It’s not especially difficult for restaurants in Jeju to use locally grown, in-season ingredients. Every famous local restaurant uses the fresh seafood caught in their front yard shorelines. Horse mackerel soup, gulfweed soup and cold damselfish soup are just a few examples of all the exotic food names you come across in Jeju. But French food in Jeju? There just seems to be too many traditional Jeju dishes to add French cuisine to your must-eat list. People had their doubts when Haevichi announced that it would open a French restaurant that exclusively uses local ingredients. But during my four-day stay in Jeju, I not only had the traditional horse mackerel soup but also, a French course meal at Haevichi Hotel (which I actually quite vividly remember).
At the end of June, the Haevichi Hotel & Resort Jeju opened Milieu (meaning “the middle”), the first hotel-run French restaurant on Jeju Island. Fittingly, the restaurant is located in the center of the hotel lobby. You can hang out at the bar and observe the inside of the busy open kitchen, or sit back and enjoy a meal in the private dining room shaped like a bamboo bird’s nest.
The chef’s amuse-bouche included three selections—the foie gras topped with white wine jelly and tomatoes sprinkled with basil powder stimulated the palate with their flavorfulness. The cold entrée that pays homage to Korean cold raw fish soup consisted of Jeju flatfish, apple mango, Gyeongsang-do pepper tree and Jeolla-do yuzu. The warm appetizer consisted of creamy goat cheese, blueberries and grilled vegetables with rosemary all artfully arranged on a plate. You could choose between meat and fish for the main course—sea bass topped with bacon foam or Grade 1 tenderloin steak. The grand denouement of the five-course meal came with a blueberry tart and yogurt sorbet made with the fresh berries grown in Gujwa-eup, Jeju.
Dying to know whom the chef is? Milieu’s main chef is Yoon Hwa-young. Yoon, who graduated summa cum laude from École Supérieure de Cuisine Française (ESCF), trained under Alain Ducasse’s chef Jean-François Piège and Éric Briffard, the right-hand man of Joel Robuchon. After 12 years of experience in France, Yoon returned to his motherland and opened a French restaurant in Busan called Merciel. Among the rich variety of ingredients that grow in Jeju, the apple mango is Yoon’s go-to favorite. Although it is not necessarily the most reasonably priced fruit (the wholesale price reaches 20,000 won), the quality of the fruit is considered to be one of the best in the world.
In a nutshell, Yoon’s French cooking is as alluring as it gets and exceeds all expectations. And let’s be honest, despite their popularity, black pork BBQ and sashimi can become a bit too much for every meal. And when they do, Milieu is the perfect alternative for a romantic honeymoon dinner or simply a refreshing change of pace. The reasonable prices are an unexpected bonus. The starting special six-course dinner is 89,000 won.
Haevichi Hotel & Resort, Milieu (haevichi.com, 064-780-8328) Tue-Sun, 12-3pm, 5-10pm. Closed Mon. Starting special six-course dinner 89,000 won.