I’m sure I have mentioned my fondness for Italian cuisine on many occasions. However in Seoul it is not always easy to find as there seem to be far too many restaurants offering spaghetti drowning in puddles of cream and calling it Italian food. But over the years I’ve discovered a few treasures along the way and after I was invited to come and try Paolo de Maria last week I have another one to add to the list.
The first thing I thought as I walked in to the Hannam-dong eatery was that it reminded me of the Italian restaurants from my youth. Its very nostalgic style put me in mind of the restaurant owned by my friend’s parents in a small town in Somerset. It was very rustic with its red table cloths and yellow brick walls, but I felt at ease and warmly welcomed.
Once we were seated we gazed over their epic menu, honestly it was so large I found it a touch overwhelming. Luckily the very handsome and friendly maitre d’ was right on hand to give us some recommendations, which we decided to take him up on. After making our selections we were given some homemade breads and an amuse bouche of beef tongue to get us started, a great way to kick off the meal.
To start we opted for Caponata alla siciliana e gamberoni croccanti (26,000), prawns on a bed of courgette ragu. The courgette was incredibly tasty and just bursting with flavour. Our second starter was Involtini di melanzane alla caprese (19,000) a fancy take on eggplant parmigiana. TFB and I were torn. I preferred the prawns, he the aubergine, either way they were both fantastic if a tad on the pricey side.
For our main pasta dish we tried the Pappardelle al Barbera Caramellato Saltate in Fonduta de Formaggi Italiani(28,000), which was essentially pasta in a red wine and cheese sauce. The home made parpadelle was fantastic but the sauces were rather on the rich side for me, especially when combined and it just felt a little much for my tastes. They had ample selection of other pastas and sauces though so there would be plenty to choose from next time.
Everyone I had spoken to about this restaurant told me to save room for the dessert trolley as it was not to be missed. I wish I had heeded their advice but I couldn’t resist the pizza after having seen one at an adjacent table. We went for the Four Seasons (23,000). The thin and bubbly crust was topped with olives, mushrooms, artichokes and a thin and salty ham which was amazing, and probably the best I’ve tasted in Korea. I wondered if they had cured it themselves, but was informed that it was imported from Italy. The Naples style crust which was crispy and chewy in all the right places and was the perfect setting for the toppings. It was great to share but I happily could have eaten this baby by myself as it was so good.
After making short work of the pizza it was finally time to tackle the trolley (12,000). Never one to shy away from an all you can eat challenge we picked our six choices from the dazzling array of decadent desserts.
We tried the panna cotta, chocolate mousse, tiramisu, lemon tart, hazelnut chocolate cake, and some kind of ridiculously light meringue-ey concoction. To be honest they were all pretty good, but our favourites were the tiramisu and the lemon tart. I’d have liked to have tried them all but I sadly didn’t have enough room, so next time I need to do better. You haven’t seen the last of me dessert trolley!
After the dessert cart we were fit to bursting but rounded out a meal with a lovely cup of peppermint tea and a shot of limoncello. Over the course of the meal the restaurant was consistently busy which I was surprised at given it was a cold and windy Tuesday. It was also packed with Italians which I generally take to be a good sign when dealing with Italian restaurants. The food differed from other restaurants I have eaten at in Seoul, but still seemed very familiar. The warm and cozy atmosphere make it a great date restaurant if you are looking for somewhere that is a little bit special but that won’t break the bank.
Paolo De Maria is located at 657-115 Hanam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. To get there take a train to Hanam Station (mint green line) and come out of exit 1 and walk straight. Take a right at the end of the road and follow it around until it joins with another and keep going until you are able to turn left. Take that left and walk straight, then go right after Paris Baguette you will see Paolo De Maria up ahead after a block or so on the left hand side. Alternatively you could walk from Itaewon or Hangangjin, just follow the directions on google maps. For more information you can call them on 02-599-9936 or check out their facebook page. They are open everyday from 11:30am – 10:30pm.