Feeding your cheating heart on France’s famed fish dish
Bet you never thought cuisine got this sensational, eh? Well, we are talking French food here. The story above is the one you’re likely to be told in Marseilles, should you ever inquire about the history of its most famed (and tricky to pronounce) dish. When the Greeks founded the port city around 600 B.C., they brought with them a fish stew with allegedly godly origins, and that, locals will tell you, is the basis of bouillabaisse (tricky to spell, too).
Seafood stews are a dime a dozen around the Med, but bouillabaisse is arguably the most famed. Regrettably, there are no references to it in Greek scriptures, or, in fact, any references at all that predate the 18th century. But who cares? This mixture of fish, shellfish, olive oil, saffron and boiling water ― true addicts often spike it with pastis ― is one of the delights of Provencal cuisine, and is famed across the globe.
Which brings us to Samcheong-dong. This pretty, tree-lined neighborhood to the northeast of Gyeongbok Palace is chock-a-block with wine bars, boutiques and small restaurants, and is well worth wandering through. A recent addition to its culinary map is a Midi, a place specializing in bouillabaisse.
Set on the side of the street a Midi is small and pretty (appropriately, for this neighborhood). Tall windows give you street views, and one lamplit table is set up on a patio outside. There is seating inside for only 15 people, at five tables. It is bright: light wood, checkered table cloths and white walls. Shelves loaded with tins and bottles of produce line the back wall, while easy listening wafts from the speakers.
The menu du jour is scrawled on a blackboard. That’s it. No a la carte. On Saturday, the set offered quiche salad, bouillabaisse, mango sorbet, cheese cake and tea or coffee, all for a reasonable 30,000 per head.
The quiche is a nicely-browned little cube of egg pie with spinach and scallops; the side salad is a touch overdressed, though. The piece de resistance comes in a blue pot. It is a thick, rich stew, brownish-red in color, and is loaded with mussels, chunks of white fish, scallops, tomato, chick peas and a couple of potatoes. The whole is appropriately flavored with saffron and fennel, although the (excellent) flavors of the stew somewhat overpower the seafood. It comes served with aioli (garlic mayonnaise), pesto and crumbled cheese; add this to bread and dip in the stew.
Post-bouillabaisse, the mango sorbet is an appropriate palate cleanser before the strawberry cheese cake. Coffee rounds things off nicely. The all-female service was charming - a nice touch was when the chef herself brought out dishes ― and given the size of the place, never far away.
There is a one-page wine list offering exclusively French selections, as you might expect, but with the house plonk being a hefty 17,000 per glass, I settled for Marseilles’ other famous export, a pastis (aniseed liquor: 5,000 won). Soft drinks include Orangina and French berry-flavored lemonade.
I must point out that a Midiis right next door to Seoul’s most European-style wine bar, Cave. Set in a low, atmospheric basement, Cave offers tables next to a natural spring which flows from the rock wall at the back. Definitely the place for “Stage 2” after your meal.
Verdict: a Midi is an excellent addition to Samcheong-dong’s dining scene. Not just a very pretty place, this is the only bouillabaisse specialized restaurant in Seoul (to the best of my knowledge).
While the tables are too close and the light too bright for intimacy, A Midi could be the perfect start to a romantic evening in one of Seoul’s most romantic neighborhoods.
French spoken; some English
Tel: (02) 736-8667. Reservations recommended
Address: 38-1 Hwadong, Jongro Gu, Seoul
No parking (but a pay-to-park lot is nearby)
Hours: 12:00 - 3:30; 5:30 - 10:30. Closed Sundays
Dress: Smart casual
by Andrew Salmon