In Seochon, a quaint neighborhood west of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, there has always been a focus on old world charm and the area’s past as an artists’ enclave.
Today, Seochon is an unassumingly stylish neighborhood sprinkled with galleries and cafes in a quiet ambience quite different to that found on the other side of the palace in the tourist-laden Samcheong-dong and Bukchon. Still budding as a destination neighborhood, Seochon offers a colorful mix of modern sensibility and old hanok buildings, with an allure reminiscent of its calm, intellectual past.
Interior of Tapas Gourmet (Christine Cho)
Among the many eateries and boutique cafes in the neighborhood, a small tapas restaurant stands out with its clean minimal facade set within a revamped hanok on Jahamun-ro 9-gil.
Tapas Gourmet is owned by a neighborhood resident, Kim Moon-jung, who lived in Spain and Europe for over 10 years cooking and studying the culinary arts. Kim acquired the restaurant in 2013, and with the design help of her architect husband, she has created a comfortably chic space serving outstanding tapas dishes that respect the true flavors of the boquerias of Spain, but with a personal reinterpretation of her own.
The neighborhoods other advantage for Kim is its proximity to the market where she buys her ingredients. She walks to the nearby Tongin market every morning and carefully hand-picks each item that she prepares in her restaurant.
Huevo roto con Chorizo y Patata (Christine Cho)
Using mostly domestic ingredients, she focuses on using the freshest ingredients and melds that with a few imported staples such as vinegars, pimenton, and oils to create her unique flavors.
Baby octopus or langoustines like you would find in Spain can be readily sourced from Jeju Island but other items, such as asparagus, are replaced by a local vegetable with similar texture and flavor. Tapas Gourmet improvises between classic Spanish dishes and refreshingly adapted new ones that are dictated by the freshness of market-driven ingredients.
Small batch stocks and sauces are made fresh daily with each dish prepared single handedly by Kim, who painstakingly makes sure each plate is put to the table with a “mother-like” perfectionism.
Whether preparing the restaurant’s seasonal house-cured anchovies or the fragrant sofrito-infused seafood paella, Tapas Gourmet takes great care to achieve consistency and freshness in its dishes.
Arroz de Cigala (Christine Cho)
With only one turnover a night and less than 15 seats, one feels as if eating at someone’s home rather than a restaurant, such is the intimate warm of the room.
Most of the customers find themselves there through word of mouth and are more often than not repeat customers. It is a true testament to the restaurant’s integrity that there is not a bottle of Tabasco, or a bowl of pickles or kimchi in sight to adjust the flavors to something more locally recognizable. Delicious food has no borders, and Tapas Gourmet proves it can keep its integrity right here in Seoul.
Tapas Gourmet exterior (Christine Cho)
Address: 7, Jahamun-ro 9-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Telephone: (02) 6014-2369
Monday-Saturday 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.
5,000 won - 37,000 won
-Pan con tomato (bread with tomato spread and extra virgin olive oil) 5,000 won
-Huevo roto con chorizo y patata (chorizo with sunny side up egg and mashed potato) 13,000 won
-Arroz de cigala (paella with seafood stock) 37,000 won
By Christine Cho (email@example.com
Christine Cho, a Korean-American expat in Seoul, has been eating and cooking her way around the world for 16 years as a private chef. -- Ed.