January is here, which means luxury hotels in Korea are duking it out for social media publicity with photogenic strawberry buffets.
It might seem as if spring has already arrived to some tourists, as Korea’s strawberry season starts not in late spring but midwinter.
Right after Christmas and New Year’s, hotels move into strawberry buffet-mode, seizing the opportunity for some winter color by creating eye-catching, mouthwatering desserts.
Grand Walkerhill Seoul’s “Very Berry Strawberry Buffet” (Grand Walkerhill Seoul)
Buffet stations typically have cakes, tarts, macarons and chocolate treats, but there are also savory dishes to pair, such as sandwiches, pasta and even pizza. A mountain of fresh strawberries laid out front welcomes visitors.
Strawberry buffet is hailed by those looking for Instagrammable experiences -- an important quality for millennials -- and also allows diners to experience the hotel lifestyle at a lower price than for regular dinner.
Strawberry buffets are mostly priced at around 60,000 won, while typical restaurant dining at the same places would normally start at 100,000 won. Some hotels also offer 10 percent discounts for early-bird reservations.
Reservations for some strawberry buffets in January are already full. Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas in southern Seoul, the first hotel to launch “strawberry dessert buffet” in 2007, and Grand Walkerhill Seoul in eastern Seoul are the big names in this scene. The reservations for both are full this month.
As it is difficult to stand out with desserts, the hotels are looking for alternative ideas to set a differentiated side to their dessert buffet.
For example, JW Marriott Dongdaemun has teamed up with Barbie, featuring a retro-style Barbie interior theme in its lounge. The pink interior complements the bursting red color of the strawberries.
Grand Hyatt Seoul presents a streaming chocolate fountain filled with Ruby Chocolate this season. (Grand Hyatt Seoul)
Grand Hyatt Seoul presents a streaming chocolate fountain filled with Ruby Chocolate, a relatively new type of chocolate featuring a vivid pink color and fresh fruit flavor.
Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas has dropped the buffet system and has moved onto Strawberry Gourmet Boutique, featuring New York-style strawberry brunch items.
Though some buffets stretch out until March or April, it is best to hit the buffets when the weather is cold. Most strawberries used for the buffets are greenhouse strawberries, which are at their best in winter.
“Hotels are moving the dates up early every year hoping to stay ahead of the game as early as early-December. But it is actually mid-January and early-February, when the strawberries are in their best condition,” one official from a five-star luxury hotel in Korea said.