CNNGo Seoul business traveller's guide

CNNGo Seoul business traveller's guide

From breakfast to beer to jjimjilbang -- don't worry, we'll explain -- we've got you covered

Lunch at the Seoul Financial Center

IkiIki Japanese restaurant

Though Seoul is awash in excellent Korean restaurants, navigating its distinct cuisine can be tricky. Recognizing this, the Seoul Financial Center (Taepyeongro, Junggu, next to the Best Western Hotel, tel. +82 2 3783 0112) in the heart of downtown, came up with the neat solution of packing its bottom two floors with an array of upscale Korean and international eateries. While not all of them justify the price tag, most are good and some -- Ganga (Indian), IkIlki (Japanese) and Little Thai -- are superb.

Entertain or be entertained at Bamboo House

Bamboo HouseBamboo House

Set in a modern, Guggenheim-esque structure in Yeoksam-dong, Bamboo House (tel. +82 02 566 0870) combines the finest traditions of Korean barbecue restaurants with the somewhat rarer pleasures of a multilingual staff, an excellent wine list and a series of private rooms for meetings and business dinners. Servings of the memorable beef come in at 40,000 won and over.

After-hours beer and brat fest at Bärlin

Bärlin German restaurant

For a city in which beer bars are known as “hof” (a skewed abbreviation of Hofbrahaus), it's odd that for many years authentic German beer and food here was virtually non-existent. Since 2005, however, that void has been filled by Bärlin (1F Somerset Palace, Susong-dong, Jongno-gu, tel. +82 2 722 5622), a German-owned bar/restaurant serving a range of German brews and suitably stodgy food in a simple, cozy setting. The Nuremberger roasted sausage, complete with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, makes a marvelous base for post-work pints.

Shilla Hotel: A 5-star golden oldie

Shilla HotelShilla Hotel

Shilla (Jangchung-dong, Junggu, tel. +82 2 2233 3131) is the venue of choice for financial forums and chaebol press conferences -- thanks to a relatively uncongested locale, nice conference rooms and a large, traditional private garden. The Shilla is also one of the few five-star hotels to offer free Internet access in most rooms. Whether the day's business ends in triumph or ruin, the Library Bar -- with its 80-strong selection of malt whiskeys -- is the perfect place to end it.

Break out the company platinum card for Pierre

Pierre GagnaireThe man himself, Pierre Gagnaire

Opening in early 2008, Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul (35th floor of the Lotte Hotel near City Hall, tel. +82 2 317 7181) marked the arrival of Michelin-starred cuisine in the Korean capital. Boasting an expansive view, large selection of wines and a menu from which dinner for two doesn't go for much less than US$600, Pierre’s is a modern French restaurant whose exceptional pleasures are assuredly best enjoyed on the company’s dime.

Beyond the circuit in Insadong

Streets of InsadongStreets of Insadong

Faced with mad dashes from lunch to meeting to drinking obligation, the business traveller may despair at ever experiencing authentic Korean culture. For those who can wrangle a free afternoon, Insadong, a pedestrian-only street packed with traditional Koreana, provides an easy fix. Sanchon (tel. +82 2 735 0312), a vegetarian Buddhist restaurant, and Ssamzie-gil (tel. +82 2 736 0088), a spiral-shaped mall of artsy shops, should be near the top of any itinerary. For a taste of old Seoul, Ojanaewanneunga (tel. +82 2 720 7613, just past the Insadong junction on the left) is a charming teahouse -- the railway tracks outside lead to old train seats within.

Tailor made in Itaewon

Hamilton ShirtsHamilton Shirts

Thanks in large part to sheer convenience, Itaewon -- Seoul's most international enclave -- remains the first stop for foreign visitors in search of custom-tailored suits. As with so much in that bustling area, however, the quality can vary dramatically. Manchester Tailor (tel. +82 2 792 7112), Savile Row (tel. +82 2 794 0887) and Hahn's (tel. +82 2 793 0830) are among the pick of the bunch, with Hamilton Shirts (tel. +82 2 793 5693) doing a nice line of shirts. Prices and delivery times vary, but expect to pay upward of US$450 for a tailored suit.

Dragon Hill Spa: A glorified jjimjilbang

Dragon Hill SpaCrystal Light room at Dragon Hill Spa

Numerous options exist for that 'only in Korea' experience -- a half-day trip to the DMZ, a walk around the Bukchon district of traditional hanok housing -- but for a sample of how Koreans de-stress, the Four Season's Dragon Hill Spa (located across from Yongsan KTX Station, tel. +82 2 797 0002) is hard to beat. Basically a glorified jjimjilbang -- the large bathhouse-cum-saunas beloved by Koreans -- the Dragon Hill offers everything from facials to rooms aerated with crystal salts to the most punishing massage this side of Bangkok. Saunas and baths are segregated, but some areas are co-ed.

Breakfasters and brunchers

Flying Pan SeoulThe Flying Pan

In the space of just a few years, Seoul has gone from breakfast backwater to city of brunchers. Next to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Samcheong-dong area has a string of brunch places, including a nameless eatery referred to as 'Wallpaper' (tel. +82 02 737 7187), whose brick warehouse décor and superb coffee and breads could have been plucked straight from a London patisserie. Over in Itaewon, The Flying Pan (tel. +82 2 793 7974) serves excellent eggs, sandwiches and pancakes. For something a bit more opulent, the Park Hyatt Seoul’s Cornerstone restaurant (near Samseong subway station, tel. +82 2 2106 2112) has the last word in buffet breakfasts for 60,500 won.