If ever you find yourself in Seoul asking a beef expert where you can find the best cuts of Hanwoo (a Korean breed of cow), you’re likely to find yourself directed to a place called Born & Bred. Which, if it’s the first time you’ve heard the name, after some Google search, you will be confused. Is it a butcher’s shop? Or a meat warehouse? Or a street food stall where you can sample their beef? Or could it be a regular restaurant? Or an exclusive private club? Well, in fact, it’s all of the above. Which, I know, is even more confusing. But fear not – all will become clear. Read on.
First, let’s start, as we’ll finish, with the restaurant. Because, let’s be clear – Born & Bred is definitely a restaurant. And an excellent restaurant, at that. How do I know? Because I’ve been there. What’s more, during our epic 5-hour meal, I met the son of the founder, Mr. Jung, who personally cooked for us. And he’s not just a personable and interesting guy, he’s modest too. Despite his repeated claim that his English was poor, he understood and answered our many questions about the history of Born & Bred perfectly well. Here’s what he told us.
As well as being a restaurant, Born & Bred is actually a butcher’s shop. In fact, it was one of the first butcher’s shops in the Capital’s main meat market at Majang. Which, strangely, is how the restaurant started. Because, several decades ago, Mr Jung’s father worked with the many cattle farmers across the country to centralise the beef supply, and ensure availability of a top quality product. Over a period of time, he ended up effectively monopolising the country’s supply chain, so that any beef stall (and there were thousands) that wanted to operate in the Majang market had to go through Born & Bred at some point. It wasn’t long before Mr Jung’s father had the idea of setting up some tables, above the butcher’s shop, where customers could try different cuts of grilled beef. It was, of course, the first signs of the restaurant that we know today (and, yes, it sounds like it was already one of those places where it’s impossible to get in).
Finally, Mr Jung is now the one who’s in charge of his father’s empire. And he took the embryonic restaurant to another level. Since cooking was already a hobby, he decided to get serious, and converted his home into a stylish, 4-floor, state-of-the-art building with just a 5 minute walk from Majang market. And it’s quite a structure. On the ground floor remains a butcher’s shop, while above it is a casual Korean BBQ restaurant. Above this lies rooms for private functions and, topping the whole place, like icing on a cake, is a suite of offices.
But that’s not all. There’s still one floor we haven’t mentioned: the basement! And this is where you’ll find the crown jewels of the entire building: an exclusive, speakeasy-like space, where there’s a 10-seater counter, at which the chef – Mr. Jung himself – grills every piece of meat before serving the the diner. It is – there’s no other word for it – the Holy Grail of Hanwoo!
This stylish new site was completed as recently as a few months ago, and the indications are that they intend to stop cooking above the original butcher shop in the meat market. So yes, Born & Bred is actually all those things above: a butcher’s, a meat supplier to many top restaurants, and a kind of a food stall. It’s also now a restaurant, with an exclusive private kitchen in the basement!
It wasn’t easy. Getting a reservation, I mean. In the end, however, after weeks of calling and emailing (and then only with help from a Korean friend, who did everything almost had to get down on his knees and beg), we secured a table. And we had 8 spare seats. So, the next question was: who to invite to fill them? Well, that turned out to be easy to answer – we invited some of the top foodies from around the world: Father of foodies @jeffrey merrihue; Hong Kong Dim Sum couple @siu_chong_; King and Queen of Youtube @migrationology; Rockstar of ramen @rckmnd; and the Taiwan news anchor foodie @gladys.wanju.
Of course, as you might expect, it wasn’t a cheap night out. The room charge was ₩2.5m, which includes a meal for up to 8 people, with extra guests (up to a maximum of 12) charged at ₩300k each. That works out to be about US$250 per head. Which, as I say, is hardly cheap. But, when you consider that it’s a meal of various cuts of top-quality beef, at one of the country’s most prestigious and sought-after venues, it’s not that expensive either. And the portions are very generous. So generous, in fact, that at one point, about halfway through the meal, Mr. Jung suddenly turned to us and said, “Guys, do ask me to stop, or I’ll just continue serving you,” as if the place was one of those all-you-can-eat joints. “Are you joking?” I asked, smiling. His response was immediate: “My father has left me with lots of cows – and someone’s got to eat them all!“ Well, we all just had to laugh. And his engaging personality didn’t stop at his sense of humour – how many chefs would cook in his dress suit throughout the whole meal? What a cool guy! His personable nature definitely made this experience extraordinary – so different from what I expected, especially after so many of our attempts to book a table had been rejected.
Foodwise, superb! Every piece of the meat had right amount of seasoning. When you got the luxury of having a chef just cook for 8 guests, the food can hardly go wrong. The highlight of the meal was towards the end, when they rolled out a whole carcass, and the head butcher demonstrated his skills by preparing the freshest-possible beef sashimi for us! All we can say was – wow, what a show!
Afterwards, Mr. Jung opened a bottle of Korean rice wine as he didn’t want us to leave without trying a shot or two of this traditional drink. And, as if that weren’t enough, he then summoned his chauffeur and took us for a night tour of the market in his luxury Mercedez Vito. Our experience ended with a visit to the original Born & Bred shop, inside the meat market. It was here that his father established their family business, and where the legend of Hanwoo began.
In summary, this has to be one of the most memorable meals of my life. As always, it’s not just the food which makes a dining experience wonderful, but the people you meet, too – in this case, an intoxicating mixture of the restaurant staff, my dining companions, and – of course – Mr.Jung himself.
The photos and the Instagram Story speak for themselves. And, if you’d like to see full coverage of this great meal – check out this video made by our fellow diner on the night, the King of Youtube Mark Wiens.