I’ve always been envious of Japan for being very successful in putting together modern interpretation of Japanese cuisine. While in New York there has been a lot of interest in the flavor of Korea beyond Korean BBQ and bibimbap, I haven’t seen a ton of chefs who were able to put together modern Korean cuisine in a way Japanese people have been able to do. Make no mistake, I’m all for authentic Korean food and I make sure to eat all the traditional Korean food that I can get when I visit my family once every year. On the other hand, though, I’ve always been very eager to see emerging Korean chefs with a lot of creative ideas develop their own philosophy on Korean cuisine that appeal to the global audience. As much as I hesitate to admit it, David Chang of Momofuku fame has certainly done that although I wouldn’t really call his food modern Korean (it’s more like Changian with hints of Korean influence). Lately, though, that trend is starting to change. Chef Jungsik Yim has started to make a name for himself with his eponymous restaurant both in Seoul and New York, and I have started to see other chefs who have studied in the Western world and put together some brilliant ideas. Chef Mingoo Kang certainly belongs in that category, and his restaurant Mingles so far it one of the best modern Korean restaurants, period.
If there is a particular characteristic that defines chef Kang’s cuisine at Mingles, it’s understated elegance. Korean food is not particularly rich or strong in flavor compared to other cuisines, but the moderation also means that there are a lot of dishes with clean flavor that continue to stimulate your palate without overpowering it. Mingles has pulled that off beautifully, starting with a couple of salads (one with foraged spring herbs and seasonal seafood, and the other with organic herb, cold lobster and foie gras torchon). The freshness of ingredients was evident and there isn’t really any special sauce or seasoning that is added to enhance the flavor, which means that all the ingredients combined together speak for themselves.
I also liked assorted mushroom ravioli and vegetable consommé accompanied by smoked eggplant and seafood, and absolutely loved the seasonal fish with seasonable vegetable that was lightly and expertly cooked and moderately seasoned to sensational effect. Charred beef tenderloin accompanied by the restaurant’s signature truffle “jang” (think fermented paste) and butternut squash was juicy and tender, and the “bansang” (Korean traditional meal set) of mushroom rice and assorted seasonal side dishes (“banchan”) also had very elegant construction with the way all the ingredients worked together. Before the dessert came in, the restaurant served complementary noodle soup with anchovy broth that I also fell in love with, especially the absolutely aromatic broth that was very soothing on a chilly spring night.
The dessert also showcased the creative ambition of the kitchen. While the combination of coconut anglaise, black vinegar infused pineapple and celery, raspberry sorbet and spring herb powder wasn’t as impressive as it sounded, the so-called “jang trio” of desserts with flavors of fermented paste would be a top-class dessert anywhere, with its soybean paste-flavored crème brulee, soy sauce based pecan and gochujang (pepper paste) flavored grains all working harmoniously with vanilla ice cream for an awesome finish to the meal.
The restaurant, which started on a basement dining space in an obscure corner of glitzy Cheongdam-dong neighborhood of Seoul, has since moved to a larger, more conspicuous first floor space right across with trendier décor and brighter light. My dining companion got the reservation for a Monday dinner, during which the restaurant was not overly packed, so I have no sense of how difficult it is to secure reservations. With the way the restaurant’s profile has grown over time, an advance booking would always be a wise idea. There are a variety of wine and traditional Korean alcoholic beverage options available that you can complement your meal with. Mingles really demonstrates how far Korean cuisine can make it in the global gastronomic chain. I hope they continue to succeed and be that beacon of modern Korean food.
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 94-9 Dosan-daero, Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea