#WeAreNightlife Revisited – Sollip, with Woongchul Park

NDML Talks To Sollip, the Michelin-star Korean-inspired restaurant

#WeAreNightlife is a campaign that celebrates the night-time leisure and hospitality industry.

As part of NDML’s revisit to the We Are Nightlife campaign, we visited Sollip. The small-fine dining restaurant, situated in Bermondsey, is nestled away within the shadow of London’s shard. Owned and managed by the husband-and-wife duo of Head Chef Woongchul Park and Pastry Chef Bomee Ki; the restaurant recently received a Michelin-star in the Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland 2022.

We visited Woongchul to see how his life had changed post-pandemic and following the fantastic news of his award. The Le Cordon Bleu alumni showcases a polished and poised tasting menu, inspired by both European and Korean cuisines from his experiences oversees. Completely unique and distinctive, Woongchul discuss how the menu has changes according to available ingredients, keeping Sollip’s exclusive few guests on their toes.

The 30-seat restaurant has seen a turbulent time over the pandemic period. Postponing their opening day due to the pandemic, Sollip and it’s 38 year-old Head Chef has had to heavily rely on Government support. For a brief period Woongchul converted the venue into Grocery, a shop selling Korean ingredients to lucky passers-by. Woongchul recounts for NDML the story of Sollip, including the unique obstacles that were overcome on the way to unprecedented success.

Woongchul begins by describing the connection between him and his wife; how they favour similar styles and cuisines, namely classical style, and how they’ve always had a shared vision for their restaurant.

Woongchul knew of his wife, Bomee Ki, through Le Cordon Bleu, but only connected with her after being impressed with her pastry blog. He figured out who the anonymous writer was through her writing, unique knowledge and passion. And once Woongchul got an opportunity to open a French restaurant, he asked for her help with the desserts and their relationship flourished from there.

How important is your wife in Sollip’s success?

Woongchul explains his wife’s is the primary voice behind the branding, interior design and identity of Sollip.

She devised the name Sollip, meaning pine needle in Korean. The would-be national tree of Korea, the pine tree, sheds pine needles which would be used by Bomee’s ancestors to control the fires around special guests at dinner. This ancient technique hints to the classical style and simplicity of Sollip’s dishes. “Also it’s Korean – simple,” says Woongchul with a smile, “We don’t like complicated stuff.”

Why London?

Woongchul says he associates London with good times as he was a student here and also built on the relationship with his wife here.

Woongchul attended Le Cordon Bleu to study the Diplôme de Cuisine. He chose the UK over the USA and France where he also worked, citing that London is such a global city with many top restaurants to experience.

How did the pandemic affect Sollip?

Sollip was supposed open in February 2020; all the furniture was in place, the restaurant was ready to go; but Woongchul explains how to lockdown stopped the opening. “The first issue was we couldn’t get support from the government, because the rule was you had to be operating to get support. After emailing the council and an accountant, I learned I had to prove that we were about to open. So I sent all the invoices, also pictures of the restaurant and kitchens and the staff. Very luckily we got the same support as other restaurants. Without support, I wouldn’t be here.”

“The rent free period was free, and then extended a couple months. I talked to my friends in Korea and France, and in comparison the British government supported a lot. We pay alot, but we get a lot back, I think.”

“We tried to find out what we could do in the circumstances. We opened Grocery, which was our second plan to do after the restaurant. I really wanted to introduce good quality ingredients from Korea over here, and Grocery was what we could do for the public.”

How successful was the Grand Opening?

Woongchul describes how Sollip opened 29th August 2020 and how he feels people were really interested in Sollip but also wanted to support hospitality. A good aspect of the pandemic is how it makes people realise the goodness of normal life.

Because the restaurant is owned by Woongchul and there was not an excess of money, Sollip couldn’t do much marketing or PR. But because of the public’s eagerness to support, visitors still came and the magazines wrote great things. The humble chef is thankful for their generosity, and eventually through mouth to mouth, Sollip grew.

Have national staff shortages affected service?

Woongchul says the staff shortage affected the amount of covers Sollip could take. From reopening up until December, Sollip could only take half cover, service then equalling merely 12 people per day. This meant a huge loss of revenue.

“These days its tough to find the staff. We only took half covers because of maintaining the quality of the service and the quality of the food. You don’t want to get risky.”

How have other national circumstances affected Sollip?

“For a couple weeks, I couldn’t see any oil at all. Only olive oil. 80% of sunflower oil is from Ukraine – it was like toilet roll during the pandemic. Also because of Russia, everything takes longer from abroad. To go to Korea, it takes two hours longer now.”

“Also Brexit, everything has gone up in price. Sometimes more than twice depending on the ingredient, especially dairy from France – we use a lot of good quality butter. The price has increased more than twice in four months.”

Woongchul has no explanation and admits: “I feel like something is wrong.”

What does the future look like for Sollip?

“I’m very happy as we are at the moment. In the future I have a lot of things to do. It will be similar, but in a bigger kitchen and bigger staff area.”

Woongchul explains how he feels very sorry for his staff, because the property is very small and there is no staff toilet, only shared toilets. There is no staff area for breaktimes.”

“I don’t want to increase the number of guests, 26-28 a day is the maximum I want to do. We want to introduce artisans, selling crockery from Korea, such as tea pots. And also I’d like to show Korean liqueur and lots of ingredients, so I need somewhere to display these things as well.”

What is your favourite item on the menu?

“My favourite is Beef Tartare. A very simple dish with a very simple idea, but everything about it is delicious, every bite. It’s not just French beef tartare, it’s a very well-balanced mixture of French cuisine with a Korean element – also it’s delicious.”

“I think food has to be delicious first. These days I’m pretty sure there’s many chefs that might not agree with me, saying that it has to be a good experience. And of course it has to be, but food is food – it has to be delicious. If it’s a good experience and very interesting, but not delicious, there’s no point” – is what Woongchul believes.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

“I know that lots of people start a business because of the potential. But you must love something before you try it, because nothing is easy. And to run a restaurant it’s very tough… We are doing it because we love it, we have the passion, and the experience as well.”

Who Are We?

NDML has made it their mission to protect, safeguard and provide guidance to businesses in the hospitality and leisure sector. With inside information, case studies and up-to-date information on policy changes, NDML is a broker who cares about a business’s welfare and will celebrate their growth.

NDML is the broker that’s number one in the nightlife sector and we offer exclusive tailor-made policies and have decades worth of expertise. Our award-winning service is built upon genuine relationships, and that’s why projects, such as #WeAreNightlife, are so important to us.

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