At the weekend we went to a blowfish (fugu) restaurant in Seoul – it has a 60 year history so I was confident we would be OK – Blowfish can kill you if it’s not prepared properly since it contains lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin! At one point I did think my tongue was swelling up – I kept showing Mr Kim who said there was nothing wrong with it. So it must have been my imagination!
During the week the place is packed with businessmen, but we went on a Saturday when it’s quieter and there’s no need to book. There are individual rooms here for two or four people. In our room there were two tables but we had the room to ourselves.
A mix of Japanese and Korean styles
The restaurant had a fusion mix of Japanese and Korean flavours and styles. Japanese sweet citrus soy sauce and wasabi blended with lots of the Korean herb minari. I’ve noticed that when we go to a Korean restaurant there is usually at least one dish that needs to be mixed up first with your spoon or chopsticks (like bibimbap). Sure enough there was one dish like this here. To me, mixing the colours and textures of the fish and vegetables together with the dressing gives the dish a new life. But this would be UNTHINKABLE in Japan where the dish arrives artistically arranged and is not to be tampered with! The Blowfish sashimi had a Korean twist too as it was designed to be eaten like a wrap – a slice of fish wrapped around minari and fish skin.
The order that the dishes were served was also Korean style. Deep fried fish came before the sashimi whereas in Japan the cooked fish will always arrive after the sashimi. I wonder if this is done here simply for practical reasons to avoid keeping diners waiting for food? Perhaps the deep fried fish was ready before the sashimi so it was served first or perhaps this is just the preferred order here. I don’t know. But this has happened in other restaurants too and call me picky but I prefer it the other way around. Anyway, here’s what came in a 60,000 won per head set meal.
blowfish in a sweet citrus Japanese style soy sauce (ponzu) flavoured jelly
tuna, scallop, and halibut sashimi
blowfish skin with fish roe, watercress, minari, onion, and grated radish with a Japanese-style sweet citrus soy sauce dressing (ponzu).
This dish was designed to be mixed up with chopsticks (like bibimbap). Blowfish skin is quite chewy and rough so it comes very thinly sliced. The skin doesn’t have much flavour but mixed with the savoury/sweet dressing, the hot watercress, the sweet, tangy onion, and the aromatic minari, this dish was a light and tasty appetiser. It came with some grated mountain potato on the side.
raw oysters and sea squirt (멍게) served with a red chilli sauce dip
deep fried blowfish, chilli pepper, and sesame leaf
The blowfish was deliciously juicy in the light and crispy batter. Perfect with the grated radish in light soy sauce and vinegar dip. I just wasn’t keen on that fact that it was served before the sashimi – I would have preferred to have it after. Both dishes taste even better that way.
So here’s what we were waiting for. The fish is served very thinly sliced. In the middle of the plate is blowfish skin and green minari and watercress. (all decorated with a dried blowfish tail!) The fish was more chewy and less fishy tasting than other sashimi – the flavour was very delicate. The fish was meant to be rolled up with minari and watercress. But the strong flavours of the vegetables seemed to totally overpower the flavour of the fish, so I just had the fish with wasabi and soy sauce.
a hot Japanese sake with dried blowfish tail
Blowfish hot pot
Finally we had the blowfish hot pot cooked with radish and more minari. (There was a heck of a lot of minari in this meal.) The soup was mild unlike the spicy soup usually served at sashimi restaurants. Still good though.
chuk, rice porridge
The hot pot was served with savoury rice porridge. It was filling and satisfying. A slice of apple on a cocktail stick finished off the meal nicely. Then we rolled home just in time to watch my weekend Korean drama Feast of the Gods (MBC Sat/Sun 21:50) An appropriate end to the evening!
don’t forget the kimchi
The restaurant is called 종로삼대복집
address: 종로구 안국동 132 (Jongno Anguk-dong 132)
tel: 02 715 7679
Anguk subway (line 3) exit 2. Cross over the road and walk straight. Turn left down the small road in front of the grounds of the 재판소 law courts. (D marks the spot)