Where To Eat, Sleep, Drink And Relax In Seoul
Seoul, South Korea. Photograph by Yeoul Shin / Unsplash
Every year since 2002, Korean art lovers from around the world gather at the Korea International Art Fair (KIAF) taking place at the Coex Convention & Exhibition Center in Seoul. This year, buzz surrounding the event is larger than ever as interest in Korean mediums have grown exponentially in the past few years and because KIAF will be held alongside Seoul’s very first Frieze.
Navigating the event alone can be intimidating for travellers – even locals get overwhelmed by the maze of options in and surrounding the neighbourhood. The Coex Mall does take up a sizeable portion of Samseong-dong, so it can be tempting to walk into just any mall restaurant. However, adventure is just a few minutes away and with this cheat sheet, you’ll find yourself treated to stories of Seoul past and tastes from beyond the capital.
01. Where to stay
Park Hyatt Seoul
Photograph courtesy of Park Hyatt
Even among Gangnam’s many tall buildings, the Park Hyatt Seoul elegantly stands a cut above the rest. While many of the capital’s hotels have added clever attractions and loud ornamentation in the past few years, this five-star accommodation has remained a favourite thanks to consistent service and contemporary aesthetics. With oak-wood floors and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that outfit each of the hotel’s 184 rooms, its nature-inspired interior is a delicate contrast to the urban jungle outside. And breathtaking views of the city are visible even from the en-suite bathrooms, which are lined with textured, stone walls. The transparency even adds an extra hint of airiness to the polished, uber-modern pool and fitness rooms.
02. What to see
Photograph by Mr Nattanai Chimjanon / Alamy
A rare ode to a slower time in Gangnam, the site of Bongeunsa Temple has been devoted to Buddhism for more than a thousand years. Originally built during the Silla Dynasty in 794 AD, the temple was first called Gyeonseongsa. Its name changed when it was rebuilt in 1498, but the current structure dates back to 1939 as much of it was destroyed in a fire. The temple grounds include a 23m statue of Maitreya, a deity representing childbearing and good fortune in Korea, and the calligraphy of renowned scholar Ms Kim Jeonghee. Visitors can sign up in advance for a Templestay, a program that invites guests to spend a night at the temple learning more about Buddhism, or choose from a variety of shorter programs such as a tea ceremony or a meditation class.
03. Where to eat
Photograph courtesy of Hadongkwan
One of the best-known names in the South Korean culinary scene, Hadongkwan started as a small family-owned business in 1939. Over time, the restaurant – originally opened in Myeongdong – gained acclaim for its signature gom-tang (beef broth soup) and opened a handful of locations across Seoul. The Kim family says the secret to their consistent, rich broth is that they never reheat leftovers and always use locally sourced ingredients. They like to call themselves “a presidential favourite” as several presidents have visited their restaurant over the years. While it’s true that the Coex location does not have the historical feel of the original, the original often has long lines and is only open from 7.00am to 4.00pm or sold out – making the Coex spot (open 10.30am to 7.30pm) the perfect alternative if you can’t be bothered to travel or fuss over lunch.
While Gangnam is chockful of decent Korean barbecue restaurants, few leave an impression like this one that specialises in hanwoo, premium cuts of local beef, from cattle raised on Jeju Island. Unlike other meat joints, which tend to be louder and rowdier, the experience here allows diners to focus on the quality of the food with a pared-down, spacious ambiance. The meal includes your choice of ribeye, top blade or tenderloin cooked over charcoal and complemented by a colorful array of banchan. Barbecue meals are meant to be finished with a rice or noodle dish so leave room for the restaurant’s signature spicy beef soup with garlic chives and rice.
04. Where to unwind
Photograph courtesy of Studio Asylum
An organic matcha and green tea café, Sannolu is the flagship store for the Jeju-based brand that aims to export the flavours of the island. The menu includes creamy drinks such as matcha ice-cream latte and matcha einspanner as well as more naturally fragrant green tea sejak and green tea ocro, and a collection of Jeju-inspired desserts. The café is housed in a building called Prain Villa, designed by Studio Asylum, and is known for its architecture as much as its beverages and small bites. While the tall, stainless urethane panels of the building’s exterior can come across as cold, much of the interior – including a tranquil stone pond – was designed to allow maximal natural light. Stop by for a respite from the city and to pick up a few green souvenirs.
A whisky and cocktail bar with all the glam and glitz of Gangnam that somehow isn’t pretentious at all, Nomad is the kind of space that most locals want to keep to themselves. Solo guests can chat with the mixologists seated at the bar and larger parties can take the plush, leather booths against the wall. From the collage of wooden blocks adorning the ceiling and disco lights in one corner, the interior is a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas, but both the service and drinks are spot on. Each beverage on the bar’s signature cocktail list is named after a pop hit, so “close your eyes and have yourself a Love Potion No. 9.”
An introvert’s paradise, Booknrest is a café and book nook with three zones: stay, rest and private room. Seating ranges from sunny, window-side two-person tables to plush, second-floor bunks adorned with cushions and each space allows you to order a coffee, read or get work done on your laptop with varying degrees of privacy. For those needing a midday pick-me-up, the private room rentals even come with a basic shower room. Please note that while there are books and magazines in almost every genre, literature in English is limited.
MR PORTER and NET‑A‑PORTER are collaborating with the Tang Contemporary Art gallery to co-curate an exhibition during KIAF. Join us there from 2-6 September, 12.00pm-6.00pm