The Place is a good spot for a sandwichI have heard of some odd marketing tactics in my time, but this one takes the cake. A couple of weeks ago, I was strolling through Gwanghwamun when I happened upon a brand, spanking new sandwich place ― not just any place, “The Place” no less.
It appeared open for business ― people were certainly eating and drinking inside ― so in I went. Upon entry, I was intercepted by a flunky who explained, politely enough, that only the privileged few with “tickets” were allowed in; the opening to the general rabble was still a couple of days away. Ah. I wonder how many other potential customers were turned away on the same day?
A few days later they opened to the public ― so I went in and acquired a curried shrimp sandwich (of which, more later). Four thousand won seemed a fair price. I returned a few days later to find the identical sandwich had appreciated to 4,300 won! Now, while even a miser like my good self won’t quibble over 300 won, this rate of inflation ― in mere days ― will be ruinous if it continues.
However, this is a significant, expensively designed establishment. It is perfectly located in downtown, next to that reliable old standby, Wood and Brick (which may be losing custom to the new kid on the block as I write). It offers sandwiches, salads, soups, pizzas, pastas ― even Thai noodles. So I decided to give it one last chance with a full review. Which is what you are reading now.
The Place is spacious and, thanks to its large windows, bright. Once you step down the steps and in, an open kitchen is on your left, a coffee station with lattes, mochas, americanos, etc. is on your right, a salad bar stands in the center, and refrigerated shelves with sandwiches, cakes and cold drinks are further along on the right. Given the paucity of reasonably priced, foreign-focused lunchtime offerings in downtown, this is a veritable Aladdin's cave of goodies.
I chose a salad (2,500 won ― $2.70 ― for 100 grams) from the serve-yourself salad bar and ordered a hot shrimp and bacon panini (5,400 won), then proceeded up to the second floor dining room. Like its next-door neighbor, The Place has a sprung wood floor, brickwork walls and seating by the windows. There are scarlet furnishings, a bar, and a couple of discreet LCD TVs playing fashion shows. It is bright, open and comfortable.
The salad boasts a more sophisticated range of ingredients than one would anticipate for this price. Mine consists of red lettuce, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, grilled garlic and anchovy fillets, topped with ranch dressing and shavings of parmesan, and sprinkled with bacon bits, and accompanied by a couple of pickled jalapenos. The dressing was a bit bland, but otherwise, it’s all good.
The panini is also a decent bet. Served hot from the kitchen, it is a good size, with lettuce, tomato and cress, and a thick, honey-mustard sauce. The shrimp is fair, but while the bacon is skimpy, it was still as good a sandwich as you are going to get in Seoul outside the big hotels. The ready-made sandwiches, all on whole wheat bread, are also good. The aforementioned curried shrimp is excellent: The curry itself is a delicious and creamy concoction.
My youthful dining companions, visiting from the UK on vacation, order spicy sausage pizza (4,800 won). This proves thin in crust and is about the size of a dinner plate. Any good? “It was cooked to perfection,” said Johnny Breen, 15. “But it didn’t really fill the stomach.”
To drink, there is an unusual range of soft drinks and fruit juices; I sink a can of pineapple and coconut. There is also a promising range of beers ― not simply lagers ― and house wine by the glass (4,000 won). Very civilized.
Finally, a chocolate mousse cake (3.200 won) is procured. “It is nicely layered, and really soothing in the mouth,” said Avi Breen, 13. “If you like chocolate, it’s well good.”
Service is from a very well trained staff (smiles all round) and ubiquitous. A smart marketing touch is the loyalty card, as is the happy hour from 8:30 p.m., during which selected items see price cuts of 40 percent.
Verdict: Put this one in your lunchtime dining diary. There is a bit of a “jack of all trades” thing going on here ― but then you are guaranteed a wide selection of tastes. Prices are right and the grub is as at least as good as anything else sold for this coin. Combined with next-door’s Wood and Brick, The Place could well make Gwanghwamun Seoul’s premier lunchtime sandwich and salad destination. Things got off to a shaky start, but look headed in the right direction.
by Andrew Salmon