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[Video] Why one-chef restaurants are on the rise in Korea

May 28, 2018 - 15:14 By Rumy Doo
As Seoul continues to evolve into an epicurean city dotted with popular eateries, customers are seeking increasingly exclusive dining experiences.

Trending these days are small-scale, one-chef restaurants that often only seat three to four tables.

At Rawpie Table, chef Lee Hae-chang wears multiple hats. He’s the cook, the server, the cashier, the kitchen assistant, and even the interior designer at the Italian diner that opened last November in Seoul’s Huam-dong.

It’s not an easy task. In charge of the business, the creative and even the physical aspects of his operation, Lee has little free time and a lot of responsibility. But the freedom of making his own decisions and the ability to be involved in every detail of his customers’ dining experience are huge attractions, Lee told The Korea Herald in an interview last Thursday.

“I wanted to try everything from start to finish,” he said. Lee, who majored in set construction and is part of a design collective called Rawpie Studio, began by constructing by hand the interior of his restaurant. Shying away from the pristine white walls trending in Korea these days, Lee painted his restaurant in mint-green. He constructed and painted the wooden, forest-green bar that divides the cooking and dining spaces, and hand-picked the vintage phone, lamps and stereo that decorate the establishment. 

Lee then devised the menu, consisting of a cheesy gnocchi, the restaurant’s signature dish, and various pastas. While he uses a delivery service for most of the vegetables, Lee visits Seoul’s Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market every morning to procure fresh seafood. 

Rawpie Table (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)

Rawpie Table (Park Ju-young/The Korea Herald)

Rawpie Table (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)

One of the highlights of running a one-chef restaurant is the close bond he develops with customers, Lee said. “It’s food that I made. Rather than have someone else serve and explain it, it feels right that I would do it myself.”

Receiving instant feedback from diners is both convenient and fulfilling, he said. “Sometimes, they’ll just start chatting with me while I prepare the dishes. I think that’s one of the charms of visiting a one-chef restaurant. You can form a relationship with the chef.”

Customers are increasingly seeking a more special dining experience, Lee pointed out. “There are so many restaurants these days. And they all boast decent quality.” One-chef restaurants, meanwhile, offer the feeling of being treated to a personal, attentive meal by a close acquaintance, he said.

Moon Sang-wook is another one-person chef who runs French Bistro d’Aout, located near Samgakji Station on Subway Line No. 4 and No. 6.

For Moon, being deeply involved in every part of customers’ eating experience is a matter of honesty, he told The Korea Herald. “I think the food that I serve as a chef represents a part of myself. In charge of everything, I can make sure I use only the best of ingredients, and that a lot of attention and care goes into each process.” 

Rawpie Table (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)

Rawpie Table (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)

Rawpie Table
Address: 20-1, Huam-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Phone: 010 9044 8050
Social media:  
Genre: Italian casual dining
Reservation based only, closes Mondays

Bistro d’Aout
Address: 183, Hangang-daero, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Phone: 02 749 1673
Social media:
Genre: French casual dining

(Clockwise) French onion soup; salmon ratatouille pasta; meatballs with tomato sauce, artichoke and chickpea; pate en croute; salmon ratatouille; vin chaud (Bistro d'Aout)

Other one-chef restaurants throughout Seoul:

Gentle Kitchen
Address: 129-4, Donggyo-ro 51-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone: 010 6687 6420
Social media:  
Genre: Korean-Italian fusion casual dining
Closes Mondays 

(Gentle Kitchen Instagram)

Give Me Fever
Address: 7, Yeonnam-ro 3-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone: 010 5091 1151
Social media:  
Genre: Fusion Western
Closes Mondays

(Give Me Fever Instagram)

Cheun Gwong Tsa Sit
Address: 11-20, Sinheung-ro 26-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Phone: 010-8933-8784
Social media:  
Genre: Hong Kong-style bar and food

(Cheun Gwong Tsa Sit Instagram)

Bam Kitchen
Address: 18, Wausan-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone: 010 6218 2130
Social media:  
Genre: Fusion casual dining
Opens Tuesdays to Fridays from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.

(Bam Kitchen Facebook)

Jericho Bar & Kitchen
Address: 112, Seongmisan-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone: 02 6214 5041
Social media:
Genre: Italian casual dining
Closes Mondays and Sundays

(Jericho Bar & Kitchen Instagram)

By Rumy Doo (

Park Ju-young ( contributed to reporting.