Last month I celebrated yet another wonderful birthday with my boyfriend. As is our tradition, he surprised me with wonderful dining experience at a special new restaurant. This year he decided to take me to a place hidden down a remote alley behind 덕수궁 (Deoksugung) called 콩두 (Congdu).
Looking at it from the outside, it appeared to be just a typical traditional Korean house or 한옥 (hanok). Isolated at the end of a long winding alley, there were no signs to speak of and the size of the house was relatively small. Nonetheless, my boyfriend led me in only to find a candle lit lobby where a hostess was waiting to lead us to our table. Past the lobby, she led us across the polished hardwood floors, through a hallway lined with candles, antique pottery and trinkets upstairs to the terrace. The terrace had been draped with a tarp for winter, sheltering the intimate space from the cold. The room itself was decorated with traditional korean antiques and had large windows which gave way to a lovely view of the lit up city outside. The tables were draped with clean white linens and topped with fanned out napkins, candles and lotus blossoms. It was balance of modern and traditional Korea in quite a romantic atmosphere.
Let me tell you upfront that this is a high-end restaurant and the courses are definitely priced as such. It being a special occasion, we ordered from the course menu and there were three types to choose from: Green, Orange and White (each increasingly more expensive than the last). There was one item on the menu that caught my eye… 48hr slow cooked Jeju Island pork. If you’ve ever had black Jeju pork before, you would know that it is one of the most exquisite dishes to ever touch your taste buds. Needless to say that a 48hr slow cooked version of this did a bit more than intrigue me.
The meal began with a small serving of boiled Jeju pork served in a special sauce. It was tender and absolutely savory. Next was the herb crusted chicken salad which was overall nothing noteworthy, but the chicken was soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and bombing with enough flavor to make up for the bland dressing. I was not a fan of the soup. I ordered some sort of taro soup and it was, in a word, unpleasant. It didn’t lack flavor, it’s just that the flavor it had wasn’t good. My boyfriend ordered the sweet pumpkin, which was much better. I’d recommend that one if you order this course. Next was the oyster, which was surprisingly smoked and very very good. The Japchae (잡채) served next was probably the best I’ve ever had. This is a korean glass noodle dish which, in this unusual case, was steamed in individual paper pouches. Now for the entree, my boyfriend ordered the sirloin steak which was incredibly tender with just the right amount of chewiness. As a matter of fact, it was seasoned to such perfection that it didn’t require any additional sauce for dipping. But, the flavor of the garlic puree and vintage soy sauce was pure magic. As for me, the 48hr slow cooked Jeju Island pork was nothing less than phenomenal. A dish far to great for us mere mortals. The meat was so tender I could pull it apart gently with my fork. It melted on my tongue like a snowflake, making each bite a unique and blissful experience. I’ve never tasted anything like this and it is unlikely I will ever find its match… and least not outside Jeju Island. Finally for dessert we had a sample platter of rice cakes, served in a lovely presentation.
Overall, the service wasn’t all that great especially compared to other venues of this calibre. The servers weren’t particularly attentive or accommodating, but the environment was lovely and intimate. The food was delicious, though a bit too pricey for what we received in return. The restaurant claims to be a fusion restaurant, but I can assure you it is definitely 100% Korean food… high class Korean food, but Korean food nonetheless. The 48hr slow cooked Jeju Island pork alone is definitely worth going for. So if you’re in need of something to make your tastebuds sing, your really don’t need to look any further. Happy eating!