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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Spice (Seoul)

This is Itaewon street, but on the "Northern Garosugil" / "Hannam-dong" / "Hangangjin" half. Twenty years ago, Yukong would be the last stop before Hannam Bridge but now and under the SK brand, the gas station lies in the middle of a tree lined street filled with the kind of restaurants and boutiques you would rather find in Cheongdam-dong (no coincidence there: same money).

Here, all remaining nondescript buildings are progressively replaced with four storey shops and more original facades. Mercifully, newcomers don't seem to grow any higher, which allows some urban consistency in the area (for the mother of all large scale design failures, look further Westwards : the IP Boutique Hotel, a.k.a. Mondrian meets Joe The Plumber).

Anyway. Today, four slots were under (re)construction, including one right opposite The Spice (the blue dot on the map, Itaewon street the vertical in the middle), and next to a garden itself under renovation, at the feet of the Yongsan International School of Seoul. The funny clover-shaped landmark building North of the restaurant hosts Passion5, a very pleasant place to get a gelato, a French Kouign-amann, a festive cake, or some macaron (there's also a restaurant upstairs, but Passion5 l'Atelier's menu doesn't look as stimulating as l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon's). On the other side of The Spice (South on the map) : Kyotofu, fresh from NYC... I've got stuck into worse neighborhoods around lunchtime.

You may be wondering when I'll start writing about The Spice itself - I guess that would be now. I could start with the food, but the menu changes tomorrow (along with the chef, an Australian). So I'll talk quality-price ratio : Haute cuisine from KRW 35-42,000, anyone ? Not in the three-Michelin-star league, but a very nice moment nonetheless, some research about taste, and genuine respect for the ingredients even in the details (I don't think I ever tasted as fresh a tapenade - as if a Southeastern France wind gently slapped me in the face).

I felt very much like after a stop at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Market in Paris : simply and happily satisfied. Owner Edward Kwon (Kwon Young-min) is said to have worked with the Alsatian chef, and maybe his restaurant's name echoes Spice Market, also by Vongerichten. But whatever has been said about Kwon's distorted bio and taste for hype, I enjoyed what he proposed today, and this quiet moment.

The Spice (restaurant)
729-45 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, SEOUL, Korea
Tel +82.2.749.2596

Passion5 (ice creams, bakery, patisserie)
729-74 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, SEOUL, Korea
Tel +82.2.2071.9505

Kyotofu (dessert bar)
682-1 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, SEOUL, Korea
Tel +82.2.749.1488

Seoul Village 2011

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