichokes and yeast, sprout flowers. We also had the Braised west country ox cheek, horseradish mash, autumn leaves which was tender, though its sauce was slightly cloying and tiring to eat. Crisp autumn leaves were a nice touch, although they did not heighten the overall taste. The ox cheek came with a side of escargot, served in bone.

Three courses doesn’t sound like much, but they were not “tasting” courses mind you. I was so sated, and more than happy to walk over to meet Sean, the pastry chef, for desserts at the counter.

First up: Basil Sorbet, Cream, Basil Oil. Somehow at Pollen Street Social, we always get most impressed when we least expect it. Our pre-dessert just looked like a plain dollop of cream. Yet within this light and fluffy mess was a cold excitement as I bit into their icy basil sorbet. Amazing.

Sharpham goats cheesecake, prunes soaked in Armagnac, pear William sorbet

70% chocolate marquise, soya roasted pumpkin seeds, bitter orange & pumpkin sorbet

To end off the meal, Fruit jellies, tart, chocolate ganache.

Lunch at Pollen Street Social was an exceedingly pleasant dining experience, let down just a tad by their mains, which I felt lacked lustre.

Still, Pollen Street Social’s greatest charm lie in its service staff. All this while, the staff members were friendly and engaging. Even now, I vividly remember Celia’s animated gestures as she described the signature dishes that she loves. The team was attentive, caring, and yet never intrusive.

As I was leaving the restaurant, I saw that the ground outside looked wet and shimmery.

“Did it rain?”, I asked the gentleman standing by the door.

“It was, but not anymore. Because we stopped it for you”, he replied with a confident smile.

At that point, the grey hues dissipated. Out came the sun and the postcard-perfect sky.

Now, how’s that for good service?

For all the social things we could have done that day, dining at Pollen Street Social was by far the best.

Pollen Street Social

8-10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NQ

Tel: +44 (0)20 7290 7600
Email: reservations@pollenstreetsocial.com