#review: Sparking joy at Andaz Seoul Gangnam

On a quest for the finest kimchi on Earth, Anne Lim-Chaplain heads to South Korea for a luxurious stay at the Andaz Seoul Gangnam, where she discovers a hotel and a neighbourhood that fuse traditional local culture and creative modern living

Oh Su-fan’s painting Dialogue in the reception area. Photo: Andaz Seoul

If you know me, you know that I love kimchi and just about everything Korean – there’s way too much to list here, but who doesn’t adore the cuisine, the music, the dramas and the oppas like Lee Min-ho, Park Seo-joon and BTS? So when I heard the world’s best kimchi was sold about a block away from the Andaz Seoul Gangnam, I had to check it out – both the hotel and the kimchi, that is.

Andaz is a Hindi word meaning “personal style”. The hotel brand attracts stylish travellers who crave an authentic, immersive experience of the local culture and neighbourhood. Intriguingly, the overall concept of Andaz Seoul Gangnam is inspired by bojagi (a traditional Korean wrapping cloth) and was designed by the renowned Dutch design firm Studio Piet Boon. The design reflects the fusion of traditional local culture and creative modern living.

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I noticed my room “sparked joy” from the moment I entered. It was bright and spacious, with unconventional corners and dynamic architectural angles layered with contemporary bojagi patterns. I loved how everything was so clean and precise.

The results of bojagi class.

In my downtime, I even took a fabulous bojagi class organised by the hotel. It was fun and intriguing to learn the folk craft as we wrapped a bottle of wine, a book and various gifts with the perfect knot and plenty of well wishes – as an added benefit, the practice is eco-friendly because the person receiving the gift can reuse the cloth.

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But back to the hotel, where every floor is decorated with interesting works of art created by local artists or those with a strong connection to the city. The hotel actively nurtures local talent, offering a platform for emerging young artists as well. My personal favourite was Wish, an eight-foot-high abstract bronze sculpture of a mother’s overlapping hands, by notable Korean contemporary artist Choi Jong-tae.

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Wish by Choi Jong-tae at the hotel’s entrance. Photo: Andaz Seoul

Even though I didn’t get a chance to stay in the 1,755 square feet Gangnam Penthouse suite this time around (hint, hint!), I did have an amazing meal there with the hotel’s general manager and his wonderful team. The impressive suite houses a vast outdoor terrace, a living and dining area with bar (the dining area can accommodate up to 20 people) and a private movie room.

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There’s a certain something about the Seoul skyline, with all those giant crosses atop the churches so visible, that’s just so awesome and inspiring. That said, all of the Andaz Seoul Gangnam’s 241 guest rooms feature generous bird’s-eye views of the vibrant Cheongdam and Apgujeong neighbourhoods in the Gangnam district, which are known for their high-end retail stores and K-pop studios; it’s also home to many Korean celebrities.

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A view of Jogakbo. Photo: Andaz Seoul

Equally inspiring as the outside is the hotel’s bars and restaurants on the inside. On level one, there’s a cute all-day bar for coffee and pastries called A’+Z; I have to mention it, as I just love the name!

As you ascend the central staircase from the reception area, you’ll arrive at Jogakbo, which is named for a type of traditional Korean patchwork. It’s a cool area that offers an elegant reinterpretation of Seoul’s immersive street food and alleyway dining scene. The three drinking and dining areas – Jogakbo Long House, Jogakbo Middle House and Jogakbo South House – allow guests to easily explore a broad variety of innovative, locally inspired cuisine.

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The Long House’s wide range of offerings extends from champagne and chocolates to home-style Korean tapas and Seoul-inspired cocktails. If you love charcoal-grilled food, the Middle House doesn’t disappoint with locally sourced, sustainable, market-to-table seafood and the finest Korean beef, all grilled to perfection. The South House is a comfortable space filled with luscious green plants that serves breakfast and Asian-inspired dishes from a marble-clad open kitchen.

So, did I get my kimchi in the end? I had the opportunity to walk around the affluent neighbourhood after grabbing my caffeine fix from Blue Bottle Coffee, which is on level one of the hotel. From there, I walked to the beautiful Dosan Park. Then, on the way back, I dropped by the Hyundai Department Store, which is connected to the hotel via the Apgujeong metro station – and in the basement? Kimchi heaven.

Photos are courtesy of Andaz Seoul Gangnam and Anne Lim-Chaplain

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