Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pierre Gagnaire

The Pierre Gagnaire review is in the Herald today. The above is the view from our table.

Below is the review in full. It really was a very good lunch. All the touches that you would expect when paying prices such as these were in place. Some of the food was exquisite. All of the food was very good. Just the cinnamon was an issue and in the chefs defence we were asked at the very beginning of the meal if we had any allergies or dislikes. If you have a celebration then now you have a destination.

In addition to all the food mentioned was a final course that could be described as petit fours. Some of these were the traditional biscuity, chocolatey things you might expect. The final was a shot glass of sweet, aromatic, palate cleansing liquid and was just another indication of the cleverness of the kitchen.

Pierre Gagnaire

The opening of Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant at the top of the Lotte Hotel caused something of a stir in the English press here in Korea. The promise of 3 Michelin star quality food in Seoul was unsurprisingly garnering some excitement, not least from myself. Then there was silence. No reviews, no sign of menus, just the knowledge that the restaurant was there and promising so much pleasure for so much money. As I have previously stated I believe the best way to cope with the growing economic crisis is to indulge in luxury and so I took it upon myself to be the first to offer an English language review and so, as a one off, will only deal scantly with wine today.
Luxury is all about the details. With anything on which you are spending a large proportion of your hard earned cash you expect certain levels of service and satisfaction that generally come down to the details. Stepping out of the express elevator at the 35th floor of Lotte Hotel we were greeted by name into the reception. This is a very good start.
First impressions are also very important and unfortunately, with regards to décor, these were not great. Led through a dimly lit corridor with rooms hidden off to the side, the main dining area is gaudy, gold clad and feels dated in its opulence. However, our table right by the window, looking over the city and mountains quickly dispels any worries about the interior. Eyes will be on the food and the view only.
Immediately on being seated a Champagne cart is wheeled to the table with the Champagne flutes hanging like mini-chandeliers. Having been stung by Champagne prices at the start of a meal in the past and spying Dom Perignon as one of the options I should have politely declined. Instead I asked for the house (read “cheapest”) Champagne and got a crisp refreshing Don Ruinart Blanc de Blanc. Very pleasant but at 55,000 won I should have politely declined.
The two menus offered are not for the faint of heart either. The A La Carte menu is terrifying in its pricing with starters starting at a startling 100,000 won. You can peruse the menu at http://www.pierregagnaire.co.kr/pierre_en/menu_en.pdf. There is however the far more reasonable set lunch offering at 120,000 won. Admittedly, not a cheap lunch, but if you are the sort of person who puts a lot of importance on pleasures of the senses then not a disgrace. You are not just paying for a lunch to fill the belly, you are paying for an experience.
Is the experience up to scratch? Very much so. There is no room to detail everything presented so we will just deal with the highlights. First up are a selection of finger bites, small mouthfuls such as parmesan and chocolate composition and goat’s cheese in a crisp sweet shell. They were all very good and interesting. Then comes the amuse bouche, mouth amusement. I am accustomed to this being a single, small bite that is usually packed with flavour. Here we were presented with five fairly large dishes such as a palate cleansing, yuzu citrus celeriac with a soju foam, a fantastic chicken mousse with crispy chicken skin and something described as mang gae with cumin butter and hot fennel jelly which was strange and amazing. Despite the size and number these were all done with a lightness of touch that left you excited for the rest of the meal.
The only low point for me was the starter proper, cod and squid with a pumpkin veloute. It was perfectly executed but the addition of cinnamon ruined it for me as I only really like it in the company of other spices in a curry.
Main courses gave two choices; sea bass with iberique bacon and a veal salad which was pronounced a great success by my companion and my choice of duck leg with date, ginger, coco and quince accompanied by a French ‘kimchi’ and crispy smoked duck. It was a fantastic dish with savoury and sweet, fat and acid all balancing perfectly with the quince being a real surprise in its delicate sweetness. This is top class cooking.
Dessert comprised three dishes, the stand out being a pineapple, green pepper and ginger ice cream dish with a smear of coriander pesto that worked incredibly and is as good a dessert as I have had. Really inventive, slightly experimental but judged perfectly.
The last sentence could be used to judge the whole experience; it was a beautifully executed meal that managed to balance experimentation with classicism and was a perfectly weighted lunch.
The Marssannay recommended by the sommelier was reasonably priced and matched most of the dishes well, in itself a great challenge. The wine list, to my surprise does include affordable options and despite its favour of French wines offers some real interesting treats.
This was not a cheap lunch but it was a lunch that I consider to be great value. Cooking of this quality is rare in all but the world’s top cities and having a destination restaurant like this is a real bonus for Seoul. While 100 dollar starters can survive the economic down turn then there is a gem at the top of Lotte Hotel.


ZenKimchi said...

ARGH! The link to the menu doesn't work. Maybe their site's down.

squirrelandgman said...

I have updated the link.

You can go here to see the menu directly.


ZenKimchi said...

Mmm.. yeah! DANG! I've always wanted to try Gagnaire's cuisine. I've had my eye on his book for a while.

Curse you, wedding budgets!!

Maybe I can smooze a freebie somehow.

Adam said...

I hate you. (Oh, and nice blog, I'll keep reading it.)

IceCatSeoul said...

Looks like they always have a local twist to the French cuisine. I went to the one in Tokyo and it had lots of Japanese influence on the cuisine - Miso, sea urchin, seaweed etc. In fact I wrote a Gagnaire review with some pictures on my blog. I hope you won't mind, I had already linked your review in my blog post.

Anonymous said...

О! ¿Cómo puedo pedirle más detalles? Gran post necesidad de saber más ...