Written and Photographed by Dayoung Chung
Buffet restaurants of luxurious hotels always make a good choice for a nice meal, whether it be a business meal, or a special gathering with friends and family. But the ‘same old buffet menu’ and the ironic tendency to always overeat have found me far away from buffet restaurants for a while. Until recently that is. I was invited to Lotte Hotel in Myeongdong to dine at their buffet restaurant, La Seine, which was having a special spring promotional event called Sakura Gala Dinner Buffet. The hotel organizes single day events every month to feature different themed menus and decorations that is an addition to the everyday buffet menus. For the April promotion, the theme was cherry blossom.
The restaurant is located on the first floor of the hotel which I found very accessible as an outside visitor.
Situated in one of the most popular tourist and business area of Seoul, the restaurant’s patrons seemed to be nearby office workers, tourists and also families with children. Apart from the excellent location, the other feature which sets the restaurant apart from other hotel buffets is the wide array of sea food menus prepared in Asian and Western style cuisine. I was looking forward to the famous sushi and sashimi bar.
The restaurant opened at 6 p.m., and all the service staff was neatly lined up at the entrance ready to check the customer’s reservation and direct them to their tables. As we were seated a server offered me and my friend a choice of Perrier or Evian. It was a nice alternative to the glass of water you find normally at restaurants. I first made a quick tour of the restaurant floor and checked the menus in different stations. My first plate was filled with cold sea food appetizers of wasabi lobster, smoked salmon, grilled scallop among other items. The colorful arrangement and dainty portions looked inviting and I was happy to taste each sea food cooked and seasoned differently. But don’t I think the overall flavor was as colorful as it looked.
The sushi and sashimi bar met my expectations. Tuna, salmon, halibut, and snapper were served as sushi or sashimi. Upon order, the chef behind the bar sliced the fish right in the spot into thick pieces for sushi or sashimi and served on the customer’s plates. The chef mentioned that the tuna came from a live fish that morning reassuring the freshness of the dish. Another popular raw fish among Koreans is the fresh abalone cut into bite size pieces. The expensive delicacy prepared by La Seine was thick and chewy and most of all it was plentiful to satisfy the customer’s appetite.
One of the interesting features of La Seine is that customers can see the food readily cooked by chefs at the open kitchen behind the stations and the fire show from the cooking makes it fun to watch. Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes prepared by respective foreign chefs raised the diversity of the buffet and I had fun filling my plate. The chili crab, sea food phat thai, and the special braised shark’s fin dish was full of the fresh sea food ingredients and vegetables. But the taste seemed be tuned down to meet local standard and lacked a certain authenticity considering that it was made by a native chef.
I was busy at the Asian station that I almost missed the lobster and lamb chop grill at the back of the restaurant floor. Medium sized lobster cut in half and lamp chop steak was grilled over gas fire and served with different sauces to accommodate the grilled meat. Both lobster and lamp chop were excellent. The lobster was cooked just right and the lamp chop was tender and moist.
Another highlight of a buffet is the dessert. The dessert station at La Seine features a white chocolate fountain, an ice cream station that serves your choice of ice cream Cold Stone style and a long counter with almost 20 kinds of dessert mousse in little glass cups and macaroons. The rows and rows of chocolate mousse and raspberry pudding were quite overwhelming and I was torn in between which cups to choose from. If I only had more room in my already full stomach, I would have tasted all the desserts on display.
Overall, the service was commendable. Even though all the tables were full and the restaurant floor was filled with customers, my old plate was removed every time I returned to my table and the chefs were eager to explain the dishes with a smile. But I wasn’t too impressed with the expensive looking paper napkin and place mat table setting. After all, it was a first class hotel and you would expect something on the lines of fine dining from the 150,000 won meal.
The dinner promotion was called Sakura Gala Dinner Buffet so I was expecting something interesting in the night’s meal related with cherry blossoms. But all I could see was the cherry blossom decoration next to the appetizers. It would have nice to see dishes or desserts with cherry blossom as an ingredient.
As for overeating, I’m afraid it was unavoidable.
Lotte Hotel Myeongdong 1st Floor
Price: 150,000 KRW per person for gala dinner
77,000 ~ 82,000 KRW for everyday lunch and dinner buffet
*Seoul Eats was invited by Lotte Hotel to come write a guest post. We would like to thank them for their generosity.*