▲ Not your typical Korean raw fish eatery, the Island restaurant in Shin Jeju serves sushi fused with Italian flavors. Photo by Darren Southcott
Whatever your view of raw fish restaurants, it is best not to visit Seom, Korean for the Island, expecting the usual fare found on Jeju. Many raw fish restaurants here seem to merely go through the motions, serving unimaginative servings of sashimi and sushi rolls, but that charge can’t be leveled at Seom, which has achieved something a little different.
The restaurant is located in the heart of Shin Jeju, just a few meters east of Jewon Intersection. Its open-plan outdoor eating area and sushi bar are clearly visible and inviting from the road and it is clear from first impressions that meals there will not be standard fare.
It is an oft-heard refrain that more Jeju eateries should take advantage of the island’s sunshine and offer outdoor dining. Seom provides three seating areas in the open for those wanting a sidewalk dining experience, with the most appealing being up against the evening sushi bar. Other tables sprawl behind and in a balconied courtyard near the restaurant entrance. Evening dining is recommended for romantics or curious people watchers.
Despite the lush interior and exterior, the prices are surprisingly affordable, if not cheap. Soon after ordering the Couple Special for 60,000 won, our dishes began arriving. We had been told that most were fusion dishes, which aroused our suspicions, but Seom disproved the general rule that fusion dishes are pale imitations of the original. These certainly weren’t.
Callabaccio, a bizarre combination of Italy and Japan, was a prawn and salmon salad, garnished with olive oil and a creamy sauce. It turned out to be a winner. It was joined by balsamic-garnished greens, which we also devoured in quick shrift.
Special mention has to be made of the pumpkin soup. Being encountered at most raw fish restaurants, it didn’t inspire any great excitement on arrival at the table. Tasting it, however, was a different matter. Its nutty, creamy taste was perfectly complemented by the crushed texture – neither too creamy, nor too lumpy. We savored each mouthful on the tongue and regretfully emptied the bowl.
A variety of sushi arrived next, with chilled flatfish foremost. Abalone is firmly within the love-hate designation of sea foods, yet even for a skeptic the freshness of the sliced flesh didn’t disappoint. We mixed wasabi and soy sauce to taste, and our feast continued.
▲ Photo by Darren Southcott
The cold but spicy noodles were just right to cool the palate and the squid salads were a crunchy alternative to the more fleshy fish on offer. Soju was also on hand to wash down the fishy treats. Despite not needing any such encouragement, we heeded the old wives’ tale that failure to take a shot or two leaves one open to a raw fish-inspired upset tummy.
One difference between Seom and many other raw fish restaurants across Jeju is the variety and quality of the seafood on offer. Again showing inspiration from over the East Sea, we were served a simmering pot of baked and glistening five-layered fatty pork. The caramelized sauce bubbled, lava-like, around the meat, which broke apart at the slightest pressure from chopsticks.
Normally at this stage of proceedings, we would barely have room for coffee, but the flaky pork was too good to pass up. Its sauce served as a base for tempura, which were brought out last. The only issue at this point was whether we had room left for anything more.
Seom bills itself as a sushi fusion restaurant and it certainly excels at this. It does the expected things well and throws up some pleasing surprises for patrons. I certainly recommend it for the more adventurous diner looking for something a bit beyond the usual raw fish platter.
The Island (Seom)
271-41. Yeon-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do.
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