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[Herald Interview] Korean chef’s French restaurant in London wins Michelin star

Chef Park Woong-chul (right) and pastry chef Ki Bo-mee, owners of the restaurant Sollip, based in London (Sollip)
Chef Park Woong-chul (right) and pastry chef Ki Bo-mee, owners of the restaurant Sollip, based in London (Sollip)
A rising star chef from Korea recently awarded a Michelin star for his French restaurant in London.

Park Woong-chul, 38, who opened Sollip, a French restaurant with a Korean touch in the heart of London, is the first Korean chef to receive a Michelin star in the UK.

There are currently 194 Michelin-starred restaurants in Britain, including 19 which were newly awarded this year.

A new Michelin-starred restaurant, Sollip, located in London (Sollip)
A new Michelin-starred restaurant, Sollip, located in London (Sollip)
“I still remember us (my wife and I) being devastated when the UK government issued a COVID-19 lockdown just a few days before our restaurant opening,” Park said during a Zoom interview with The Korea Herald from his restaurant in London, on Wednesday. “But now, I feel that every incident has a reason worth enduring and working harder for.”

Sollip, which means “pine needles” in Korean, opened in August 2020.

Park’s wife Ki Bo-mee, who was his long-time friend and a pastry chef, is the co-owner of Sollip. Before the opening, while Park was busy coming up with the menu, Ki designed the general concept of the 20-seat restaurant and also took charge of the dessert section.

Due to the pandemic, the couple had to give up on launching a tasting course menu and started out by serving a la carte dishes.

Park believed that the popularity of his restaurant owes much to the guests who came during its first few months, since the couple could not afford marketing and promotion expenses at the time of Sollip‘s opening. 

Sollip’s signature dish, savoury daikon tarte tatin (Sollip)
Sollip’s signature dish, savoury daikon tarte tatin (Sollip)
“So many guests who came to our restaurant have told us that they would not forget to tell their friends and neighbors to come here. Often, they would reserve their next visit on their way out,” Park said.

Less than a year later, in May 2021, Sollip was able to launch a seasonal tasting course menu offered at 97 pounds ($132).

“Noticing that we are Koreans, some guests came to order soju, and others started chatting with us by mentioning ‘Squid Game,’“ Park said. But once they taste Park’s dishes, they appreciate encountering flavors that are both different and familiar in each bite.

“Not showy or overcomplicated, just polished and poised,” the Michelin Guide noted. Sollip has established a unique set of dishes that harmonizes European-style cuisine with Korean ingredients, techniques and colors. Borrowing the words of a Sollip manager, Park said he believes the restaurant has become a place worth “experiencing” from a place to “try out.” 

Sea trumpet sandwich, one of Sollip‘s creative menus (Sollip)
Sea trumpet sandwich, one of Sollip‘s creative menus (Sollip)
The starter of Sollip’s winter menu, winter white salad, is inspired by baekhwaban, a Korean dish. A mixture of white root vegetables and pine nut milk, Park added cold-pressed perilla seed oil brought from Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, his hometown in Korea.

Park had always felt that French-style beef tartare was similar to Korea’s yukhoe, a raw meat dish. At Sollip, he added gochujang (red chili paste) aged for six months to the dish. Giving a twist to the truffle cheese sandwich, Park combines ecklonia cava and British cheese.

A bread lover when he was young, Park harbored a dream of becoming a chef in his teens. He attended Woosung University’s Culinary Arts program, and also graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu London, earning a diploma in French cuisine in 2010. Following graduation, he worked at numerous kitchens and hotels in the UK, the US and Korea.

“For those who want to become chefs, I want to tell them that there are neither strict borders nor boundaries in the creation of dishes,” Park said.

The restaurant currently has eight people on staff, four of them chefs.

A new Michelin-starred restaurant, Sollip, located in London (Sollip)
A new Michelin-starred restaurant, Sollip, located in London (Sollip)
When asked about his next goal, Park answered without hesitation that he would like to make Sollip a place where all staff would want to stay and settle down.

“I certainly feel happy when I see completely emptied plates coming in from the dining hall. But the most fulfilling moment will be seeing the restaurant grow together with our staff.”

Believing that it takes two to tango, Park expressed his gratitude to staff, including his wife, who he calls “amazing partners.” He said that the Michelin recognition would not have been possible without them.

By Kim Hae-yeon (hykim@heraldcorp.com)
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