Saturday, January 17, 2009

Black Sheep Restaurant Review

This restaurant has closed

Black Sheep
By Daniel Gray

For a university area, Hongdae has the most eclectic range of restaurants. Most university students are poor so they are quite undiscerning about flavor. They are usually more concerned about the amount of food and if there is alcohol to accompany it. Well, Hongdae students are an eclectic bunch and the variety of restaurants around their university reflects this. If you go down to Sogang University, you’ll find beer bars, dirty barbecue shik-tangs, and some commercial bars and eateries. Near Ewha, you’ll find lots of artsy eateries and cafes that obviously spent more on décor than on developing the menu. Hongdae is the arts mecca in Korea and it has a wide range of differing flavors that cater to their creative palate.

The owner of the famous Aa Design Museum and café decided to open up an organic cuisine restaurant right up the street. He decided to stick to the formula that made the café such a mainstay. He would offer healthy food made with quality ingredients in an awe-inspiring space. His restaurant Black Sheep has been around for several months and it seems to embrace a healthy Mediterranean approach. The décor is raw, for it looks like a gutted house. Bricks and pipes can be seen throughout and the furniture is a mix mash of different styles and eras. The decorations are minimal. You might have an old whisky jar here, a fireplace there, or antlers on the wall.

The menu is written like a recipe book. For example the “Grilled Tuna with Mixed Salad (W15,000)” lists the ingredients: “Grilled Tuna 125g, French Bean 45g, Green Olive 10g, Mixed Salad 40g, and 1 half boiled egg.” Then it gives a picture and a description.

The first dish I tried was the “Chicken Salad with New Potato and Red Onion (W15,000)”. The hearty potatoes were perfectly oven roasted and well seasoned. The chicken was crisp on the outside and moist and the savory flavor of the chicken contrasted nicely with the tangy leafy salad. To heighten the flavors, the chef used rich olive oil, a basil pesto sauce, and pink peppercorns. This is a nice dish for a cold winter day.

Then we had the “Pan-Fried Salmon with French Bean Salad (18,000)”. The salmon here was textbook perfect. The salmon had a nice crust and the flesh was flaky and glistening with the salmon’s natural oils. The salad that it rested on had a cool yogurt dressing on it. Personally, I think a citrus dressing would have been a better match. There was a lack of green beans and I felt the eggs didn’t really match with the dish. But because the salmon was so good, the accoutrements didn’t really matter.

My first visit to Black Sheep was quite a treat.

I went back again, because it’s not fair to rate a restaurant with just one visit. The second time I went, it seemed like a completely different place. First of all, the restaurant was freezing cold. We had to go upstairs to the smoking section, because it was too cold to sit downstairs. I tried to order the “Charcoal Grilled Organic Beef and Peach Serano Ham with Fresh Salad (W19,000) but I was told it wasn’t available. So I ordered the “Fragrant Orange Duck Breast with Saute Mushroom(W19,000)” instead and the “Deep Fried Calamary and Bacon with Wild Tomato Sauce Pasta (W12,000)”. I have to be honest with you. This time around I was simply embarrassed for the chef. Do not order the duck breast dish. Now, I don’t often do this, but I had to send the dish back. The ingredient lists honey and maple syrup, but clearly corn syrup was used and because the restaurant was too cold it had coagulated into a goop that was inedible. The pasta dish was ok, but nothing overly special.

Now I didn’t want to leave the restaurant with the second impression, because sometimes restaurants just have bad days. So I went a third time. This time, the restaurant was back in form. The temperature was comfortable and the food was back on par. This time I had the Salmon with Linguine and the Beef Salad. The Salmon was grilled and flakey and I loved the roasted slivers of garlic and silky linguine. “The Charcoal Grilled Organic Beef and Peach Serano Ham with Fresh Salad” wasn’t quite as advertised. It did have beef, but it was lacking the Serano Ham and the peaches had been replaced with prunes. Actually, the prunes were a good substitute-peaches being so hard to get in winter. Now if I was told that the dish had changed, I would have been more prepared for the dish.

Overall, I found this to be a restaurant with lots of potential. I enjoy the direction the restaurant is taking and I think in time it will mature into a great place. Usually it takes a restaurant a year to get into form and this restaurant is getting there. There are some issues right now, but it shouldn’t keep you away. It is a charming place to have a beer with friends or to take a second or third date. It is definitely a black sheep in Hongda; its food does stand out.

Black Sheep
*** (3 stars out of 4)
408-1 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu
02 3143 0757
Organic Cuisine
Directions: Go out Sangsu Station Exit 1. Walk towards Hong-ik University. Make the first left after you pass a little bar called vinyl. Walk 100 meters. It’ll be on the left.