South Korea is known for top-tier entertainment thanks to K-Pop bands like global sensations BTS, internationally acclaimed hit Netflix shows like Squid Game, and the first foreign-language film Best Picture Oscar-winning movie Parasite. But for travelers, Seoul is also well regarded as one of the leading culinary destinations in the world.
Korean cuisine is characterized largely by nourishing and healthy vegetables, fresh seafood, and savory meat dishes. The list of signature dishes you can find is long: mouth-watering Korean barbecue like marbled hanwoo galbi (beef short-ribs using meat similar to Kobe beef) grilled over a wood fire, spicy maeutang (a hearty Korean fish stew simmered in anchovy flavored broth), and traditional Kimchi made with fermented and salted Napa cabbage and radish, to name a few.
Seoul has become one of the hotspots for fine dining that highlights both traditional cooking methods and innovative techniques. There are more than 30 Michelin-starred restaurants in Seoul — that’s more than Madrid, Chicago, Bangkok, and San Francisco.
In the last decade, some of Seoul’s most celebrated fine-dining restaurants are also distinguishing themselves with unique modern twists to traditional Korean (Han-sik) cuisine. Take, for example, French-Korean dishes such as large morel stuffed with an ogol chicken mousseline, shredded cabbage made with Goseong scallops, and lotus root topped with fragrant citron foam.
These four world-class Michelin star restaurants are worth keeping on your radar for when you want to eat your way through the city in style.
La Yeon at The Shilla Seoul
Offering stunning views over Namsan Park and the Seoul skyline, La Yeon is an elegant Korean restaurant located on the 23rd floor of the iconic The Shilla Seoul. The spacious dining area, which seats up to 40 people including one private room, is embellished with traditional Korean patterns and wood furniture, making for the perfect ambience for a fine meal.
Celebrated executive chef Kim Sung Il’s contemporary interpretations of classic Korean cuisine earned La Yeon two Michelin stars this year, and it was the first hotel restaurant in Korea to be awarded three stars in previous years.
Using only top-notch seasonal local ingredients exclusive to only a few in the market and directly sourced from The Shilla’s own exclusive food network, La Yeon uses the fundamentals of traditional Korean cooking and brings it into the modern age using flavorful ingredients.
Must-try seasonal dishes on their latest November and December menu include a comforting sweet pumpkin porridge made with milk and glutinous rice flour, Goseong scallops tossed in a nut sauce and lotus root, pan-fried red mullet cooked in gochujang, and yul-lan (chestnut cookies) made from the traditional Korean refreshment Yanggaeng (sweet red bean jelly).
The nine-course, prix-fixe dinner runs 270,000 Won, or roughly $250.00, and the seven-course lunch menu begins at 175,000 Won (about $130.00). Vegetarian menus are available for both lunch and dinner.
La Yeon: 249 Dongho-ro, Jangchung-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Bicena at Signiel Seoul
Signiel Seoul hotel is located on the 76th through 101st floors of Lotte World Tower in the greater Gangnam area in the quiet residential Songpa-Gu district along the Han River. One-Michelin-star restaurant Bicena is located on the hotel’s 81st floor. Signiel Seoul is the country’s tallest tower (and sixth tallest in the world) at an impressive height of 1,823 feet. That makes Bicena the highest restaurant in the world.
At Bicena, Korean executive chef Kwangsik Jun serves up contemporary Korean cuisine in a lavishly appointed dining room. Its design was inspired by three Korean verbs that translates to “emptying, filling, and then sharing.” The warm wooden interiors and floor-to-ceiling windows allow for abundant natural light to fill the space, creating a welcoming ambience for fine dining.
Jun previously worked as the sous chef at GAON, the first three-Michelin-star Korean restaurant. His expertise lies in creating modern Korean dishes from the fundamentals of traditional Korean foods while using fresh seasonal ingredients and fermented sauces. The names of the dishes at Bicena are inspired by the 10 traditional symbols of longevity, including for the sun, clouds, mountains, and water.
Dinner is five-courses, with an elaborate menu featuring options like fig sikhye (rice punch) and fermented prawn followed by stuffed abalone (caviar optional) and dried persimmon sujeonggwa (sweet punch) for dessert. A typical full-course dinner at Bicena runs from 185,000 Won ($140.00) to 220,000 Won ($170.00).
Bicena: South Korea, Seoul, Songpa-gu, Sincheon-dong, Olympic-ro, 300
Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul at Lotte Hotel Seoul
The picturesque views of Bukhan Mountain and downtown Seoul from the Executive Tower of the Lotte Hotel Seoul in fashionable Myeongdong are reason enough to visit. But anyone who loves fine food will appreciate that Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul, on the hotel’s 35th floor, is also regarded as the city’s finest French restaurant, earning one Michelin star since 2019. The black and gold Parisian interior is designed to replicate the Palace of Versailles’ secret garden.
French chef Pierre Gagnaire is known for his artistic take on French cuisine, especially southern French dishes, which have earned him the nickname “Picasso of Gastronomy.” He is also the head chef and owner of twelve Michelin-star restaurants worldwide, including the iconic three-Michelin-starred Pierre Gagnaire restaurant in Paris.
There are five set menus available. On the seasonal dinner menu are elaborate French-Korean creations such as sole stuffed with snails, spinach fondue, and Korean beef flank steak — all plated so beautifully you aren’t sure whether they’re food or art.
The Déjeuner Pierre Gagnaire seasonal menu is divided into plates that are from the sea (such as filet of John Dory cooked à la plaque spiced with tandoori), and earth (such as Korean beef filet or prime rib), and all menus offer coffee and a selection of dessert.
Dinners run from 200,000 to 340,000 Won ($150.00 to $250.00), not counting a pairing from Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul’s selection of more than 250 fine wines.
Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul: South Korea, Seoul, Jung-gu, Eulji-ro, 30
Eatanic Garden at the Josun Palace Hotel
Eatanic Garden is in an airy garden space that opens up onto a spectacular city view in the heart of Gangnam, one of Seoul’s most vibrant and upscale neighborhoods. This one-Michelin-star restaurant focused on contemporary Korean cuisine is one of the most sought after places to dine in Seoul.
Located at the newly opened ultra-lux Josun Palace hotel on the 36th floor, it can seat up to 48 people. The glamorous gold and white stylish designs make you feel like you’re stepping onto a Great Gatsby movie set.
Chef Son Jong-won’s combination of culinary artistry and wit has made him one of Korea’s most celebrated restaurateurs. When Eatanic won its first star in 2022, Son became the first Korean chef to run two Michelin-starred restaurants.
Nine-course meals are available in Eatanic Garden for both lunch and dinner. Instead of a traditional menu, diners are offered an illustrated guide to the ingredients in each dish.
The dinner menu, for example, begins with blossom jujeonburi (traditional Korean snacks such as dried jujube dates and pine nuts), hydroponic herb beans, burdock, and autumn mushrooms and ends with sweet pumpkin and mother of pearl box.
Meals cost anywhere between 160,000 and 300,000 Won ($145.00 to $270.00).
Eatanic Garden: 231, Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea