Getting away from it all at a favorite cafeThe latest fad in the capital encourages trendy residents to kick back on weekends. So, rather than planning a trip out of the city, why not indulge in a leisurely brunch at one of its restaurants or cafes on a fine spring day, which can make you feel as if you’ve gotten away from Seoul for a while without the hassle of leaving the city.
It used to be mostly the expatriate community that enjoyed brunch on weekend afternoons at hotels, the U.S. military base or at local diners in the Hannam-dong area. Now, a handful of restaurants and cafes that cater to both locals and expats offer menus ranging from the very basic continental breakfast to fancy caviar brunches, in various settings ― Euro-chic, French, Italian or American-style ― at reasonable prices, averaging 20,000 won ($20) per person.
It is de riguer to be seen in a stylish outfit dining at a lounge/restaurant called Tell Me About It in Apgujeong-dong in southern Seoul. The elegantly decorated restaurant, owned by former advertising executives, opened seven months ago, and offers four kinds of set menus with names to make customers smile.
The conversation starters include the “Hangover Brunch.” The set, which costs 15,000 won ($15) plus 10 percent VAT, comes with fresh apple juice, hot and spicy seafood minestrone with toast, strong coffee and choice of a cold pack or an aspirin. Others include “A Great Morning in Paris,” with a croissant, and “Brunch at a NYC Diner,” with steak and eggs.
The restaurant’s “For Our Epicures!” brunch, at 22,000 won, begins with a mimosa, a champagne and fresh orange juice cocktail, followed by coffee, scrambled eggs with caviar, tomato, bacon and hash brown potatoes, and a mini pancake topped with rosemary, blueberries and maple syrup.
Reservations are recommended as the spacious 100-seat restaurant with a garden and terrace is usually packed during brunch hours, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For reservations, call 02-541-3885, 3828.
Stove, a restaurant operated by a well-known Italian-cooking institute, La Cuisine, serves a “Weekend Brunch” buffet on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clientele mostly consists of local Gangnam residents. Simple breakfast items, such as scrambled eggs, bagels and yogurt, and lunch items such as pasta and desserts, are offered on the restaurant’s small outdoor terrace.
The brunch, which includes a beverage, costs 17,000 won plus 10 percent VAT for an adult and 12,000 won for a child under age 12. The restaurant is located opposite the BMW store at Dosan Junction in southern Seoul. For reservations, call 02-518-7596.
Cafe 74, located in the heart of the trendy bar street in Cheongdam-dong, offers daily brunches from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There are three sets to choose from: Set A, which costs 12,000 won plus 10 percent VAT, includes eggs, sausage, toast and coffee. Set B, at 18,000 won, offers a cream soup, club sandwich and coffee, while Set C, at 22,000 won, includes pasta dishes.
The cafe is located half-way up the hill next to the jazz bar Once In A Blue Moon in Apgujeong-dong. For reservations, call 02-542-7412.
Harue, famous for its excellent coffee, was one of the first non-hotel cafes to serve a classic American brunch. Now, there are two different Harue cafes, one with a modest interior and the other, called Grand Harue, furnished with red velvet banquettes and gilded mirrors.
From noon to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, both cafes serve four kinds of brunch menus ― English, Parisian, Belgian and American-style ― with coffee. The English brunch includes toast and jam; the Parisian, French toast; the American, pancakes topped with maple syrup, and the Belgian, crispy waffles. Each costs 17,000 won.
The Harue cafes are located behind the M-net building in Cheongdam-dong. For reservations, call 02-542-2222.
With brunch evolving into a “hip” thing to do on a leisurely weekend, some restaurants that used to cater mostly to the expatriate community are welcoming a growing number of Koreans. Restaurants that serve brunch in the Itaewon and Hannam-dong neighborhoods, the signature expat-friendly area in northern Seoul, are good examples of this trend.
Le Saint-Ex (02-795-2465), the cafe named after the celebrated French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, has added a brunch platter to its menu at a reasonable price of 11,000 won, but without a reservation, you’ll only get a smile and a word of apology from a kind waitress. If you’re lucky enough to get a seat, you’ll hear Korean, French and Japanese, not to mention English, spoken, like at a cafe in New York.
The brunch platter includes toast with strawberry jam, an egg and vegetable salad, and mincemeat pie as a main dish. One big flaw of this brunch, though, is that it lacks a quintessential element ― a good cup of coffee. You can still be happy to order a cup of coffee, though, if you consider the irresistible desserts. It’s almost a shame not to order one of the famed desserts here, which make the place even better for a leisurely Sunday meal.
On the other side of that busy Itaewon area stands the Puffin Cafe (02-790-6062) in Hannam-dong, on a quiet alley leading to the UN Village. As one of the few places in Seoul where you can taste authentic American- and continental-style breakfasts as well as beverages like root beer, Puffin Cafe is also a good place to enjoy brunch.
Although the restaurant does not specifically serve a brunch menu, the place in late morning is crowded with Koreans as well as expatriates. A country-style breakfast comes with assorted sausages, hashed potatoes, eggs, bacon and salad ― you name it.
The best thing about the brunch is the free coffee and the reasonable price of 9,900 won (for the country style menu) and 7,000 won (Western style). It may not be the best coffee ever, but it’s good enough to perk you up. Free refills are available.
The mural of puffin families enjoying their own brunches could be a bit overwhelming, since the birds are simply everywhere. But if you look around, you might spot Bong Joon-ho, the director of the critically acclaimed and popular 2003 film “Memories of Murder,” who was finishing his brunch after checking the production still images from his latest film, “Monster,” the other day. In the other corner might be famed movie producer Lee Tae-won with his family members enjoying his country breakfast.
So, why not enjoy brunch this weekend and experience the benefits of a weekend trip without having to leave Seoul?
Brunch is served at several hotels
If your idea of an ideal spot for brunch is a hotel, here are some available options to provide a pleasant dining experience.
W Seoul Hotel
Even on Sundays, the Kitchen restaurant inside the W Hotel, which serves the capital’s fanciest Sunday brunch, is swarming with power brokers and their family members dressed in Prada. Reservations are recommended for the two brunch periods, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m and from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The regular buffet costs 75,000 won plus 10 percent VAT and 10 percent service charge; with champagne or wine, it’s 95,000 won. (02) 465-6759.
JW Marriott Hotel Seoul
A late-morning feast on weekends that includes a glass of champagne along with starters, soups, salads, entrees and desserts is offered at the Western restaurant, JW Grill. Every weekend, this champagne brunch is available from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 41,000 won per person plus 10 percent VAT and 10 percent service charge. (02) 6282-6759.
Lotte Hotel Seoul
The Chinese restaurant Toh Lim offers a special dim sum brunch menu for a variety of tastes as well as price ranges. A chef who’s been preparing Cantonese dim sum for 25 years presents 14 kinds, ranging from seafood to vegetables and meat. Available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends, the brunch comes with authentic Chinese tea and costs 32,000 won, 37,000 won or 42,000 won, plus 10 percent VAT and 10 percent service charge. (02) 317-7107.
Grand Hyatt Seoul
The Paris Grill restaurant offers a classic brunch buffet on Sundays and holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., presenting a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts. Starting from the “Breakfast Station,” with freshly squeezed juices and other beverages, you can enjoy moving around to the “Egg Table” for a variety of special omelets, the “Appetizer Buffet,” then the “Hot Buffet Station” for entrees, completing a wholesome brunch with a dessert buffet, all for 46,000 won plus 10 percent VAT and 10 percent service charge. (02) 799-8161.
by Ines Cho, Chun Su-jin