My Big Fat Greek Disappointment


Dining out on western food in Korea is like a sleepover at Gary Glitter's house.


There have been rare exceptions, especially since moving to Seoul. There is a burger place near my flat which is good. And an overpriced Bulgarian joint. And...

Okay, I've run out of others. The Mexican food is shit. The Italian food is beyond shit. You can get decent Indian and Middle Eastern food but I said western food, didn't I? Burger King is good.

The problem that this country has (although reducing the word 'problem' into the singular form is misleading) is an intense, fierce nationalism that extends into every walk of life.

So how does this manifest itself for the average, English foodie?

Well, poor service in restaurants, essentially.

Some Korean food is awesome. You can plonk me down in any smoky samgyupsal restaurant in the country, give me a grill over a barrel, some fatty pork, a few bottles of sugary, weak beer and some rice wine and I am a happy fucking camper. But service? It doesn't exist. Why should it, in a restaurant where they don't even cook for you? If you need assistance, you holler yogiyo at the top of your voice and - if you're lucky - someone will forgo the fact that you're white and come give you what you need. It's an effective, if - by western standards - impolite, system.

Because of this lackadaisical nationwide attitude towards customer service, in an a la carte restaurant like the one I visited last night a Korean waiting staff will struggle to perform their task effectively.

The restaurant in question was the Itaewon-based Greek joint, Santorini, a name that should have probably raised doubt in my mind after they served me an undercooked pork Souvlaki at the Seoul International Friendship Festival a few weeks back. The occasion was the 2-year anniversary of Miss Canadia winning the lottery in a Busan nightclub, and we wanted to eat something a bit nice. I knew the food was never going to be exceptional, but I wanted to sit with a glass of wine and stare into her eyes for a bit while I nibbled on a bit of pita.

It didn't quite work out like that though.

We ordered a main and a starter each. The waiter looked at me like I'd asked him to serve me parts of his wife but hey, it was a special occasion and I was starving. Besides, one of the starters was tzatziki and bread so there was only one real starter - spinach and feta pie.

I had a Heineken ("Which beers are draft?" "None of them") and planned to get some wine for my main. I had no time to even unwrap the paper napkin from my bottle before the starters arrived - garlic yoghurt and microwaved dough followed by microwaved grease (not Greece) and spinach pie in a grease (not Greece) marinade. The pie came with garlic yoghurt. This annoyed me as I'd only ordered the $8 tzatziki and bread in order to taste it. The menu didn't state that the tzatziki came with everything. And it wasn't even tzatziki.

My mind started racing. This isn't very good, is it? Maybe I should say something to the waiter abou-

No, there's no time. The mains have arrived. I had barely started on my very average starters and my piddly little 'service' side salad when they tried to squeeze onto the table two gigantic plates of kebabs, sauteed potatoes, pita bread and yet more garlic yoghurt. I was so angry. I threw my hands up into the air and threw the waiter a look that I hoped expressed my disgust at him and his entire family.

"We've now got two starters and two entrees at the same time. Why?" I said.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he gushed, with a psychotic smile on his face.

Still left the fucking plates though, didn't he? What good is you saying sorry if I'm still stuck with the fruits of your mistake? Knobhead.

"What the fuck was he smiling at?" I muttered to the Canadian, who was gallantly trying to raise my spirits through this debacle.
"I think it was a nervous smile", she said, with one of her own.
"Well he should be fucking nervous", I spat, garlic yoghurt spilling from my mouth like a rabid dog, "because I've just decided where to stick the kebab skewer when we're done with it."

To be fair, the entrees were quite good. I have a sneaking suspicion they had been re-heated due to the speed they arrived, but I have no qualms about shoving tasty pork, sauteed potatoes, onions and garlic yoghurt into a pita bread and stuffing my face with it. I'm fine with that. But we had a stack of 6 dirty plates on our table throughout the whole meal, even though we had about 3 visits from the restaurant's walking waste disposal unit (literally the fattest Korean woman I have ever seen) to glumly fill up the glass of water I wasn't drinking. It was nearly overflowing by the third time she came round.

I satisfied myself with some biting comments (in a lowered tone to the Canadian) and scratching the word 'penis' into the credit card signature box instead of my name (before realising that I'd more dissed myself than the restaurant). I can never bring myself to complain in restaurants. I couldn't even do it at the previously excellent Kebapistan in Busan when my iskender was smothered in ketchup rather than spicy tomato sauce, our bread was stale and we were joined by an inquisitive cockroach for the last 10 minutes of our meal. But then again that place was run by a big, fat Turk. With a big, fat chopping knife. And a bad attitude.

Anyway, I spent the rest of the night with a pint of Hokey Pokey from Baskin Robbins and a few hours in front of the tele with La Canadiana and the dog. And indigestion.

I won't be going back to Santorini anytime soon.

Love, Smithy x


hwarangi said...

I was at Santorini a few weeks ago and had a satisfactory experience. It was better when it first opened, went sharply downhill very quickly, and has now hit some kind of middle-of-the-road standard. I could have done without that free salad though, and the table for two was far too small for two people. As for service in general though, I think Itaewon is terrible. The last three different places I've been to have f-ed up my order, overcharged me, and been pretty rude and unhelpful in the process. I don't get it because generally I find customer service in Korea to be excellent.

True story: Gary Glitter asked my mum out once. She was 20, but a young 20.

Postman said...

Ya ever considered doing restaurant reviews, Smithy? You'd blow all of them pantywaist "Oh-I-just-loved-the-food-here" pansies out of the water.

My list of grub joints to steer clear of in K-Land grows ever longer, thanks to you. Sorry about the indigestion. Good thing ice cream is hard to screw up. Well, I don't know about Baskin Robbins...