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Experience Swedish fine dining inside a Korean hanok

Sept. 9, 2023 - 16:01 By Kim Hae-yeon

Mangata's Swedish meatball dish accompanied by mashed potatoes (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

Nestled among the narrow streets of Seoul's traditional Samcheong-dong neighborhood, amidst the royal palace and galleries, a hidden culinary gem awaits in the setting of a Korean hanok. Mangata, a relatively recent addition to Seoul's dining scene, seamlessly blends Swedish fine dining with the rustic charm of traditional Korean architecture.

The word "Mangata" itself has a poetic meaning in Swedish, signifying the road-like reflection cast by the moon on water.

Since its opening in December 2019, Mangata boasts a harmonious fusion of Scandinavian simplicity in the dishes, surrounded by a tranquil, nature-inspired space that lives up to its name.

Mangata's owner and chef, Kim Do-yeong, a 33-year-old graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, holds a degree in culinary arts and food science. Kim embarked on his culinary journey in 2011 at Aquavit, a two Michelin-starred modern Scandinavian restaurant located in Midtown Manhattan in New York.

"I quickly fell in love with Swedish cuisine and discovered that the essence of Swedish dishes bears striking similarities to Korean cuisine, both concentrating on the fermentation processes to extract rich flavors from natural ingredients." Kim told The Korea Herald on Monday.

Over his six-year journey as an apprentice chef at Aquavit, Kim rose to the position of sous chef, eventually feeling ready to introduce his own Swedish restaurant to Korea.

Mangata offers an intimate dining experience with just five tables, focusing on a six-part chef's tasting course. The quiet atmosphere allows guests to escape the urban hustle and savor each course at their own pace.

The meal commences with the first course, a salmon mousseline, comprising salmon, sourdough bread, rye chips and pickles.

The slightly briny and delicately fishy salmon mousseline complements the crisp, hearty sourdough. The pickles provide a refreshing counterpoint, resulting in a perfectly balanced flavor profile.

The next course is gravlax, a Nordic dish that features salmon cured in a mixture of salt, sugar and herbs, like dill.

Accompanied by trout caviar, horseradish and panna cotta, the dish offers a diverse and visually appealing palette of flavors.

Sea bass with parsnip sauce, the third dish on Mangata's six-course menu (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Mangata’s pork tenderloin with fregola pasta (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

The third course features sea bass with parsnip sauce. The sea bass boasts a mild, delicate flavor with buttery undertones, while the sweet and earthy parsnip sauce adds depth to the dish.

Next is the pork tenderloin paired with fregola pasta, a pasta variety from Sardinia rolled into small balls. The combination of savory pork and the unique, chewy texture of fregola pasta creates a delightful culinary experience.

The highlight of the meal is kottbullar, classic Swedish meatballs.

These minced pork and beef meatballs are renowned for their tender and moist texture. Creamy mashed smoked potatoes on the side provide a velvety contrast, while raspberry and cucumber pickles offer a burst of refreshing, fruity flavors. While highly recommended for newcomers, alternate options like duck meat or sirloin steak are also available.

"I use caramelized onions in the meatball dough, fermenting them to achieve the right sweetness, which pairs harmoniously with the earthy palate of the potatoes," Kim said.

For dessert, Mangata serves up a unique treat -- a minty-flavored perilla leaf gelato that gives a refreshing conclusion to the meal.

Kim expressed his vision for Mangata, hoping that it will become a place where people can try unfamiliar cuisines and embark on a culinary exploration.

"Just as the MMCA Seoul near our restaurant showcases so many different cultures through its art, our Mangata team is always ready to invite guests to a new experience, with diverse flavors made from fresh local ingredients," Kim said.

Swedish fine dining restaurant Mangata in Samcheong-dong, northern Seoul (Mangata)

The six-course lunch and dinner experience at Mangata are both priced at 77,000 won. Menu details are subject to seasonal variations.

Wine enthusiasts can enhance their meal with a three-glass wine pairing for 35,000 won per person, or opt for a natural wine pairing at 45,000 won.

The restaurant closes Mondays and Tuesdays.