I love watching Korean movies. I get to discover new places or cool eateries in Korea just like how I discover this stylish bar at Gangnam. It is a bar that carries various premium makgeolli brands that represent Korea, and they have their house sommeliers, all prepared to recommend you the best matching makgeolli according to the fusion dishes offered from the menu. When traditional Korean rice wine meets sommeliers? You see the sparks.
I was watching the movie “Couples” (커플즈, 2011) and liked the places they choose to film this movie. One particular scene was about the main character Yoo-Suk (Kim Ju-Hyeok), who was there at the restaurant with his friend but his friend went to the toilet and didn’t come back. He didn’t bring his wallet, and the dishes they ordered are already on the table. He spotted the leading actress Lee Yoon-ji (who plays Ae-Yeon), who was coincidentally sitting at the table nearby. Ae-Yeon however, was waiting her friend to join her for a drink, but the friend stood up. She got pick pocketed on her way to the makgeolli house and didn’t have the money to pay for her order.
Since the two had coincidentally met at the police station earlier that day, Yoo-Suk then takes the 1st step to go over to Ae-Yeon’s seat and greet her. The two gladly welcome each other and invite each other to their table, thinking the other will be nice enough to pick up the bill….
It was the glasses for the makgeolli that caught my eyes as I have never been to any makgeolli house that looked so Atas (elegant) all these years. After several checks on various Korean sites and I am finally able to locate the place of the makgeolli house where the filming took place — Chungdam 1 Mak. [ read: chungdam-il-mak]
Opened in 2010, the Bar cum Restaurant hand-picked all their makgeolli. All the makgeolli on their list are top in the nation. They developed their sommelier system, which the process of the selection and the ways of storage are strictly followed. Be pampered with the choices they provide. From what I saw, they are providing more than one flavour for each category. For example, their Saeng-Makgeolli (rice wine made of uncooked rice) is served in original, pumpkin, pineapple, banana, strawberry, raspberry, mulberry, kiwi or plum flavours.
For their premium line, they have “Baekryun Makgeolli” (White Lotus Makgeolli) that was nominated as the dinner wine of the Blue House — the Korean Presidential Residence Chung Wa Dae. “Buja” (Rich Man Makgeolli) which is well known for its pure ingredients from Gyeonggi province is available too. The former president Park Chung Hee’s favourite “Baekdari Makgeolli” is also on their list!
I was there with a friend around 530pm on a Saturday. There weren’t much people at first but it was getting more crowded when we left around 8pm. If we are talking about a makgeolli house, the interior of this restaurant is really very different from the normal makgeolli house that we usually go — think a fine dining restaurant. I love the stylish and quiet environment, and was a little carried away even before tasting the food and wine.
The 1st thing that came from the kitchen was this konjac jorim, basically a dish that konjac jelly and other ingredients were shimmered together in soy sauce for a savory taste. They call the method “jorim”. I like it strong and salty. Good!
As there are a lot of good reviews about their “Buja” line makgeolli, especially the “purple sweet potato makgeolli” (자색 고구마 막걸리) [read: ja-saek goguma makgeolli] , we order it right away without hesitation. If the long makgeolli list is giving you a headache, you can seek assistance from the sommelier, and they will even do a decanting service at your table too! Sounds cool huh?
The Purple Sweet Potato Makgeolli was in a semi-clear, raspberry pink colour. However, the deposit at the bottom of the bottle is in a pale shade of purple, more like a colour of yam. One interesting fact of this premium Makgeolli is: It is made of the sweet potatoes from Yeoju in Gyeonggi-do. Being a speciality of that province, all the potatoes from which the drink is made comes from Yeoju under contract since 2009.
The colour of the wine then turns into a shade of mocha pink (?) after a good mix. Well, it does look like brown, misty-pink to me. This non-frizzy drink has a smooth texture and a medium body. It has a very subtle taste of a sweet potato and much sweeter than an original makgeolli — A typical drink for ladies.
The Fresh Salmon Carpaccio (후레쉬 연어 카르파쵸) look so good when it arrived. The dish is marinated with chef special sauce, extra virgin olive oil and a bit of lemon juice – indeed da bomb for an appetizer. Simple, elegant and delicious!
Next was the Korea’s formidable contestant in the world of high class cuisine, Yuk Hui 육회. For better understanding, Yuk Hui is “sashimi” made of raw Hanwoo (Premium Korean Beef), similar to the western beef tartare. The finely minced beef (not ground) was lightly marinated, mixed with pine nuts and topped up with a raw egg yolk. Lemon slice, finely sliced radish and leek, chopped onion, and korean chilli paste were nicely arranged at the side. The green leaves at the sides are perilla leaves (Kkaenip) and the korean seaweed (Kim).
Like most Korean food, you need to mix all the ingredients up when u eat Yuk Hui. It was my 1st time tasting the famed Korean delicacy….the texture of the meat is very new to me! It is slightly similar to raw maguro, without the bloody aftertaste of course. I appreciate it better when wrapping it up with the seaweed and perilla leaves.
The best dish of the day goes to the 3rd and the final dish that we ordered. BBQ Pork Neck Meat Salad with a Korean twist. The chef marinated the pork with the daily Korean sauce: Go-Chu-Jang (Chilli paste) and roasted it on an open fire. Pork neck is the best part of a pig. It is well muscled and very flavourful. With a lot more fat than the pork shoulder, and lesser fat than a pork belly. This cut of the pork is very well balanced in terms of lean and fats and hence the nice texture. I enjoyed it a lot with the spicy-sweet sauce. The pork meld harmoniously with the finely sliced scallions and lettuce, a well executed dish.
Tables were led up around 7 pm for a romantic atmosphere.
Just when we were enjoying the food and atmosphere, the waitress came with a jar of makgeolli and said that it was FREE— I think this is one of the best things in Korea that they wouldn’t mind being taken a little bit of advantage by the customers, just to make you feel great. What makes me so happy and thankful is, this FREE makgeolli is not any ordinary makgeolli that you can get anywhere in Korea. It is the famous label “Neurin Ma-eul” 느린마을 makgeolli that is only available at their own breweries at Yangjae — Whether they really mean it or it was just pure marketing gimmick, I did felt the sincerity.
This “Neurin Ma-eul” (Slow Village) Makgeolli is said to be a makgeolli brand that follows the 100-year-old recipe and produced on site each morning. Subtly carbonated, this makgeolli has a sweet and bright taste like apples.
My Verdict: I just got to head my way out there again!!! Chungdam 1 Mak is such an excellent place to relax and enjoy yourself. The beautiful Western-Korean fusion dishes are definitely a must try. There were so much more on the menu like Foie Gras Tofu; Sliced brisket rolled up with grilled egg plants and pan fried with pineapple butter etc. Not forgetting their complete list of Traditional Korean Wines! Stylish bar cum restaurant and the people are gorgeous. I am going to organize a small group trip down there soon; )
Map to Chungdam 1 Mak from the Apgujing Rodeo Station:
Chungdam 1 Mak 청담일막 [ read: chungdam-il-mak]
Addresss: 94, Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul. Level 4.
Nearest Station: Apgujung Rodeo Station Line No.5 (Bundang Line) , Exit no. 5
Tel. 02-548-5529 | Time: 5pm–1am.
Korean version of the address: 서울 강남구 논현동 94, 4층.
How to get there:
1. Coming out from Apgujung Rodeo Station Exit No.5 (압구정 로데오역 5번 출구), go all the way down the road in the same direction, until you see KB Kookmin Bank at your right hand side on the cross street. (You should be able to see the green wordings “Bennigan’s” at the opposite direction from the bank.)
2. Cross the road and go towards the “Bennigan’s” Building. The building has an interesting, brown, wooden facade.
3. Chungdam 1 Mak is located on the 4th floor of the same building as Bennigan’s.
(To keep track if you are in the correct direction, check the shops on your left hand side when you walk out from the subway exit. The 1st shop you will see on your left hand side in the opposite direction should be Starbucks, followed by Adidas, then Burger King, and then Outback Steakhouse. Once you see Outback, you will be able to see KB Kookmin Bank on your right hand side after a few steps down the road.)