Small piece of Paris a rare find
Think again. University is not a place to study, it is a place to socialize ― which is why this neon-illuminated drag is one of Seoul’s cheapest, cheeriest and most raucous nightlife zones, ideally suited for those planning their next hangover. With an overabundance of bars, it is a great district for a night on the beer with the lads, and is also a fair area for affordable galbi, budae jiggae and ramyeon.
It is certainly not the kind of place one would expect to find a French restaurant, but there ― right in the midst of the throbbing karaoke clubs, buzzing online cafes and heaving bars ― stands Le Petit Paris.
The restaurant is a second-floor walk up. Upon entering, one is pole-axed by the peace and quiet ― a rarity in this neck of the woods, believe me. There are red faux tiles on the floor and plenty of window seats overlooking the action. It is a bit brightly lit for romance, but would not be a bad place for a date. There is a wood-lined serving hatch leading to the kitchen ― mais oui, this site was formerly a Japanese restaurant. But although it is prime eating time, only two tables are occupied.
The menu is a simple affair. This is not haute cuisine ― it is the kind of everyday fodder found at French roadside cafes and bistros: filling, tasty and to the point.
We begin with Potato, Mushroom and Bacon Omelet with Green Salad (7,000 won or $7). It is a substantial, light fluffy omelet, heavily freighted with bacon and cubed, sauteed spuds. It is reasonably substantial ― a light meal in itself ― and very good. Oddly, a decent omelet remains a rarity in Seoul; clearly it not just the quiet ambience that is unusual here.
As for our mains: First up is Stuffed Chicken Breast with Emmental, Spinach and Potato Gratin (12,000). While I am all in favor of breasts of most varieties, chicken breast is the blandest meat in the fowl family ― which is why they have done a good job on muscling up the flavors here. Even more impressively (to moi, at least), the accompanying spuds are not the promised gratin, but a monumental pile of richly creamed dauphinoise potatoes. Lovely stuff, although I may have to book an appointment with my heart surgeon if I dine here again.
The Beef Tenderloin (15,000 won) is a nice tender piece of meat, served on a bed of cubed sauteed potatoes, with a cream dipping sauce. Very passable. Tarte du Jour with Green Salad is served for the eminently reasonable price of 6,000 won. This proves to be a delicate bacon quiche, though its pastry base proved a bit of a struggle to hack through.
There is no wine list, but there are a half-dozen bottles knocking around. A Chateau Guibon Entre Deux Mers 2002 (35,000 won) is a frisky little Bordeaux white. Very zesty with a tart zing, this is a fruity effort for an Old World wine, and eminently suited to all but the reddest meats.
For dessert, we had banana tart drizzled with chocolate: Again, a tough base, but fine as regards topping. How much? Sorry, no idea ― we got freebies. (Here’s how it works. Take your 7-year-old daughter with the homemade cookies she just made and have her offer one to Le Chef. Voila! He returns the favor with free desserts. Don’t all try it at once, though, OK?)
The service is excellent. The Korean waitress is friendly, charming, attentive and child-friendly. The Franco-Korean owners, Mathieu Moles and Damien Avril (he’s the one with the muscles and the shaven skull, so complain about the food at your own risk) are good eggs too. They opened two months ago, but business is still slow, they say. Hmmm.
Le Petit Paris is a real find: Quiet, friendly and serving dishes rare in Seoul. Above all it is affordable; were it south of the river, they could charge twice what they do. This is just the sort of place that deserves the patronage of the kind of discerning readership the JoongAng Daily boasts, so head over, mes amis. Allez!
Le Petit Paris
Tel: (02) 3142-0282 or 010-6409-7510
Address: 2F, Changcheon-dong, Seodaeumun-gu
Hours: Sun-Thurs: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Fri-Sat open for lunch also
Dress: Come as you are
by Andrew Salmon