A good sandwich in Seoul? Sure, but can the soup
But even if unfeasibly low, such chances are, by definition, still extant. So imagine my surprise and delight upon being introduced to a tiny place slap-bang in central Seoul, where the sandwiches are not only decent, but are also substantial and reasonably priced.
Florence, behind the Dong-Ah Duty Free building in Gwanghwamun, is the place.
Under the awning and inside the floor-to-ceiling windows is a counter loaded with bagels and pretzels and elbow-to-elbow seating for 28. Decor-wise, there’s pale wood paneling, some faux brickwork and red cushions on the seats. It being the Christmas season, there is also a tree, stockings on the wall and “Christmas classics” over the speakers. All in all, moderately pretty, but nothing to grab your attention.
As well as breakfast items and the increasingly common range of designer coffees (lattes, mochas, etc.), the menu offers bagels and a page of hot and cold sandwiches. Salads and freshly squeezed fruit juices are also available, though not necessarily recommended, given the current bone-chilling temperatures.
We chose two hot sandwich sets and one other hot sandwich. (Sets include a drink, a side salad and a soup; the price is 3,000 won, about $2.75, on top of the sandwich.) First, the soup: on that day it was chicken and pasta, and it proved to be a broth of shredded chicken, diced carrots, chopped celery and green pepper. There were also some herbs paddling around on the surface, but black pepper has been so liberally applied that it was impossible to taste anything else. The good news is it was served piping hot ― the best way to counteract the effect of the door, which wafts frigid blasts of air over the groaning diners every time it’s opened.
Now, to sandwiches. The first point for discussion is the quality of the essential ingredient in any sandwich: the bread. What we had here was a very lightly toasted ciabatta, crisp on the outside, soft and airy on the inside, and lightly dusted with flour. In a word, excellent.
Moving on to the innards: the Manzo (6,200 won) contained beef in soy sauce, onions, green pepper and cheese. Essentially, this is a bulgogi sandwich - and a pretty good one, too. The Ralo (6,200 won) contained roast chicken, bacon, fried egg, jalapenos and Swiss cheese. This was even better: A nice dry piece of chicken on the egg, though my dining companion thought that they had over-done the jalapenos. (Bah! It’s winter ― get used to it.) Finally, the Seasonal Veg (5,500 won) offers melted cheese, tomatoes, onion, green pepper and, for an extra touch, sun-dried tomatoes.
So how about the side salads? What you get are minimalist pots of iceberg lettuce and onions, dressed in vinaigrette. I suppose one has to eat greens, but this is pretty blah. A word of warning: the “Caesar Salad” here is nothing of the sort ― they are, rather, plain grilled chicken salads.
The place fills up at lunch, so service can be rushed. The ladies who run Florence are a couple of pals who opened the place three years ago, but when I tried to interview them for this piece, one was too busy and the other too giggly (“Don’t photograph me! I’m too tubby!”) to answer questions. I should say, though, that a porky chef is usually a good thing, for the same reason that a healthy doctor who takes his own medicine is normally trustworthy.
Verdict: Class sarnies, reasonably priced. I wondered why I hadn’t come here years ago. But as noted, if you just walked by, you’d never know.
English: on menu; none spoken
Tel: (02) 725-9029
Address: on the side road behind the Dong-Hwa Duty Free Building at Gwanghwamun Intersection
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m..
Days: closed Sundays
by Andrew Salmon