I have a new algorithm that helps me determine whether or not something I eat is blogworthy, or will simply be shared as a square, filtered photo and a punchy caption on my Instagram. It’s impossible to explain, not because it’s arbitrary, but because it’s, like, super complex. It inputs factors like photogenicity of dishes, number of dishes deemed photogenic (need at least 3 for blog), how much I enjoy the food, how unique the food is, whether there is a deeper story and wider narrative to the meal that goes beyond just me shoveling delicious food into my mouth because I’m hungry, whether something funny or otherwise noteworthy happened during the meal, whether the meal leaves such a lasting impression that I’m still happy to blog about it three months after the event, and so on.
All that to say, any place that makes it onto my blog should feel totally honoured. Also, FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM! You will get all (well, most) of my food and none of my babble (maybe just a little bit).
The lucky star of today’s blog is a place I found out about from a Facebook post on the “Top 5 Mac and Cheese in Seoul.” Before Korea, mac and cheese was something that came out of a Kraft box and was only eaten by poor uni students when they ran out of Mee Goreng. But now that I’m practically an honorary American (sorry, that’s what expat life does to ya!) I’m totally into stuff like mac and cheese. A restaurant in Itaewon called “Guilty Pleasure” (love the name, too) had, by far, the sexiest mac and cheese on the list so it raced up to the no. 1 spot on my TBE List (To Be Eaten List – I just made that up, let’s turn it into a thing.)
If you didn’t know this was a restaurant, the bright blue neon signage that greets you at the door could easily confuse you into thinking that the pleasures being offered here were quite a bit guiltier than moreish Southern America cuisine. But it’s just the design concept guys. The only sin being committed here is gluttony… and maybe covetousness as you look over at your neighbour’s table.
We sat outside on the little terrace which has a VERY different vibe to the dark, moody bar inside the restaurant. The place has a great concept – “The Food You Crave,” and by “You” they mean North Americans because the menu includes all the things that my American/Canadian friends can’t shut up about – mac and cheese, biscuits, southern fried chicken, poutine, etc. The Australian version of this place would have hot chips and gravy, meat pies, sausage rolls, fish & chips, smashed avocado on toast, cheesymite scrolls… omg should I open this restaurant?! If anyone has a few hundred thousand dollars lying around and is looking for a fun but risky investment, let me know!
The napkin’s are printed with this AWESOME quote from Bruno the dog and made me smile that special smile you smile when you go to a restaurant and realise that they share your fatty boombah food philosophy. I wanted to give the owner/chef a high five.
The mac and cheese comes out in a souffle dish looking swag like a cheese brulee. It costs 10,000 won which is A LOT for a side dish, but it is a rather deluxe version of the American classic. Cauliflower and cheese base, bacon lardons, pulled pork and truffle oil. It’s basically impossible for the combination of all those things to not be crazy delicious.
And crazy delicious it certainly was. The “truffle oil” wasn’t just a menu trick to justify the price tag, the flavour was really strong and there was plenty of bacon and pulled pork in there to keep things interesting. The cheese sauce was thick and tasty, like it was mostly melted cheddar with just enough milk to give it a creamy texture. The best mac and cheese I’ve ever had in my limited experience – substantial, too! Better shared between a party of three or more people… but even just me and my fellow hungry girl friend managed to clean it up pretty good.
We also got the Cuban Sandwich (15,000 won), which is THE sandwich of the hour thanks to the movie Chef. Korea is going through a cooking show / celebrity chef CRAZE right now so the movie was really popular here and Cubanos are popping up everywhere. And honestly, as a far as sandwiches are concerned, the Cuban is worth going a but nuts over. Two types of pork (ham and roasted), a layer of pickles, Swiss cheese, and mustard between crusty bread that’s buttered and toasted. I had my first one at a sandwich place in Itaewon (Rye Post) and felt confused about why this amazing thing had taken so long to become a worldwide phenomenon. Seriously, why have we been eating chicken salad sandwiches, and ham and cheese sandwiches, and roast beef sandwiches when we could have been eating Cubanos?
The Cuban here is not really by the book, and while Fidel may disapprove of the liberties taken with this particular version, I give it two greasy thumbs up. It comprises homemade duck prosciutto (didn’t know such a thing existed, but I’m thankful that it does), pork loin confit, Swiss cheese, pickle, Dijon mustard aioli, on a pressed Italian roll. The cuisines of five different nations went into making this sandwich, and they should all be proud. The buttery bread and the salty-fatty meat should really be too much to stomach but the mustard and pickle do a really great job balancing things out, and before you know it all you’re left with is crumbs.
We probably could have stopped there, but you can’t eat conservatively at a place called “Guilty Pleasure.” We were here to indulge our tastebuds and fatten our bellies without shame.
It was a really tough choice between the duck poutine (french fries topped with duck confit, served with brown duck gravy and paremesan cheese) and the buttermilk fried chicken but there is something about the words “buttermilk fried chicken” that is irresistible. This is 3/4 baby chicken with house special spice served with house buttermilk biscuits and country sausage gravy (17,000 won).
Buttermilk fried chicken usually refers to chicken that is brined in buttermilk and spices, but since the menu description only mentions buttermilk in relation to the biscuits, now I’m questioning whether there was any buttermilk involved in cooking the chicken at all. But that’s actually besides the point, because regardless of how they prepared it, the chicken was freaking good. The batter was dark gold, crispy, and light and was perfectly seasoned with Southern spices.
Honestly, I’m kind of sick of Korean Fried Chicken – it’s relies so much on sauce and marinade and the plain fried chicken (which I like best) tends to be under-seasoned so that all you can taste is frying oil. I actually miss the 11 secret herbs and spices of good ol’ KFC.
As for the biscuits and gravy… they got no love from us. We left them almost completely untouched. I’m really struggling to get on board the American style biscuits and gravy train. It’s still weird for me to see buttery scones and a chunky white sauce when, to my Aussie brain, the name suggests sweet cookies and glossy brown beef gravy. I also can’t handle eating a buttery scone-like “biscuit” with a savoury meal – it’s too weird! And let’s be honest guys, sausage gravy looks like vomit. I know ya’ll love the stuff, but come on, you can’t deny the resemblance. It’s a thick white sauce with big chunks of ground meat in it. Fair enough if you’ve grown up eating it but for me… no thank you. Not yet anyway. My Americanizzzzzation has not reached that level.
Guilty Pleasure was one of the most satisfying non-Korean food experiences I’ve had in Seoul. The menu takes American home-cooked classics that could easily be mediocre and turns them into something a little more cosmopolitan, without sacrificing any of the high-fat, high-carb, high-flavour charm that makes this kind of food so comforting. So whether you’re a fatty, or a foodie, or a foodie-fatty like myself, there’s plenty to be enjoyed at Guilty Pleasure. Just remember to leave your conscience at the door.
1F, 2-10 Itaewon-ro 20-gil,