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A new restaurant’s unexpectedly bold design infuses a shot of Japanese culture into button-upped Seoul.  

BY CYNTHIA ROSENFELD

“A venue to celebrate artwork and its movement,” Hong Kong-based architect Andre Fu says of Kioku, the Japanese restaurant inside the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, his studio’s first design project in South Korea. “I knew Muramoko Shingo’s art and was waiting for a chance to work together. Its definitely my favorite aspect.”

While the South Korean capital’s dining scene leans toward safe, corporate spaces, Four Seasons encouraged Fu to deliver something more upbeat and experiential. The Japanese cuisine is another departure for the city, a less formal mix of sushi and sashimi, grilled meats, and nine-course omakase menu. With that mandate, Fu constructed a “modernist bamboo theater” over two levels in which Shingo’s quartet of red lacquer maple leaves “dance” around the 5,500-square-foot venue. “I inherited this amazing cavernous space, but people don’t like to sit and eat in overpowering environments,” Fu says. So he set about delineating areas to impose a more approachable scale.

To set the stage for his “modern Scandinavian meets Japanese realism” design, Fu lined the elongated entranceway of volcanic charcoal stone with natural bamboo batons inspired by the vermillion lacquered torii gates leading to an ancient Kyoto shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. This opening scene leads to the L-shaped upper level on the hotel’s 11th floor, with its 52-foot-long sushi bar—what Fu calls “the balcony”—topped by planks of solid pine trunk. Chef Sawada Kazumi, who earned a Michelin star at Tokyo’s acclaimed Banreki Ryukodo, and his crew of sushi masters are the only obstruction to the view across the double-height space to a window that peers onto maple tree foliage in the hotel’s podium-level garden.

On the mezzanine, under 21-foot high-glass ceilings, a sake tower crafted with Giallo Louis marble takes center stage while patrons dine among tall bamboo timber screens, their linear patterns lifted from traditional Zen garden stone paving. In the mud orange and mineral gray hued dining room, six chambers are adorned with abstract, nature-inspired works by Seoul artist Choi Tae Hoon; natural light permeates the windowless space through the skylights. Fu is just as pleased with the after-dark vibe, when subdued lighting from articulated silk lanterns enhances the theatrical effect. 

Dish by Mads Refslund, Inspired by Kioku

Kioku’s design has heavy Asian influences, but it also reminds me a lot of my home country of Denmark.It talks to nature with simple wood walls and clean lines, though the detail in the partitions showcases Eastern precision. South Korea, like Denmark, has a special relationship with the sea, so I chose scallops as the base ingredient of the dish. The presentation is inspired by some of Kioku’s more nuanced touches, like black ceramic plates, which made me thing of stones, and the red leaf art pieces, represented with colorful flower petals. The aim was to create something clean, sharp, and unpolluted. Mads Refslund, one of the founding chefs of Copenhagen’s Noma, is often credited with bringing Nordic cuisine to Manhattan at the Noho restaurant Acme. He recently left the kitchen there to work on a new solo project scheduled to open later this year.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

.4 whole live scallops

600 ml vegetable dashi (root celery, carrot, garlic, celery and kelp seaweed)

4 whole eggs

~ petals of 20 pansy flowers

40 beautyberries

~ salt

~ lemon

50g grape seed oil

Preparation:

Scrub the scallops with a brush under running water then remove fromt eh shell with a knife. Break the scallop down into the muscle, roe, and guts; clean it all. Blend the guts into 400ml of vegetable dashi, four eggs, salt, and lemon. Strain through a fine sift. Fill up four scallop shells (the deepest ones) and steam them over a water bath until the mixture is set like custard. Sear the scallops on a pan and slice each into five pieces, then place on top of the custard. Heat up the remaining 100ml of vegetable dashi and blend with the roe, season with salt and lemon juice, and split with grape seed oil. Drizzle on top of the sliced scallops. Dress with the flowers and beautyberries. Serve on hot rocks or bed of salt. 

This article appears in Surface No. 125. To purchase the issue, click here.