A brunch that doesn’t break the bankBreakfast is one of the great meals. I read the other day how the Victorians ― the well-to-do British Victorians, that is ― broke their fasts. A string of sausages, a side of ham, beefsteaks, poached eggs, salted kippers, devilled eggs, a bucket load of oysters, toast, a pint or two of porter, a bottle of claret, champagne and coffee! Crivens! Those were the days!
Things have changed a bit since, but there is still the great American or British breakfast ― sausages, bacon, eggs any way you want ‘em, omelets, juice and coffee. For some reason, breakfast has resisted the culinary trendsetters who foist all manner of light, healthy and beautifully presented ingredients upon us. In short, breakfast is the last refuge in the Western world for the hungry trencherman who wants an unabashed, unashamed, greasy, cholesterol-heavy banquet.
There is only one problem with breakfast - the ungodly hour when it is customarily served. I’m serious. How many times have you, after a heavy night on the booze, been unable to summon the willpower or energy to crawl out of your nice, warm bed and head food-wards?
This brings us to one of the great culinary trends of modern times: brunch. This has always struck me as a deuced odd word ― rather like spork for a combination spoon and fork ― but a tremendous concept. After all, if breakfast can be delayed until a more civilized hour ― like, say, lunchtime ― you are onto a winner. For this we have the Americans to thank, God bless ‘em. (And how often do you read that phrase in a Korean newspaper these days?)
Yes, brunch is a noble concept, and yes, it has arrived on Korean shores. For the last couple of years, brunching has been quite the fashionable thing among the circles of Prada and Gucci-wearing princesses who frequent the pricey precincts of Cheongdam-dong. This I find a little odd, given that your average egg-heavy brunch is not really ideal for those who prize svelte figures. Which makes me ask - are the shapely bosoms and bums that are increasingly visible on the latest generation of Korean maidens down to brunching? Or are they simply the result of generous ministrations by Dr. Silicon of Gangnam? Really, one does wonder. In any case, the art of brunch requires that the meal must be eaten slowly with dashes of Tabasco and conversation - both of which can help prevent extra pounds.
Fortunately, for those of us lacking the financial wherewithal for Prada, Gucci and cosmetic implants, there are now some places beyond the ruinous Cheongdam-dong dining palaces and five-star hotels where brunch can be had. One such U.S.-style diner is found at the Hannam-dong end of Itaewon across from the new Yongsan International School of Seoul: Toque. Or is it Etoque? It’s difficult to tell from the name’s branded design; but who cares about the moniker? To business.
Inside the smoked windows is an airy front dining room with a couple of tables and a small bar. In the back is low-lit sofa style seating, alcoves filled with bric-a-brac and a standing cellar. The speakers waft jazz.
A la carte is extensive: Sandwiches range from 7,000 to 12,000 won, salads from 5,000-15,000 won, pastas from 12,000-16,000 won and entrees from 21,000-30,000 won ― all typical diner fare. Brunch takes place from 10:00-3:30 on weekends. The brunch bar (15,000 won) is a bit new-age for our taste: salad, muesli, a couple of eggs and some salmon quiche. Fortunately, the brunch menu is heartier.
We order Huevos Rancheros (16,000 won) and Eggs Benedict with Crab (16,000 won), plus a Reuben Sandwich (10,000 won) from the regular menu.
The huevos rancheros (country style eggs with spicy salsa making it the Spanish brunch) prove to be a substantial and colorful platter; a mess of tortilla, refried beans, two fried eggs, melted cheese and sour cream. The tortilla is nicely crisped, and the dish is just spicy enough to be interesting, but not spicy enough to be painful. It comes with two slices of lightly done toast. Lovely.
The eggs benedict are poached on toast in a creamy, buttery sauce ― albeit lacking the tang of a true hollandaise ― with wedges of sauteed spuds on the side and slices of fresh tomato for color and lightness. There is a bit of crab, but it is not the standout: the eggs are. Good stuff ― a brunch favorite and just heavy enough to induce a nice warm feeling.
The reuben sandwich was the only disappointment. It was nicely served in thick, whole grain bread, with cheese, sauerkraut and a side order of crinkle cut fries, but the main ingredient ― the meat ― was a let down. Instead of pastrami or corned beef (as promised on the menu), it was a dull, grey slice of regular beef.
There is a good variety of drink starting with iced Americano (4,000 won: not bad); appple and carrot Juice (7,000 won: OK); and banana juice (7,000 won: thick, creamy and excellent). A good selection of beers and a rather pricey wine list are also offered. Toque can also make a mean Bloody Mary which some say is the perfect companion to a weekend brunch that follows hard on an evening of carousing. Verdict: For a weekend meal, ignore the salad-bar-ish “lite-brunch” bar and order the classics from the brunch (no inverted commas) menu. In this insipid age of yogurt, muesli and soy bean, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
Address: 682-1 Hannam Dong, Yongsan Gu,
Subway: Hangangjin Station (line 6)
Hours: Mon-Fri: 11:30-3:00; 5:30-11:00. Sat-Sun: 10:00-3:30; 5:30-11:30.
Dress: Come as you are in a loose pair of jeans
by Andrew Salmon