▲ Left, audience members watch the light and pyrotechnic show at the Lotte Hotel. Right, a wide array of fine cuisine offered at the hotel's Garden Buffet. Photos by Alpha Newberry
Any way you slice it, the Lotte Hotel is simply impeccable.
While the franchise bills itself as the “The World’s Best Hotel,” superlatives are always subjective. However, not even the resident fire-breathing dragon can tarnish the jewel in Jungmun resort’s proverbial armor.
The outdoor Las Vegas-style Volcano Fountain Show and Garden Buffet, offered every night from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., is pure entertainment.
Leaving the gaudy neon lights of Jeju City, I ventured with a friend over the real dormant volcano of Mt. Halla to reach the dim and serene calmness of the island’s south side, en route to the stately Lotte expanse.
Polished and refined, there is nothing diminishing about this repeated experience. Whatever high-brow word associated with culture there is – eloquent, couth, bon vivant – they all apply to passing through the hotel’s outside grounds, inside the foyer, through the interior labyrinth and down an elevator to reach the hotel’s immense courtyard.
Arrival. Telepathically the Outdoor Buffet Restaurant’s host knew my first name and we were seated inside the massive white tent enclosure, with appropriately spaced, industrial heating fans.
Looking around at the 100 or so patrons and environs on a routine Wednesday night, I felt this was one of the rare and truly international places to reveal itself from the tightly-knit island culture. We had been transported to a world of colorful faces, satiating and worldly food, various culinary chefs and angry, mythical creatures.
I’ll save the best – talking about food – for last.
First, the 12-minute volcano show starts promptly at 8:30 p.m. Guests walk outside of the dinner tent during the cold season with an optional towel blanket and sit on the ground of a mini-style amphitheater looking at the staged cliffs and a pool of water in the foreground.
“The true-to-life Volcano Fountain Show is the work of SPECTRA, the producer of the Volcano Show at Las Vegas Mirage Hotel,” the Lotte Hotel’s Web site explains. “With great skill, a great dragon is brought to life, domineering over a battle between the spirits of water and fire, the two forces of nature that composed Jeju Island in ancient times.”
The display packs a punch. The staged mountain erupts with fire balls, a water screen appears with images of disagreeable figures ready to do battle, and choreographed music conveys the selective mood as water shoots to the sky, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of lights.
Water, fire, water, fire. Several times, fine water mist sprays on all the onlookers. Within a few seconds, heat from the bursts of fire dries and warms the faces.
From the cliffs’ waterfall, a hesitant dragon appears, but thinks twice and retreats. Minutes later, the dragon slowly creeps up and emerges from the pond of water, spits out fire, an enraged image expresses dismay, the music crescendos and as if slain, the dragon lazily falls back in the water. There is peace in the valley once again.
It took us awhile to process what transpired. My similarly aged friend chimed in: “If I was younger, I think I would have liked it more.”
The volcano show is what it is. It’s an extra, an add-on to the three hours available to savor and indulge in gustatory cuisine.
Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Western and Jeju seafood specialties are all present. The massive spread is too much to try, even in small portions and it takes a good 5 minutes to walk around and see what can fit on a few evening plates.
We decided on selective parts of mouth-watering rack of lamb, precisely heated, jumbo Jeju sora, melting beef sirloin, and raw abalone as firm choices. Various medley dishes were present and consumed, including splendidly fried soft-shelled crab along with crisp asparagus, perfectly hued orange salmon, as well as bamboo-encased rice, and artistically created sushi rolls.
Even the small things were impressive: chunks of bleu cheese, next to Gouda, brie and cheddar bites, black and green olives, dried cranberries, and basted mixed nuts. The boatloads of fresh, raw fish slices and steamed shrimp were tempting and enticing, as were the salad, noodle and Korean selections, but only as an afterthought.
Did I mention dessert? On this particular evening, watermelon, pineapple, grapes, ripe, red-spiked rambutan, and tiny white apricots all graced a plate at our table, as did peanut-butter cookies and cream covered with shaved chocolate.
All of this was international. Even the price. At 58,000 won per person for adults (35,000 for a child aged 4 to 12), not including tax or drinks, this may be seen as drastically expensive by Jeju standards. Yet, on a global scale, this is reasonable if not cheap, considering the location, entertainment value, choice food, and relaxing atmosphere for a special night out.
The Lotte Hotel delivers time and again.
lottehoteljeju.com Telephone: 064-731-1000
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