A stone’s throw from Seoul’s Gangnam Station, Lawry’s Steakhouse delivers on a Prime Rib dining experience eerily identical to its American counterpart.
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America’s Prime Rib is now Seoul’s Prime Rib
Shortly after I first arrived in Korea almost 20 years ago I visited a TGI Fridays and felt like I was in a Twilight Zone episode. I’d been to TGI in the US over 100 times in my life, and this one was exactly the same, yet bizarrely different in exactly one aspect: everyone was Korean. Everyone had black hair. Everyone was my height or shorter. Everyone was skinny. It probably sounds like no big deal to you, but only weeks after my arrival it was a collision of two worlds that left me flabbergasted and a bit dismayed. My dismay was immediately resolved when the fajitas arrived however.
Visiting Lawry’s was a similar collision of two worlds. Flashbacks left my frontal lobe asking my temporal lobe how I’d landed back in my childhood. That’s partly because Lawry’s itself is a bit of an anachronism. The waiters and waitresses dress in uniforms that obviously haven’t changed since the 70’s. They have the faux leather-upholstered booths that were ubiquitous 30 years ago. The interior is beautiful and modern but with subtle hints of gaudy. On the walls hang pictures of incredibly over-dressed English royalty from the Victorian era. The chairs are oversized, with the backs going above your head, giving you a throne-like seating experience.
My dining partner and I started out with the “Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail” (W18,000), as one does. The jumbo shrimp were deveined perfectly, leaving the clear, clean shrimp and the cocktail sauce was good but didn’t pack much of a punch. The waiter didn’t even blink when I asked (in English) for more straight horseradish; a miraculous feat here in the land of gochujang. I’ve had steak at plenty of hotels where they thought horseradish cream was its original state. After a little stir into the cocktail sauce the nose hairs were properly singed.
For the main we ordered the the signature “Lawry Cut Prime Rib” (450g bone out, 680g bone in, W82,000) to share along with three classic steak sides; mushrooms, asparagus and creamed spinach. The Prime Rib comes with salad, mashed potatoes & gravy along with Yorkshire pudding, so even splitting the main becomes a hefty amount of food. Being a relic of the 70s I was afraid that the salad would be a hunk of iceberg lettuce, but was happy to see plenty of deep mixed greens.
Lawry’s Steakhouse Service & Presentation
This is where Lawry’s really excels. Their “spinning bowl salad” is tossed in front of you while one stainless steel bowl spins inside another stainless steel bowl. Knowing we were sharing the main, they split the salad into to reasonable portions without us asking, which was a pleasant surprise. When it was time for the Prime Rib, they rolled out the Prime Rib trolley. A team stood in front of us asking how we’d like it served. “Medium rare,” was our response and they went to work carving a massive hunk of meat off of the massive roasted rib section. Again they sliced the rib into roughly two equal sections and served each of us separate plates without being asked. The entire staff knew at least rudimentary English and someone had made sure that they understood that friendly banter was part of good service in an American restaurant. No one bowed. It was nice.
How was the main course? Amazing. The prime rib was tender and delicious, the asparagus was crisp and the creamed spinach was seasoned just right. I do have a complaint, it would have to be that they serve unsalted butter. Eating unsalted butter is like taking a valium before bungee jumping; all the danger but the thrill is muted.
Lawry’s fills a massive gap that existed in the dining sphere in Korea. There was no proper Prime Rib served in the country until they opened. Ribeye steaks, yes. Prime Rib like this, no. If you’ve had Prime Rib before, then you know that this is a steak like no other. It’s the most tender cut of meat there is, and cooked long and slow as a whole roast, the meat is as soft and flavorful as it gets. It’s a pretty pricey meal, but there is serious value for dollar in what you get when you consider the quality, portion size, atmosphere, presentation and service.
If you’re looking for creative cooking, check out last month’s review. But if you’re looking for an amazing juicy steak, tremendous service and a great way to celebrate any special occasion (like your junior high school graduation dinner), then Lawry’s is absolutely the way to go.