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October 18, 2022

The new Michelin Guide to Seoul has gone through the biggest changes in its short history, with one of the two three-star Korean restaurants losing one star.

Gaon in upscale Sinsa-dong maintained its three-star rating, but La Yeon at the downtown Hotel Shilla dropped to a two-star rating, while Mosu in Itaewon became a new three-star restaurant for its fine-dining fusion.

A total of 176 restaurants made it onto this year’s list, including 35 starred restaurants and 57 Bib Gourmand eateries that recognize friendly establishments serving good food at moderate prices.

Some gourmets were surprised by La Yeon’s fall. One food critic said, “Over the last seven years, there has been an increase in the number of talented chefs and high-end restaurants, but ‘La Yeon’ has stagnated in terms of both food and service. It was as if it was always given extra points for serving Korean food at all, but now it’s all about competence.”

Another food critic said, “To be quite blunt, you could say Shilla took a three-star rating for granted and got lazy, while CJ (which owns Mosu) made progress with its expertise in the food business.”

Monsu chef Chef Ahn Sung-jae is clearly the star of this year’s list. Food critic Suh Hyun-jung said, “Thanks to ceaseless research into Korean ingredients and cooking methods, Ahn created fusion recipes whose visual beauty is unrivaled.”

Soigné in Banpo rose from one to two stars, and six new restaurants received one-star ratings, including Kang Minchul Restaurant in the posh Chongdam-dong area, Restaurant Allen and Eatanic Garden in Yeoksam-dong, Solbam in Sinsa-dong and Soul Dining in Yongsan.

“Among the new starred restaurants, many opened over the last one to two years. That shows how fast the restaurant industry here is evolving,” said Kim Eun-jo at Blue Ribbon Survey, Korea’s own first restaurant guide.

Among Bib Gourmand restaurants serving food that costs an average W45,000 or less, Michelin Guide said noodle restaurants accounted for around 40 percent this year and those serving soup-based dishes were also popular (US$1=W1,431).

Some believe that the star ratings are in danger of obscuring worthy contenders. Food critic Lee Yoon-hwa said, “It is not good for restaurants and customers to fixate on Michelin star restaurants. But one positive development is that epicureans are getting younger and more people now have an eye for good food, raising the standard of restaurant culture.”

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