Review: 4.5 Pyeong Udon Jib (4.5평 우동집)

Just on the outside perimeter of the extremely popular Ikseondong neighborhood, this unassuming udon house is easy to overlook but step inside and you might find yourself wondering if you've entered a small neighborhood noodle shop in the countryside. For some, this place will seem familiar as it's the new form of the original that once was a local favorite in Buamdong. Back then, the restaurant itself was really cozy in just a 4.5 pyeong size (hence the name) but thankfully it has grown a bit bigger since then in its Ikseondong iteration.

Besides the restaurant's size many will say the food has even upgraded which is positive news for the owner who is well known for making just about everything in-house.

Seats are limited to about 20 with the tables clustered around the open kitchen. One of the merits of this place is that they make not only their stock but even their noodles in house.

You can even catch them pulling out the noodles if you're lucky.

For an udon house, the menu is quite varied. In the hot udon varieties you have the yubu udong at 4.5K, spicy and garlic are both 5K each, oden udon 6.5K, and *beef) curry udon at 7.5K.
In the cold variety you can get the beef chashu udon at 7.5K or the spicy version for the same price. The cold or zaru udon are both 6K each (the cold udon is only offered in the summer). Also offered only in the summer is the momil (buckwheat noodles) served separately from the dipping sauce or the naeng momil which it comes already in the bowl of cold soup for 6.5K each. 
Then there's the regular beef chashu over rice or the spicy variety at 7.5K each. 

In the rice department you have the curry rice at 7.5K, the sake don (salmon over rice) for 8.5K though this is offered at 7.5K at lunch time with the option of adding salmon slices at 1K for 2 slices.

Sides include the yubu chobap at 1.5K, a soy sauce braised egg at 1K, chives steamed dumplings at 8K a plate or half a plate for 5K. 

If you're overwhelmed by the choices, you can get a set offering of which there are two: one is the beef curry rice and a small udon for 8K or the yubu udon and small curry for 7K, though these two sets are both offered only at lunch time. 

There's also another menu that's more side dishes to go with drinks.

They offer salmon belly sashimi at 17K for a small, 28K for a medium with the small, they say, a 1~ 1.5 person serving. Then there's the manila clams steamed in alcohol at 12K (only in the winter), braised egg and peppers at 5K, and beef chashu and green onion at 18K.

Alcohol offerings are quite a variety including 3.5K for a draft beer, 4.5K for a shot of sake, and then bottled sake and hwayo for various prices up to 65K.

As you can see, the prices are extremely reasonable and especially when taking into account that the restaurant is in the mad hot Ikseondong area (albeit on its edges). As if the prices weren't friendly enough, during lunch hours they'll upgrade any udon dish to a large for no charge! As you can imagine, the prices and deals makes it a very popular spot. 

Sides are a simple danmuji (pickled radish) and some kkakduki with refills being self-serve. 

What strikes you at first about the food is how simple yet clearly homemade the dishes are. There's nothing fancy about the dishes which usually comes topped with some simple garnish but you can tell they aren't dishes that are thrown out haphazardly. In fact, they even tell you when ordering that a few minutes should be expected to make each dish. 

The cold udon has the plump, house-made noodles in the center of an icy, with partial slush, stock and dressed with some chopped scallion, grated radish, and chopped cooked kelp. Some liquid mustard is provided on the side for some fire. Mix it all in and the first sip of that icy stock is just a burst of flavors. The rich stock, made from bonito and other goodness, is part savory and sweet and umami goodness that clings to your taste buds. The grated radish and some of the added mustard adds another layer to the tower of flavors that seems like it'll all be too much but works. It holds strong against the thicker, plump noodles which has a sublime chewy texture. These are noodles that are clearly not store-bought and the fact they retain their bite to the last drop of soup shows what consideration and expertise has gone into this dish. 

The case is the same with the hot udon which pairs the rich stock and the thick noodles in what can only be described as comfort in a bowl. As the stock is made in-house it's a definitively richer taste than any udon served as the kimbap chain restaurants which may be off-putting for picky kids (or adults). But what's clear is that from flavor to texture, no corners are being cut here. 

Comforting too are the sides such as the thumb-sized dumplings which are filled with chives and other goodness and the yubu chobap which are stuffed with seasoned rice and diced kelp. The flavors are subdued and mild yet homely and they make you think of the sort of after school snacks that your mom would prepare for you. They're both great as an accompaniment to the meals here but just as friendly for youngsters to enjoy.

The curry here is also a house favorite for many. You can choose to get it over rice or udon noodles but either way you'll get a nice pool of the Japanese-style thick curry with chunks of beef, carrots, and other vegetables over your choice of carbs. This sort of curry is exactly the kind my mum would make for us growing up (and which I still sometimes make) so the dish, especially in that cozy, snug setting really adds a peppering of nostalgia to the mix for me. 

The dishes overall here are on the mild side which works for most of the food offered here. The only dish I don't see the execution coming quite together is the beef chashu udon. The beef is rather flavorless and I can see they are trying to marry the beefy notes with the fresh chopped scallions but doesn't quite come through leaving udon noodles that are coated in a bland, beef oil coating and a ton of raw chopped scallions. We had to ask for extra chashu sauce but even that didn't quite bring all the ingredients together. 

Still, it's hard to think of many places nowadays that offers such homemade dishes at this price range so yes, I don't know how they are able to make a profit at these prices and in the neighborhood it's in, but if there's a working model, this is exactly the kind of restaurant that should be emulated.

Final thoughts: 
4.5 Pyeong Udon Jib isn't completely authentically Japanese nor is it the very best of its kind but it doesn't have to be because it simply offers high quality comfort food made with care and thought but at an unbelievable value. It has a rustic charm, as though one has stumbled into a well-kept secret restaurant and yet the atmosphere and the demeanor of the workers makes one feel at ease as soon as one walks in. Come to have not only hungry belly comforted but your soul as well. 

서울특별시 종로구 삼일대로30길 46
46, Samildae-ro 30-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul

From exit 4 of Jongno 3-ga Station turn around and head towards the big four way intersection and turn left onto Donhwamun-ro and walk north about 200 meters. Turn left onto Samildae-ro 30-gil and walk about 60m. You'll see the restaurant on your left.

11:30AM-9PM everyday with break time between 3:30~4:30PM on weekdays. 
11:30-8:30PM on Saturdays with no break time
11:30AM-9PM on Sundays




Draft beer, hwayo, sake available

As mentioned, upgrade to a large size for noodles is free during lunch.

Another branch has popped up in eastern Seoul in Songpa-gu.