Samwon Garden is one of those places which Korean business folks like to bring their foreign (usually, American or European) guests: the restaurant consisted of a cluster of traditional wooden buildings surrounded by an expansive landscaped Korean-style garden with waterfalls and flowing brooks amidst faux boulders and rocks. You know it’s all man-made as you’re in Gangnam-gu, the Manhattan-ish glittering business district south of the Han River.
Samwon Garden has enough presence of local clientele to give it an aura of credibility, despite the influx of foreigners all eager for a taste of barbecued beef (“bulgogi”) – the house specialty. The beef came in various shapes: steaks, prime ribs (“kalbi”), and thinly-sliced. The accompaniments were the usual suspects: various types of kimchi, fried salted fish, mungbean noodles, “pajeon” pancakes lined with octopus tentacles, toasted seaweed, marinated seaweed and crisp salads cloaked in black sesame dressing.
I enjoyed the barbecued beef although, tasty when dipped into bean-paste, then wrapped in lettuce leaves together with some thinly-sliced pickled onions, cloves of raw garlic before stuffing the whole thing into one’s mouth, Korean-style, rendering one puff-cheeked and speechless for a few minutes whilst one’s molars chew away furiously (and rather self-consciously, might I add). “How was it?”, my Korean host asked - seemingly blind to the fact that (a) one shouldn’t talk with one’s mouth full, and (b) my chewing technique didn’t seem as efficient as my Korean fellow diners’ in dismantling that baseball-sized package of beef-vegetable-condiment which I’d just gamely stuff into my mouth at their suggestion.
After four straight meals of pretty much the same thing, I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to last the rest of the week on the same diet.
I liked the stone-pot rice, topped with various beans. The waitress scooped out the contents of the stone-pot into serving bowls, then poured hot water into the pot to soften the rice crust – often consumed by the diner as a finale to the meal.
Dessert was a simple red-bean soup – but after all those cuts of red meat – one didn’t really need much else.
Tel: 02-548 3030