The Grand Hotel Myeongdong, Seoul

I shall continue with the Seoul trip! Now that I am done with the food proper, I will move on to the hotel. When it comes to hotels, I don’t necessarily need to stay in luxury 5-star hotels but I still like to pamper myself, even if it means having to pay a little bit more. To some, it’s extravagant because hotel is purely a place of rest for them for a short period of time at the end of a long shopping day. But for me, I want to have a nice, comfortable place of rest too! So on this trip, I decided to book a stay with the Grand Hotel Myeongdong, after reading through some good reviews online and also because of its good location. There were other similar options at lower costs, but because my trip was relatively last minute, I was left with few choices. So perhaps it is a reminder for me to confirm my travel plans earlier so that I don’t have to pay exhorbitant prices for hotels! Having said that, except for feeling the pain in parting with the money, I don’t regret staying with them, because this is really quite a good place to stay at.

The Grand Hotel Myeongdong is a very new hotel, completed only in the last couple of years so everything about it is still new and well-maintained. Let’s hope they upkeep the maintenance of the place, or in future, look out for newer hotels? It is located on the fringe of Myeongdong, so you get the benefit of being at Myeongdong but not caught within the bustle of the place. The hotel is a few minutes’ walk away from Exit 9/10 of the Myeongdong subway station, so when it comes to transport, there is little problem as well. It isn’t as well-situated as Hotel Sejong where subway or the airport limousine bus is concerned, but it is really just a 2 minute walk from Sejong, and it is much newer, unless you are able to get Sejong at much lower rates, then go for it!20140806-074053-27653369.jpgI booked a room with Expedia, and requested for an early check-in since my flight was due to arrive in Seoul really early. By the time I got to the hotel, it was perhaps only about 10+ in the morning, and most hotels have a check-in policy that they could adhere pretty strictly to, especially when they are fully-booked, or those that are booked on restrictive rates. I seldom had that problem on my past business trips, perhaps due to the hotels not being located in popular tourist areas or the city centres, but when I travel on holidays, I frequently have to make do with depositing my luggage at the hotel, freshen up at the hotel’s common restrooms, and then head out looking a little dishevelled. However, I was able to check-in upon arrival at the hotel, which I was really thankful for, so that I could get a quick freshen up and change of clothes before I headed out to explore the place!20140806-074053-27653223.jpgMy room is comfortable, nice and clean, and I liked that the room decor was accompanied with ambient lighting that further accentuated its comfort level. Dim lighting in hotel rooms somehow makes for a higher level of comfort somehow, to me at least, and in this case, it didn’t give it an uncomfortable eerie feel. Perhaps in some hotels, dim lighting exudes a slight creepy feeling, when the room is too big with dark corners that lend themselves to shadows from dim lighting, so there is probably a benefit to having rooms that economise on space. Not that I don’t enjoy larger hotel rooms, but I suppose you get the drift.

And the bathroom! One of my common gripes about some hotels that I stayed at previously, where luxury hotels have luxurious rooms without a matching luxury-level bathroom. I don’t expect too much from hotels that I book on a slightly lower budget (i.e. not your 5-stars) but I think in general, I am pretty ok, and in fact, quite like, the Japanese hotel-type of bathrooms. The ones in the Grand Hotel are similar in a way, though not as completely ‘plastic-mould’ as the Japanese ones. It was not too crammed where space is concerned, so I don’t have any complains about it.20140806-074053-27653282.jpg

One of the things I wanted to rave about the bathroom is the complimentary toiletries provided. Typically, we only see brand-name toiletries offered in expensive hotels. In this case, the Grand Hotel has managed to outdo many other hotels by stocking their bathroom with Innisfree items! This is a Korean brand that hails from Jeju, and although I have heard of them and seen them around, even in Singapore, I have never tried them. This range of bath products had a refreshing, green tea scent to it that I really liked. I only used the shampoo and conditioner a couple of times so I can’t know if they are good, but at least they didn’t make my hair feel dry and stringy after use, like how some other hotel-provided shampoos and conditioners do. Only gripe was that the bottles used should have been softer, because the conditioner wasn’t exactly fluid like the other three items, and with a hard plastic bottle, it made it virtually impossible to get the conditioner out.  

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So there is my review of the room. The hotel staff were all very friendly, helpful and could speak decent, good English. I didn’t check out the roof-top where supposedly there is a pretty good night view, neither did I try the hotel’s buffet breakfast (because it was quite costly at 18,000 KRW per head and also because I was more keen to check out the various cafes around for breakfast options), so I can’t really comment on those. But I will definitely put this hotel on my list of recommended places to stay in Seoul!

Myeongdong Kyoja (명동교자), Seoul

It was the second time I visited this eatery, or that I believe it was the same that I visited years back when I hit Seoul with a friend. They have 2 outlets in Myeongdong and in the past, I recalled snaking queues to get a seat, especially at meal-times or that was perhaps because I was there during feeding times. Haha. Anyway, Myeongdong Kyoja (I guess this is the Korean version/take of the Japanese word that we are more used to, gyoza) is more efficient now, although there were a couple of times when I walked past when I did witness a queue forming all the way out to the streets.

It is really a noodle restaurant that has been around for about 40 years, and is known for their knife-cut, handmade kalguksu noodles. Besides this popular item, others include the mandu (which is the kyoja or gyoza, which is actually more like steamed xiao long baos), bibim guksu (noodles with vegetables and red hot pepper paste) and kongguksu (noodles in cold soy milk broth). I picked these up from the Visit Korea website, which appended a Michelin logo on the page too, but I haven’t checked if it’s really a Michelin-starred eatery.

So the last time when I was there, I also ordered the steamed dumplings, which comes in 10s, and a bowl of noodle each. There were just 2 of us then, and obviously we couldn’t finish all that was on the table. I don’t even recall what noodles we ordered but they were the soupy type, so I think it could have been the kongguksu. This time, we were a trio, so it makes for better sharing of food.

The bibim guksu:

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The lot of items that were ordered, together with the complimentary dishes of kimchi, which boasted a very strong garlic flavour. So for anyone who isn’t that fond of garlic, please abstain from it because it is definitely overwhelming enough to make any vampires stay away from you after having it.

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This is their famed handmade, knife-cut noodles, which were really good! This dish also included several pieces of dumplings and contains meat and vegetables in a rich broth.20140714-225219-82339603.jpg

And finally, the steamed dumplings, or known as mandu or kyoja. In terms of appearance, they don’t look as delicate as the Chinese-style steamed dumplings such as those from Ding Tai Feng. Also, they are much bigger and contains more filling, but in terms of taste I think they fare just as well! Due to their size and also having other orders like the noodles, just having 3 was actually enough for us, but it depends very much on the individual’s appetite and how much you prefer each item.  20140714-225219-82339486.jpg

During this trip, we found out that the noodles or soup are actually refillable! Or at least that was what we noted, because there was this table behind us, comprising 2 guys and a girl, who ordered 2 bowls of noodles and 1 serving of the mandus, and they actually had 2 noodle refills, without cost. At least we thought the refills were complimentary, because how they work is that you will pay upon the serving of the food and for those 2 refills, the server did not collect any money from them. Well, that makes for a very economical meal but us being us, we couldn’t help tsk tsk-ing at the apparent “cheapskate-ness” of that table. If indeed they needed 2 refills (or maybe even more after we left) then they should probably have ordered more food or an additional bowl of noodle or 2. Anyway, if it’s the restaurant’s policy for entertaining such requests, then it has to still be viable and helps to attract customers too!

Like I mentioned, they are much more efficient now, or the crowds have thinned since the last time I went. We didn’t have trouble getting a seat even if it was a slightly earlier dinner that we picked, still around 6-ish in the evening, and the food was served up really quickly. The turnover was also really fast, so that the moment you finished your food, it is time to leave and make way for other patrons but yet we didn’t feel like we were being chased to leave. It kind of felt a little like fast-food, although it could also be that we were just there to eat and then go, not to sit, savour the food slowly and chat over it. Definitely worth checking out if you like such kinds of food, and it wasn’t too expensive. For our orders, we paid 24,000 KRW in total, which works out to be just about S$10 per head.

Hara Donuts, Seoul

 

Happy mid-week!

Holidays are the time to let go and indulge. And indeed that was what I did in Seoul, with the benefit of some recommendations as well as just wandering the streets of the city. Recommendations are always needed to maximise the gastronomic space I have, which is fairly limited even if where indulgences are concerned, I think my stomach is a little more elastic.

So this was one of the places that I popped by on the first day after landing in Seoul and checking into my hotel. 20140702-074145-27705698.jpg

Hara Donuts is a shop located in Myeongdong, the popular shopping area of Seoul replete with a variety of shops that stock trendy clothing, cafes, skincare shops, along with some of your typical high-street brands, etc. It is often thronged with tourists as well as locals, whether it is weekdays or weekends, and at night, the place becomes even more vibrant with numerous pushcart stalls that peddle clothing, street snacks, and so on. Hara Donuts is along a street that is very near Sky Park Myeongdong I Hotel, and there is a KFC and MacDonald’s nearby too.

They have numerous flavours and I chose the Black Tea donut, priced at 1,300 won (about S$1.60). I was hoping to have Mister Donut’s Pon de Ring but unfortunately in this trip, I didn’t pass by any of them, if they are still available in Korea that is. Hara is a good alternative, imo, but they are a slightly different breed of donuts as compared to those of Mister Donuts’. It is perhaps more fried than baked, from the texture, even if it didn’t feel oily or deep-fried. And it isn’t big, relatively smaller than most other commercially-available donuts, so it definitely makes for a good snack!

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This is the display case of the donuts. They are all shaped in the same round-with-a-hole-in-the-middle form, how we all know donuts to be like, without any fanciful twists like how perhaps Dunkin Donuts, Mister Donut or Krispy Kreme have done. They don’t even have textured round donuts such as the pon de rings that are now available from most brands.20140702-074145-27705809.jpg

One bite into it and I could really feel the tangible taste of black tea in it! I wondered if it’s Earl Grey because the aroma of the tea really made the donut nice. Like I mentioned before, it isn’t oily, such that it didn’t even leave any traces of grease stain on the paper that was used to wrap it. I only had it once since there are so many things to check out when in Seoul, but it will definitely be on my to-eat list the next time I visit! Hopefully, they will still be around when I next drop into the city.20140702-074145-27705907.jpg