Friday, July 5, 2013

Restaurant Recommendations: Seoul, Tokyo & Shanghai

Cham Soot Gol
Type of food: Korean barbecue
Address: 18 Mugyo-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul

Tucked away in a nondescript back street in the Jung-gu financial district is Cham Soot Gol, widely regarded as one of the top barbecue restaurants in Seoul. It is the venue of choice for businessmen to entertain important clients and impress out-of-town visitors.

The dining experience here is an authentic taste of Korea in more ways than one. On any given night, you will find half-drunk patrons in their suits and ties holding a soju cup in one hand and cooking short ribs with another. They get in and out of their tatami seating and totter back and forth on the squeaky hardwood floor. One guy tells a joke and the entire table roars into laughter. 

Cham Soot Gol, which literally means a wood charcoal valley, is known for the use of homegrown beef and oak wood charcoal. To drive home that point, there are stacks of firewood all around the restaurant. The menu offers varying grades of beef, from regular deung shim (sirloin) to top quality seng galbi (fresh rib) that can cost as much as 65,000 won (HK$450) for a small 140-gram serving. 

Cham Soot Gol is not easy on the wallet. Dinner for two with drinks can set you back over HK$2,000. Considering the great vibes and the tantalizing beef, however, it is worth every won you spend. Because the restaurant keeps a limited stock of their best cut each day, get in early or reserve a few servings ahead of time over the phone.

Cham Soot Gol in Jung-gu

Midori Sushi
Type of food: sushi
Address: Korida-dori, 7-108 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Ginza’s Corridor Street is a popular hangout where men and women blow off steam after a grueling day’s work. Underneath the overhead railroad tracks is a row of restaurants that stretches across city blocks. That’s where you will find Midori, a no-nonsense sushi bar that draws huge crowds year around. The restaurant does not take reservations, so patrons line up every night for up to an hour for a chance to sample a bounty of fresh fish at very reasonable prices.

If you or your guests happen to speak Japanese, sit at the counter and converse with the master chefs, who are eager to dispense wisdom on the daily catch. But if you prefer to stick to the menu, the tuna set is the plat de résistance. The fatty- and semi-fatty tuna are so fresh they melt in your mouth. The dish costs 2,940 yen (HK$230) – which, like the rest of the menu, is cheap by Tokyo standards. No wonder many locals consider Midori their favorite sushi house in the city.

After dinner, take a short walk to the north terminal of the Yurikamome monorail. A 15-minute scenic ride on the unmanned train will put you on the man-made island of Odaiba. There, Ooedo Onsen provides a theme park-like hot spring experience every day from 11AM to 9AM the next morning. It is the perfect act to follow a scrumptious sushi meal.

Midori Sushi in Ginza

Jia Jia Tang Bao
Type of food: xiaolongbao
Location: 90 Huanghe Road, Shanghai

Finding the best xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, is a national pastime in China. It is also an elusive goal. Many places claim to carry the coveted title, but few live up to such expectations. Among those lauded few is Jia Jia, a mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall outpost a few blocks from the famous Nanjing Walking Street. When it comes to xiaolongbao, Jia Jia is the one to beat.

The restaurant is not much to look at and can take no more than two dozen people at a time. Throughout the day, a long queue of eager customers snakes out to the sidewalk. It is also a rough and tumble place. Sharing tables is a must and patrons are routinely told to move seats in order to accommodate a bigger party. As a result, squabbles between staff and customers are common.

But once you get past the first impression, it is all uphill from there. The signature crab roe and pork dumplings is the reason why you waited 45 minutes for a table. Each steamed dumpling, with its soupy filling blushing through the paper-thin skin, promises an explosion of flavors and elicits thoughts of whether this is the best 20 yuan (HK$25) you have ever spent. The restaurant also offers a deluxe “pure crab roe” version that costs four times more but tastes about the same. So stick to what everybody gets and declare the search for the best xiaolungbao to be finally over.

Jia Jia Tang Bao on Huanghe Road

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These restaurant recommendations previously appeared in the 14 June 2013Getawayssupplement of The South China Morning Post.

As printed in The SCMP


  1. I might very likely be wrong but is there a "best" missing from the sentence "...elicits thoughts of whether this is the 20 yuan (HK$25) you have ever spent. " ?

  2. Thansk, Jonas. Blogger drops words sometimes...

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