You know that overwhelming sense of excitement you get when you discover a gem of a restaurant or bar and can't decide whether to hoard the knowledge of your new found secret outpost for your own selfish indulgence or to blab about the place to every single person you encounter? Well I found myself in that very predicament when I unknowingly stumbled into Willala Fish & Chips in Seongsan on Jeju Island in South Korea.
In a quiet town otherwise populated by lackluster seafood restaurants and black pork BBQ joints, a hip Western-style fish and chips establishment seemed like a possible mirage. As Willala's colorful co-owners whipped up made-to-order fry batter using draft beer, then expertly fried each piece of our meal in a traditional Korean cast iron frying pot with the attentiveness of a scientist, I continued to question if I may be daydreaming. My mind continued to spin after the initial bites of those crispy, perfectly battered morsels of fried white fish--is this the greatest fish and chips on Earth? Am I going to come back and eat here again tomorrow and possible every day this week? Is this real life? The answer to all of my questions was a resounding YES. Here, tucked away in sleepy Seongsan, I had accidentally discovered what just might be the best fish and chips in the world.
My curiosity buzzing, I interrogated the owners, learning that after growing up in South Korea and going to college in Australia, the two long-time friends decided to quit their jobs and move to Jeju Island. After deciding to open Willala, they set to the task of finding the best possible fish suitable for frying and available in Korea to maximize freshness. Many online searches, market trips and trial runs later, they agreed on a fish called John Dory, an ugly flat bodied species with strangely long spines protruding from its dorsal fin. Ugly or not, that John Dory is one tasty fried treat and the guys from Willala have truly nailed the art of the fish and chips. If John Dory doesn't do it for you, they also offer Shark and Chips and fried Jeju Black Pork and Chips for good measure. If after all this gushing you still don't believe me, find your way to Jeju Island to see for yourself.