Normal by Ryunique
At 22, Busan-born Tae Hwan Ryu decided he wanted to become a Chef. After culinary schools, he worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo, Sydney, and London. In 2011, Ryunique, a Seoul restaurant with Japanese and French influences, was born! By 2014, the restaurant had already won 27th place and 79th place in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We recently had the opportunity to visit Normal by Ryunique
. This cozy, maybe 20-seat restaurant is located in fancy-pants Garosu-gil (Plastic Surgery
paradise and totally Gangnam Style). I’m not sure why it’s called “Normal” as it’s anything but…
Amuse Bouche @ Normal by Ryunique
Our first amuse bouche was soft, buttery fish perfectly complimented by the tart green apple and the simple crunch of rice paper. The “monkfish liver” (“Ankimo” in Japanese is also called “frog fish”) was similar to tuna. We were told that it’s almost like fois gras. It’s considered a delicacy and is very expensive in Japan.
Amuse Bouche @ Normal by Ryunique
Our second amuse bouche was Ayu, a sweet river fish that swims in the cleanest rivers in Japan. As our second stop on the tasting journey, it honestly wasn’t my fave. It still had a face! While my dining companion bit right in, I had a little more trepidation. I think at one point I even named my little, dragon-like friend. Eventually I sliced in somewhere in the middle. We were told that the bones were so small and soft you wouldn’t be able to taste them or even really feel a crunch. I could totally taste the bones. Plus, the small fish had been deep-fried whole. Regardless, the white fish was surprisingly pretty tasty, albeit very salty!
Wine Pairing: Château Soucherie’s Crément de Loire Rosé. This sparkling rosé made of 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Chenin was light, fresh, and easy drinking. I could definitely see myself sipping this wine on a patio at a summer cottage. It wasn’t overly sweet, so it matched well with the tartness of the apple and the creamy flavour of the tuna-like amuse bouche. This wine is said to be ideal as an aperitif and that it pairs well with fruits and iced desserts.
Starter @ Normal by Ryunique
Our starter was simply called “Tomato and Cucumber”, but it was so much more. It came topped with a foam, which created an interesting aesthetic presentation. The tomatoes, which were marinated in sugar stock and berries, were paired with cucumber dressing and homemade ricotta cheese. The berries were punchy and the ricotta was smooth, but I found there was a little too much sauce. There was definitely some mint or basil (maybe both!) which made the salad taste super summery.
Duck Leg, Tomato Sauce, Shiitake Tortellini
I wanted an entire bowl of this. When it was brought to the table it was incredibly fragrant. Like the salad before it, I described the tortellini as being quite punchy. There were tons of herbs blending together. The texture of the pasta was perfect, and it had an insane amount of cheese paired with a beefy ragu. Our server for the evening, nick-named “Yummy” because of her delicious eats and similar Korean name, chops the duck thigh and other ingredients really finely by hand. The dish itself was tiny, but intensely flavorful with tons of pepper and rock salt I wanted more, but felt like it would be super heavy. At the table, I described this dish as being like a first date where you share one sweet kiss and walk away without looking back. You know you want more, but the moment would be ruined if that were granted.
Pork Belly, Apple
This is an elevated take on a traditional British combination of apple and pork. This dish was very visually appealing and almost as fragrant as the tortellini. It definitely doesn’t taste like it smells. but it was still delicious. I felt like this portion of the meal was a journey in and of itself. It started out pretty dry, then rounded things out with apple flavour. After a couple of glasses of wine we joked that it went from the Sahara to the apple Nile. The pork is braised then grilled. The cabbage was marinated in salt water. The dish included a shrimp reduction and an apple reduction. Rose flowers were sprinkled on top. It had a very nutty smoky flavour and tasted of pretty Chinese flavours (to me). All the elements together reminded me of my dad’s classical chef training and my mom’s old school “Joy of Cooking” book.
Langustine Ramen, Slow Cooked Egg
Normal by Ryunique did it again. Just like all the other tasting menu dishes, the presentation of what boils down to a deconstructed noodle dish was beautiful. The noodles were fried in langoustine (Norway lobster, prawn, scampi) sauce with a quail egg. The noodles were lovely. They tasted quite similar to the hand-spun noodles I tried in Taipei, but I just couldn’t get past the overwhelmingly fishy smell and taste.
Wine Pairing:Vernaccia Di San Gimignano Rubicini. This Italian white wine is from one of my favourite regions to visit in Italy: San Gimignano. This town is between Siena and Florence and I had the pleasure of visiting twice when I was 16, however did not get the chance to imbibe. This is one of the cheaper bottles from the region. This is an easy drinking white with a hint of oak.
Striploin – Main @ Normal by Ryunique
The striploin looked like it was a deceptively tiny portion, but was more filling than you might think! My dining companion and I actually did manage to share our entrées. The broccoli purée was phenomenal. The hit of the plate, it stood out because it was unexpected and paired with the rare striploin very well. The veggies were seasoned to perfection and charred just a hint.
Duck – Main @ Normal by Ryunique
By the time we reached the main course we were through about 2 and a half glasses of wine. As far as flavour profiles go, the steak was far superior to the duck and the broccoli purée was much tastier than the citrus (yuzu?) which accompanied this dish. Whatever was stuffed into the sweet onion was unreal. Was it more ground duck? I’m not certain. Whatever it was, I was into it!
Wine Pairings: Art Series Shiraz from Leeuwin Wine Estate (Australia) which is made up of 93% Shiraz, 5% Malbec, and 2% Viognier. This red has notes of blueberries, blackberries, anise, dark chocolate, and roasted coffee beans. I found this to be a smooth, light, red wine with a long finish.
P+S Prats & Symington
Yogurt, Vanilla Mousse
Dessert rolled around and we were totally stuffed already. This dessert was a perfect combination of light and refreshing flavours and rich, creamy textures. The vanilla bean yogurt mousse was dense and cold, like a better version of ice cream! Our second deconstructed dish of the evening, I liked putting together the creamy yogurt mousse, sweet and crunchy granola, and marinated berries. You can never go wrong with pistachio, either!
Last Thoughts on Normal by Ryunique
If you want to celebrate a special occasion, spend time with family and friends, or even impress a first date, Normal by Ryunique is a great spot just off the main drag of Garogsugil in the heart of Sinsa. while the sticker price (KRW 80,000 without wine pairings) might create a little shock and awe for your average ESL teacher, I think we forget just how much money we spend on a night out in Hongdae or Itaewon. Not only was the food fantastic, the ambiance of the restaurant was special because it’s so small. The service was so excellent and, for once in Korea, the staff truly understood that they were a key ingredient to a successful dining experience. Each gastronomic event was art on a plate (or in a bowl!). I loved the attention to detail in every aspect of Normal by Ryunique’s entertaining dining experience.
Getting to Normal by Ryunique
Hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday 12 PM – 11PM
Address: 520-8 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (just up the street from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse [42, Apgujeong-ro 10-gil] one street over from Garosu-gil in Sinsa).
I was invited as a guest of Normal by Ryunique’s PR Company, not Chef Ryu himself. He did come out and quality check towards the end of our phenomenal dining event, and it was such a pleasure to meet the man behind the art on my plates. While this post was written in partnership, I only publish honest experiences. I would certainly visit any of Chef Ryu’s restaurants on my own dime as the value is definitely there and the service impeccable!