Ranked #27 on 2015 Asia’s 50 Best, Ryunique by Tae Hwan Ryu offers modern fusion cooking showcasing cutting edge techniques. It mixes Japanese and French cuisine, all while using Korean ingredients. Don’t expect Kimchi here, though – the flavors are very familiar to the western palate.
The kitchen is headed by chef Tae Hwan Ryu, who previously worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo, Sydney and London. Ryunique, an amalgamation of his name and the premise of his concept for the flagship restaurant, was opened in 2011.
It is located on the quiet street of Garosugil in Sinsa Dong, a quiet and trendy neighborhood full of people leisurely strolling from one cafe to a clothing boutique and back to another cafe. The restaurant space is sunken below the street level, with large windows pouring lots of natural light reflecting off the giant mirror on one of the walls. The atmosphere is hushed and professional, with light jazz playing in the background and the staff making a noticeable effort to overcome the natural language barrier (English is not always well spoken in South Korea).
The set lunch menu is called “Hybrid Cuisine” and includes amuse bouche, a choice of main dish and a dessert for 68,000₩ / $62 / 230₪. Given the amount of food and it’s top notch quality, not to mention the experience itself – this is a great deal!
The first amuse bouche to arrive set the bar high, as well as the tone for both taste, creativity and presentation. It consisted of a glass full of ice, inside of which was placed a cold piece of sweet and chewy soy-marinated shrimp with a pink garlic aioli inside a small pipeta.
The next amuse bouche had us asking for instructions from the waiters. It is an edible “plastic” bag filled with grains. According to the instructions I placed the bag on my tongue and let it slowly dissolve. I must admit the feeling on the tongue is quite strange. A plastic bag promotes, at least in my mind, the notion of something that might accidently suffocate you, rather than something you should eat. The texture of the dissolving bag was viscous and after it’s gone you start tasting the different grains. It’s a very special eating experience, full of different flavors and textures.
Next we received three exquisitely bite-sized snacks with a specific order of eating. The first was chestnut puree in between 2 layers of dried kimchi. The small bite was bursting with different flavors – first sweet and later on you start feeling a spicy tanginess. It had an earthy, sweet but “rooty” taste. The sweetness felt more like yam than sugar.
The second and my favorite out of the three was the shiitake mushroom biscuit with shiitake powder and truffle oil. Oh boy, that little bite was out of this world. It’s a crunchy cookie with rare flavors reminiscent of chocolate.
The last bite was this white chocolate ball filled with arugula juice that literally and figuratively explodes in your mouth. This one came with a warning from our waiter – put everything in your mouth and only then bite into it.
We received a bread and grissini with seaweed butter, which was tasty but disappointingly not soft enough to be easily spread.
This next dish had our opinions divided. It was a take on a traditional Korean surf-n-turf dish – Pig Trotter Terrine “Sam-Hap”. Tower of scallop, tapioca crisp and terrine, and green chili salsa on the side. Opher liked the rich flavors but I found it a bit too odd for my taste. “Sam-Hap”, the korean traditional dish this one was based on, is comprised of fermented skate flesh, Kimchi and Pork meat.
From the Supplement Starter menu we ordered the Konbuzime Red Snapper and Cucumber Foam (Supplement 15,000₩ / $14 / 51₪), because we wanted to try more dishes. It’s a nicely plated fish with pickled cucumber, carrot and some more ingredients I couldn’t remember. Lots of textures in this dish and its most memorable component was the cucumber foam.
The Chicken Wing + Shrimp Mousse was an amazing treat. The chicken wing was juicy, tender throughout and was so crispy on the outside – simply perfect. The interesting match with carrot was something I’ve never seen before – burnt carrot espuma, fried carrot and carrot fondant.
For our main dishes we chose the Pork Belly, King Shrimp and the signature dish – The Quail “Nostalgia” 2012 (Supplement 15,000₩ / $14 / 51₪). The two other options were The two other options were Croaker, Chicken Kezuri Busi and Beef Tenderloin, Red Coffee Powder.
The quail leg dish served as the main wow effect of the meal. It is inspired by the chef’s childhood memories. The waiter placed a postcard explaining background narrative behind the dish and a large desiccator that enables the smokey flavor, with two bacon wrapped quail legs. When the waiter removed the lid our tables was instantly filled with hay-smoke aromas. They were put on my plate which already had two pieces of seared breast, an egg and beet puree. The bacon/quail combination balances out the bitterness and enhances the dish. We weren’t too shy to hold the drumstick with our hands as we sucked the last bits of meat from the bone.
The least interesting dish was the the Beef Tenderloin, Red Coffee Powder. On the plate were stacked puree, spinach and peanuts, pig skin chips and shrimp. The best thing about the dish was the sauce – smokey with a nice cinnamony kick.
For a cleanser we got a forest-inspired plate. A glass milk bottle cut in half was placed on a bed of twigs and leaves. Inside it were cherry tomatoes, spearmint foam, tomatoes kompot and burrata cheese. The dish was sweet and milky, I really wish there was more of it!
For dessert we each received the Apple, Crumble, Caramel – “Cotton Pie” 2016. There was a bit of a hiccup as they accidently served Opher the dish without excluding the mint component (which he is allergic to). When the waiter started explaining about the dish, he realized it, apologized profusely and took his dish back to the kitchen. After a minute he returned to take mine as well, so they can both be served at the same time. This dish was the absolute highlight of the meal. First off – the plate itself is simply amazing and the presentation is (Ry)unique. There are so many different components on this plate, which makes for a very intricate dessert: apple jelly with pistachios, panna cotta yogurt cotton candy with a puff pastry hiding below it, apple ice cream with apple chips, apple chutney and apple crumble. It’s simply amazing how a simple ingredient like apple can be as diverse with so many different flavor profiles.
Following the definite high of the dessert we received our petit fours: macaron, chocolate truffle and cookies. In contrast to the previous sweet dish, these were really mediocre. They felt out of place compared to the high quality of every other dish in this meal.
As professional as the service was in the beginning of the meal, so it began to falter towards the end. We ordered latte but received a shot of espresso with milk. They also forgot to bring a teaspoon. The waiting staff completely stopped removing plates and cleaning our table. We had to look for a waiter for ages to get our check, which took quite some time to arrive. Also, in contrast to the cleanliness of the dining hall, the toilets were pretty messy. Not at all what you would expect from a fine dining restaurant.
Despite these minor hiccups, we would definitely recommend anyone visiting Seoul to treat himself to a meal in Ryunique. The food itself is splendid, and given the decent pricing there’s practically no reason not to. After eating at Ryunique we weren’t surprised to learn that chef Ryu originally aimed to be an artist. The combination of specially designed crockery, thoughtful plating, texture, sight and smell embody not only uniqueness, as par with the restaurant namesake, but also great ingenuity and creativity.