Balwoo Gongyang: A Michelin 1-Star Restaurant in Seoul

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Destinations, Food, Korea, Korea, Travel Photo Thursday | 17 comments

Balwoo Gongyang

Last Saturday evening I dined at Balwoo Gongyang, a Michelin 1-Star restaurant in downtown Seoul. In an added twist, it is the only Michelin star restaurant serving beautifully prepared and delicately flavored temple cuisine. Welcome to week 321 (23/3/2017) of  Travel Photo Thursday. My apologies for not being around much. This semester is a particularly busy one for me, so my blogging time is severely limited at the moment. Join me as I entice your taste buds with our multi-course tasting menu.

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Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

Balwoo Gongyang

Dinner service at Balwoo Gongyang offers three tasting menus ranging in price from 45,000 Won to 95,000 Won. The last one must be ordered a day in advance, since, according to their website, many of the ingredients are relatively rare. In our group, we all opted for the 45,000 Won menu. The menus and ingredients reflect the seasons. The current tasting menus are utilizing spring ingredients.

We began with Suljuksim(Amuse-bouche), a cherry tomato marinated in fermented Bokbunja sauce(Korean wild raspberry). According to the restaurant’s website:

First dish is to moist one’s dried mouth and help to enhance the digestion as old Koreans eat water-gimchi or a dip of long-preserved soy sauce. Suljuksim can be interpreted as two different meanings; one is to moist the mouth, and the other to moist the spoon.”

We were given very explicit instructions from our lovely server that we must bite into the tomato with our mouths closed. I was expecting tart, but instead, the flavor was a distinct tangy pop. The suljuksim was served with  Ssukkong-juk (Porridge with mugwort and bean) and Spring Mulkimchi (watery Kimchi).  Both the cherry tomato (which is marinated in five-year-old bokbunja (vinegar), and the Kimchi had a pleasant texture and were cool to the palette. I found the porridge too gritty and on the bland side.

“Juk(porridge) has been served as an early breakfast for the Buddhist practitioners. According to the Four Part Vinaya, book of precepts, eating juk has five advantages such as resolving hunger, quenching thirst, helping digestive problem, preventing stroke and normalizing bowel movement.”

Next, was the Sangmi(Salad or Cold Preparation)

“Taste in Buddhism is classified into 10 different categories. Among them, sangmi means to feel the taste and smell. Thus sangmi is the course to excite the appetite through taste and smell.”

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

 

The salad on the left is a green root harvested on Ullengdo Island. The taste is mellow, and sesame seed enhances the flavor. This root is not pictured on the restaurant’s website, so I am not sure of the name. The middle dish is Bomnamul-japchae, stir-fried sweet potato noodles with spring vegetables. On the far right is Cheongpomuk, mung bean jelly with spring vegetable. All three were pleasant, and being a huge sesame seed fan, my favorite was the green root with the sesame.

 

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

 

The Sangmi was followed by the next two courses served together. The Dammi(Starter or Hot Preparation) which included Beoseot-gangjeong(Deep fried mushrooms with special Gochujang sauce),Yeongeun-chojeolim(Pickled lotus root), Wooung(Burdock) mixed with Gochujang sauce, Nokdu-jeon(Mung bean pancake), Bomkkot-jeon(Spring flower pancake).  The Seongso(Noodle) which included Pyogobeoseot-naengmyeon (Cold noodle with spicy shiitake mushroom & pear sauce), Dubu-gui (Grilled bean curd)
and Temple mandu (Temple recipe vegetable dumpling).

“Dammi is the taste of chewing or taste by food texture. Dammi is the dish of unique texture and recipe, from which one can enjoy the chewing texture of food.”

“Seongso is another name for noodle in Buddhism, which means the dish that makes even the practitioners smile. This course includes tofu, pan-fried cake, and dumpling as well as noodle that makes the practitioners who don’t usually devour smile.”

This was my favorite course of the evening. The deep-fried shiitake mushrooms were perfectly cooked and could have passed for a meat dish. The noodles were not the most elegant to eat, but they too were a pleasant tease on the taste buds. The mandu and the nokdu-jeon (pancake0 were cooked to perfection. The spring flower pancake (Bomkkot-jeon) added a hint of sweetness to the course.

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

 

The Sangmi and Dammi courses were the prelude to the main course, Youmi. We enjoyed two kinds of temple kimchi, two types of Bomnamul(spring vegetable), Jangajji(Fermented pickle), Yeonipbap(Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf), and Doenjang-jjigae(Soybean paste stew).

“Youmi is the taste that helps to recover from illness. Youmi consists of dishes such as rice, condiments, and soup that ease daily physical fatigue and mental stress of the people today.”

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

 

The sticky rice was cooked to perfection. The crust formed while cooking it in the lotus leave gave it a nice crunch. This was my favorite of the course. The Kimchi was also crunchy, flavorful, and not spicy.  The spring vegetable on the right was probably the bitterest tasting food I have ever eaten. My taste buds were shocked, and not in a nice way. You are warned!

 

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

 

Our lovely tasting menu ended on a sweet note with the Ipgasim(Dessert) course.

“Rounding the meal up is the ipgasim or dessert. It is prepared with ingredients and recipes that clean the remaining taste in the mouth and help to enhance digestion.”

The Sikhye(sweet rice punch) provided a taste of sweet and the Ssuk gaetteok(Mugwort rice cake) balanced that sweetness perfectly.

 

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

 

Our group of five enjoyed the experience. We even added a bit of wine to the occasion. Although, Balwoo Gongyang does not sell alcohol diners are welcome to bring their own wine, for a modest corkage fee.

Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

 

Balwoo Gongyang is open for lunch and dinner six days a week (closed Sunday), starting from 11:30 am. Their website doesn’t give a closing time, but the staff started to hustle us out around 8:30 pm. We would have like to have stayed a little longer over our wine. If the restaurant wants to attract visitors from other countries, it would be a good idea to be a little more flexible when asking people to leave. The staff speaks English. However, they are shy about using the language, so you may have to be a bit insistent. Menus are available in English, Japanese and Chinese. For reservations, phone 02-733-2081, or via email.  The set menus are well priced and include the VAT. Corkage is 20,000 for four diners.

The restaurant can be reached via subway line 3, exit 6, across from Joygesa Temple. When you enter the building walk straight through and take the elevator to the 5th floor.

Have you ever eaten temple food or dined at a Michelin star restaurant? Let us know in the comments.

 

Please welcome our co-hosts this week: Jan from Budget Travel Talk Ruth from Tanama Tales Rachel from Rachel’s Ruminations

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17 Comments

  1. That just made me really hungry. They all look delicious and healthy. I’ve never eaten temple food or eaten at a Michelin restaurant. Glad you were able to enjoy this meal.

    • Hi, Mary. It was both, and also my first time to eat at a Michelin restaurant.

  2. This looks so interesting! Adding it to the list!

  3. My favorite restaurants allow you to bring wine and then charge only a modest corkage fee. Once again, I shouldn’t have read one of your ‘food’ posts when hungry. . .my mouth is salivating and my stomach grumbling.

    • Hi, Jackie. Yes, it was nice to be able to take wine. I hope you ate something nice after reading this. 🙂

  4. That sticky rice does look tasty. I liked the sound of your favourite, the Dammi course and laughed out loud about the bitter vegetable dish. I love Shitake mushrooms so that would be a favourite of mine too. Yep I love sesame seeds also. Maybe we’re twins? The whole evening seemed like an adventure of the taste buds. There’s nothing more annoying that getting rushed out of a restaurant – especially at 8.30 p.m.!

    • Hi, Jan! We could be twins, at the very least food twins 🙂 We were too happy with being rushed out the door. I know it’s a Korean thing. They tend to eat and leave. I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve been out with Koreans and they are getting up to leave, and I haven’t finished my meal!

  5. We have a new Korean restaurant opened up not far from where we live. We went with friends and had no idea what we were ordering. I should have had you with me! Or sent you the menu for your recommendations before hand!

    • Hi, Jill. I hope you enjoyed your meal. 🙂

  6. Nancy, I have not eaten at a Michelin restaurant and I have not tried temple food. I will say you had a great feast in this place! What I like about Asian food (and I think Koreans are experts on this) is the variety of ingredients (and modes of preparation) used in dishes. And, since I am not from that part of the world, a lot of things take me by surprise while I am tasting. Having a server to help you out with the tasting experince is nice.

    • Hi, Ruth. It was nice having the server talk about each of the courses. Quite often (even after all these years) I encounter food on the table that I’m not sure about. Korean restaurants offer so many different side dishes with the main course. This was my first time at a Michelin restaurant, and I hope I get to do it again.

  7. You really did get a taste of everything at this restaurant. I like to try different foods and would certainly love this place. I’d prefer to try different foods in a restaurant rather than on the streets. :P)

  8. Love the pop of vegetable colors in your photos and can only imagine some of the wonderful flavors in this tasting menu. The kimchi and sticky rice sound great but I’d heed your advice to skip the very bitter, unidentified vegetable. I had to laugh as I tried to imagine your face, Nancie!

    • Hi, Anita! I know my face said it all. I am not a fan of bitter!!

  9. I don’t think that I’ve ever dined at a Michelin starred restaurant. That price seems very affordable for a standout meal. Although I’ve had Korean food numerous times, I think only the japchae and the kimchi sound familiar to me. It all looks delicious, and your descriptions have me imagining the taste and texture of each. (Strangely, I was eating a BBQ rib while reading this. Actually eating one food while imagining another is messing with my brain.)

    • Hi, Michele. I thought the price was exceptionally reasonable. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of these items either. I can only imagine reading about one food and eating another. haha

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