A Taste of Celebrity-Owned Restaurants in Seoul
Hallyu star Bae Yong-joon owns ``Gorilla in the Kitchen," a restaurant near Dosan Park. The restaurant serves healthy, tasty dishes such as this mushroom salad with maple syrup dressing. / Courtesy of Gorilla in the Kitchen
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia, Han Sang-hee
In celebrity-crazed Korea, stars can hawk everything from ramyeon to cell phones to vitamin drinks. So it is no wonder that some celebrities have started their own businesses such as clothing brands and restaurants, using ``star power'' for their own benefit.
Hallyu superstar Bae Yong-joon, K-pop group Shinhwa, singer Kim Jong-min and actors Lee Jung-jae and Hong Suk-chun are some of the celebrities who have entered the restaurant business.
Some of these stars generate hype for their restaurants by placing their names and photos prominently inside the restaurant. Others play down the star factor and concentrate on the quality of the food and service.
The Korea Times takes a look at some of the celebrity-owned restaurants.
Actors Turned Restaurateurs
If you are a big fan of Bae Yong-joon (star of ``Winter Sonata'' and recent hit epic drama, ``Taewangsasingi'' (The Four Guardian Gods of the Kings), try visiting his restaurant ``Gorilla in the Kitchen'' near Dosan Park.
``Gorilla in the Kitchen'' is all about healthy food. But don't let this scare you because all the food served is not only healthy but also full of taste, color and aroma.
One interesting feature of the place is the menu. Unlike plain menus that show the name of the dish and the price, ``Gorilla in the Kitchen'' lists the ingredients, the calories and even the nutritional contents of the dish. They also offer two size choices of the same meal: human and gorilla. The gorilla contains a little more of everything, so those who up for a big meal might as well choose the gorilla.
``Gorilla in the Kitchen'' does not use butter and cream in their recipes, and also does not have any deep fried recipes. Most of the dishes are seasoned with various herbs and each offer a distinctive taste.
Another interesting service is their expert teams that help visitors choose the right food. There is the Chef Team who take care of the taste and styling of the menu, the Nutrition Team who look after the nutritional balance, and a Trainer Team that offers tips on how to keep your body healthy with the right exercise.
The restaurant is right across from the entrance to Dosan Park. Opening hours are 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. For more information visit www.gorillakitchen.co.kr (English and Korean) or call (02) 3442-1688.
Actor Lee Jung-jae also owns a restaurant, but it is a franchise of the popular Italian chain Il Mare. It's located in the Daehangno area.
Movie buffs might remember Lee starred in the Korean film ``Il Mare'' (Siworae) with Jun Ji-hyun, which was turned into a Hollywood film ``The Lake House.'' To find Lee's Il Mare restaurant, go to Hyehwa Station Line 4, Exit 1 and you'll find Il Mare located behind McDonald's. Call (02) 744-8697.
K-pop & Food
Korean pop group Shinhwa endorsed the fried chicken chain Kyochon a few years ago, and ended up opening a Kyochon chicken franchise restaurant in Rodeo Street in Apgujeong, southern Seoul.
The restaurant is quite small, and decorated with autographed posters of Shinhwa members and even their framed handprints on the walls.
There is not much variety on the menu, which includes the Kyochon original chicken (8,000 won for small, 15,000 won for big servings), French fries, salad and cheese sticks. There is even ``Shinhwa chicken,'' which is a very spicy version of the original Kyochon chicken.
Because of Shinhwa's popularity around Asia, it is no surprise there are always some foreign fans dining at the restaurant.
Angel Mahinay, a 23-year old fan from the Philippines, said that she already knew about Kyochon chicken from watching the Shinhwa commercials on the Internet.
While visiting Seoul last week, Mahinay and her friend checked out the Shinhwa restaurant to try the chicken. ``I saw the Kyochon chicken commercial and I really wanted to eat the yummy chicken. Now that I have tried it, I can say the chicken is really as good as it looked on the commercial,'' she said.
To get there, leave exit 2 of Apgujeong station, Line 3 and walk towards the direction of the Galleria Department Store. After around 700 meters, turn right at the Hana Bank, walk a few meters and you'll find the Shinhwa Kyochon Chicken restaurant on your right.
Even K-pop music industry giant SM Entertainment is getting into the restaurant business. SM, whose acts include TVXQ, BoA and Super Junior, will open ``EverySing'' a restaurant with karaoke on Apgujeong's Rodeo Street.
The karaoke will include songs by SM artists, using the actual music. ``EverySing'' is expected to be popular among young K-pop fans. SM Entertainment is also planning on opening more branches in Korea, as well as Southeast Asia and Japan.
Kim Jong-min, a member of dance group ``Koyote,'' also has a restaurant near Nonhyeon-dong called ``Eori Beori.'' The name literally means silly, and is known to be Kim's nickname among friends.
The main menu is ``gob-chang,'' or small intestines of cattle. They normally come with the restaurant's specialty sauce, which is quite spicy, but if you don't want the spicy flavor, ask the servers to skip the sauce. The intestines are cut into small bite-pieces and are broiled over a charcoal fire, which gives them a smoky taste. The dishes cost from 18,000 won to 20,000 won.
To get there, leave exit 2 of Nonhyeon station, Line 7 and walk straight until you see H Pharmacy. Turn left and walk straight again until you find it on your right. Opening hours are 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. For more information call 1577-0292 (Korean).
Actor Hong Suk-chun already has three restaurants in Itaewon, namely Our Place, My China and My Thai. All of the restaurants are within walking distance of the Hamilton Hotel.
There is little indication these restaurants are owned by Hong, except for some portraits of himself on one side of the wall at My Thai. Hong has appeared in several films and TV shows, but may be best known among Koreans as the first celebrity to publicly admit he was a homosexual.
My Thai, as the name suggests, offers Thai cuisine. The menu is fairly simple, with the usual Tom Yum Goong soup, Thai curry and rice dishes. There are not a lot of appetizers, except for the vegetable spring rolls served with the typical sweet and spicy Thai sauce.
The Pad Thai noodles (12,000 won) are served covered in a thin egg omelet, and small scoops of chili powder and crushed peanuts for additional flavor. The Khao Pad Gai (8,000 won) is fried rice with pieces of chicken breast, served with a chili-laden fish sauce and cucumber slices. A Thai dessert called Rummitnumkati, tapioca pudding in coconut milk, is a sweet way to end a spicy meal.
Overall, My Thai offers simple and good Thai-style food, but if you're looking for authentic Thai food, you should look elsewhere. To go to My Thai, go to Itaewon station Line 6, exit 2 and turn left at the first corner. My Thai is located on the left side. For more information call (02) 794-8090.
Hong's first restaurant is Our Place, a New York fusion restaurant and a sky garden bar where you can enjoy a different view of Itaewon's busy streets. Our Place offers pasta, steak, salad and seafood dishes.
To reach Our Place, go to Itaewon Station Line 6, Exit 3 and go to the building at the corner on the right. The restaurant is on the 6th and 7th floor.