A hanok is a traditional Korean house that is well-made and is beautiful without the use of additional adornments. Hanok buildings have an open garden and lots of windows, allowing for plenty of natural sunlight and air to reach its occupants, which helps create a relaxed and peaceful ambience. In the following column, we introduce some of the best restaurants in Seoul that operate in traditional hanok buildings.
Hyoja-dong in Seochon, which gets its name from its location (‘Seo’ meaning west in Korean), is nestled to the west of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Maintaining the charms of both old and new Seoul, the restaurants in this area also reflect these characteristics. For this reason, the quiet little neighborhood has become a popular dining spot, particularly at Ca'del Lupo. Equally loved by locals and visitors from abroad, Ca'del Lupo has created a unique blend of Korean and Italian in the heart of a beautiful hanok house.
Ca'del Lupo has two sign boards, “Ca'del lupo” (meaning "house of the wolf in Italian"), and “Ujeongnu” in Chinese characters, which means “a place where a cow drinks from the well.” Cows are a symbol of power and wellness in Korea. Opened in 2008 after partial renovations, the restaurant serves delicious homemade Italian food.
The restaurant is quite cozy as it only has four tables. The menu changes almost on a monthly basis, as the restaurant uses only the freshest local ingredients. Besides serving top notch Italian dishes, they also serve delicious hanu (Korean beef) steaks. All dishes are presented beautifully, with a good balance between Western and Korean tastes.
Photo courtesy of Min’s Club (top & bottom left)
Min’s Club is located in an alley in Insa-dong, an area that has a strong traditional Korean atmosphere. This restaurant was remodeled from the home of Min Byeong-ok, a relative of Empress Myeongseong (1851-1895). Since it has historical significance, the restaurant may be more interesting to international visitors. Min Byeong-ok’s residence was a new type of hanok when it was originally built to replace the western clubs which were popular in 1900s.
Now a restaurant, Min’s Club serves fusion cuisine and wine in an atmosphere that mixes both old and new. With its spacious garden and high walls, Min’s Club’s exterior remains traditional, while its interior is styled like a western residence. With an outdoor terrace and four indoor rooms, Min’s Club offers different moods to match the customer’s preference. Also, the harmony of East and West is just as prominent in the food as is it is in the hanok building. The restaurant provides unique fusion cuisines such as tteok-galbi steak, cheese and winter black truffle risotto and more. Min’s Club comes highly recommended for those who are curious about the moment when East met West in Korea.
Photo courtesy of The Hanok Smith Likes (bottom left)
While walking along Samcheong-dong Road across from Gyeongbokgung Palace, one will come across an alley at the corner of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland where the Italian restaurant ‘The Hanok Smith Likes’ is located. The traditional Korean hanok restaurant is shaped like a “ㄷ” (Korean consonant “di-geut”) and is comprised of a restaurant and a café along with an outdoor terrace with flowers. The exterior of the restaurant is a traditional Korean-style house while the inside of the restaurant presents a mixture of traditional and modern aspects.
The Smith in the restaurant’s name refers to a blacksmith as well as Mr. Smith which is a common name in some parts of the West, comparable to Cheolsu in Korea. There is another meaning behind the name, and that is to create the concept that Mr. Smith is a virtual person who cooks his favorite dishes in a hanok.
One of the interesting aspects about this restaurant is that they serve hwadeok pizza (brick oven pizza) and pastas which are not the dishes one might expect given the hanok exterior. They also serve delicious salad, risotto, steak and wine at the restaurant. Particularly, the nighttime atmosphere of the restaurant offers a more serene and cozy experience thanks to the traditional hanok architecture.
Recommended dishes at Nuri include the traditional han-jeongsik dosirak (lunch box), East-Asian medicinal Nuri tea, omija tea, home-made tteok, and han-jeongsik courses. The han-jeongsik courses include the main course, side dishes, and desserts that includes Korean style pancakes, hand-made tofu, greens, ogok-bap (five-grain rice), fruits and traditional tea.
Among all the dishes served at Nuri, the han-jeongsik dosirak is the most popular as it is served with many different Korean side dishes, but all the dishes are served at reasonable prices considering the ingredients and efforts put into the plates. The menu at Nuri is written in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese in order to provide a convenient experience for international visitors who want to try some Korean food in a traditional Korean house.
Photo courtesy of Châtaigne
Châtaigne means chestnut in French, and though small, this elegant hanok restaurant focuses on a minimal French dining experience. Châtaigne is becoming more popular thanks to their great food, beautiful decorations and friendly service.
At the restaurant, the chef and customers can interact intimately as the floor plan is quite open. As soon as they enter, visitors are delighted by the contrast of modern and classical features. Trendy light fixtures built on top of traditional hanok rafters is one such feature and they add to the relaxing atmosphere that makes Châtaigne a wonderful choice for any special occasion.
The staff here is very attentive, and the chef pours wine for the guests and explains the dishes himself. Make sure to book in advance to have an unforgettable meal in a hanok at Châtaigne.
<Last updated in July 2015>
* This column was last updated in July 2015, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official websites before visiting.