Comme des Garcons Street: Rising star in Hannam-dong – INSIDE JoongAng Daily.

Comme des Garcons Street: Rising star in Hannam-dong
[Trendy eats]
December 02, 2010
Illustration by Park Jae-won

Over the years, Itaewon has undergone an eyebrow-raising transformation from a seedy, unsafe neighborhood to become one of the main hangouts in Seoul. The trendy restaurants, swanky bars and high-end boutiques that have opened there during the last decade have elevated its status and made it fashionable.

And the opening of the local flagship store of Japanese luxury brand Comme des Garcons in August has given the area an even more elegant atmosphere.

Often referred to as “Comme des Garcons Street,” the area stretches out in a 700-meter radius from the headquarters of Cheil Worldwide, one of Korea’s biggest advertising and marketing companies, and extends to Hangangjin Station on subway line No. 6.

The buzz about the street started with a simple rumor, according to Michelle Shim, director of Global Real Estate, a local realtor.

“As a small number of wealthy folks started buying out property three years ago, there was talk that the neighborhood would soon blossom into the next Garosugil [a trendy street in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul],” Shim said. “The rumor started to be true when high-end shops such as Andre Kim Jewelry and others moved in two years ago.”

The real commotion began with the opening of the Comme des Garcons store, which has since become a neighborhood landmark.

Shin Min, the brand manager for Comme des Garcons, said they chose the neighborhood because of its reputation for culture and for its high concentration of foreign residents.

“This place has a different atmosphere than even the most luxurious parts of southern Seoul,” Shin said. “With the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, along with the large number of foreign residents, we thought Hannam-dong would become an attractive and unique multicultural zone.”

Itaewon and the adjacent Hannam-dong neighborhoods are indeed home to a lively mix of cultures, with an abundant number of Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern restaurants serving an equally diverse population.

Restaurants like The Spice, established by world-renowned chef Edward Kwon, and Passion 5, a five-story dessert cafe established by SPC Group, owner of bakery giant Paris Croissant, helped create the trendy vibe that now characterizes the street.

“I chose this spot because of the large number of tourists who come here, and I also wanted to be a pioneer in making the area a new hot spot for restaurants,” Spice owner Kwon said.

And he’s succeeded, according to Kim Sun-hee, 35, a furniture designer and frequent visitor to the street.

“I first came here because my friends said Passion 5 is a must-visit place,” she said. “I have to admit, the street is really worth checking out because there is so much variety.”

A few doors down from Comme des Garcons is a vintage pub called Virgin.“We combined the idea of a bar and a contemporary art museum to create a cultural entity that is unique to Virgin,” said Kang Yoe-wool, Virgin’s creative director. “We hope to contribute to the eclectic atmosphere of art and fine dining the area projects.”

The bar serves beer and liquor from Belgium and the Netherlands and is decorated with contemporary art pieces created especially for the bar by three Dutch artists.

Another new spot is Nishiki, an izakaya with a very different look from other Japanese-style pubs in the area.

“With a large selection of sake and udon recreated for the fine dining experience, we are targeting sophisticated people that know good food and drink,” said Pyo Jung-min, the owner of Nishiki. “A lot of our regulars are in the higher part of the social stratum and I believe that is because of our modern take on the traditional izakaya, which is too boisterous for some.”

Some restaurants are turning heads with their experimental menus. Kyotofu, a dessert parlor that uses tofu as its key ingredient, is one of them.

“Our target customers were Korean women in their late 20s to 30s because this is the first time Korea has had a tofu dessert,” said Kim Chan-hee, the associate manager. “But now we have a wide variety of customers including expats, tourists and people who work in the area.”

With so many new restaurants, the competition is stiff, but that doesn’t faze Seong Hyeon-mo, the manager of the cafe Coco Bruni.

“Although there is a lot of competition in this area, we are confident about our coffee,” Seong said. “And I think we are doing alright because we have about 300 customers a day.”

Smaller restaurants like B_Kitchen, which opened in April, survive by offering original and creative menus.

“Since we are an organic bistro, our menu changes every season,” said Kim Tae-sung, the manager.

Many visitors are glad that the street is still somewhat undiscovered, which has helped restaurants and cafes retain their distinct character, but they are happy for the variety.

“I’m glad more restaurants are opening in this area because there was once a limited number of places serving lunch,” said Kim Tae-hyun, 33, an employee at Cheil Worldwide. “But now it’s more diverse,”

By Hannah Kim, Junghee Lee Contributing writers [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Virgin / The Spice

Virgin

This pub has the ambience of a rustic European cafe. Inside, each area has something special – from the centerpieces on the tables to the sculptures hanging from the ceiling. The works are all one-of-a-kind pieces made especially for the pub by Dutch and Belgian artists.

The food and drinks are in sync with the unique atmosphere. The Dutch and Belgian beers and liquor served here cannot be found anywhere else in Korea. Also, all 13 dishes on the menu were created by Chef Im Gi-hak, the head chef at the French bistro L’Espoir in Cheongdam-dong.

Beer prices range from 11,000 ($9.56) to 15,000, and liquor is 8,000 won to 22,000 per shot. Entrees range from 24,000 won to 52,000 won.

The restaurant is open Sundays to Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Fridays to Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

739-6 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 790-1471

The Spice

Edward Kwon, the former head chef at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, creates a casual dining experience in the European style – all for an affordable price. The menu changes every three months.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and on Sundays. On Fridays and Saturdays, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to midnight.

729-45 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 749-2596

B_Kitchen

With the lego figure standing guard in front of the white A-frame exterior and the long, narrow lane leading to the entrance, getting to B_Kitchen feels like a trip down a secret passageway. The bistro serves a fusion of organic Italian and Korean food with a menu that changes by the season. B_Kitchen’s menus are devised by owner Yoo Ehwa, who worked in collaboration with an Italian chef.

Prices range from 20,000 to 30,000 won for prix fixe lunch and from 18,000 to 30,000 won for prix fixe dinner. A la carte options are also available for lunch and dinner. Hours are Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and from 6 to 10 p.m. for dinner. On Saturday, lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and dinner is 6 to 9:30 p.m. Valet parking available.

739-4 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 3445-4511

Kyotofu / Passion 5

Kyotofu

Kyotofu is a modern dessert cafe and restaurant where the main ingredient is tofu. But with its purple, blue and red lights glowing on the wall, the interior looks less like a dessert cafe and more like a hip Japanese bar.

Its name has two meanings. “Kyo” means today in Japanese, so in one sense Kyotofu means “today’s tofu.” Kyoto is also where Kyotofu gets its tofu.

The top sellers are the Signature Sweet Tofu and Yuja Tofu Cheese Tarts. Both are made daily with fresh tofu. The Signature Sweet Tofu is a tasty blend of tofu with a side of organic kuro syrup, which is made from sugarcane extract.

Dessert prices range from 9,000 won to 15,000 won, and entrees range from 20,000 won to 30,000 won.

Hours are Mondays to Thursdays from 8:30 to 12 a.m., Fridays from 8:30 to 12:30 a.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 to 12:30 a.m.

682-1 1F Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 749-1488

Passion 5

With various desserts from macaroons to simple apple pie, Passion 5 has all the desserts that you are craving.

On the outside, a grand chandelier hangs in the middle of a tall building that looks like a key.

Inside, there are five floors of sweetness.

The first floor houses a cafe, the second is a bakery, the third is a patisserie and the fourth is a chocolatier.

Passion 5 is an affiliate of SPC Group, which owns Paris Croissant and other bakery brands.

Prices range from 5,000 to 30,000 won. Hours are Mondays to Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

729-74 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 2071-9505

Coco Bruni

With a patio and take-out window out front, Coco Bruni looks like an American pub. But it is actually a cafe. Coco Bruni specializes in coffee and has a menu of cakes to match. It also offers a selection of breakfast sets and sandwiches.

The best-sellers are the Sweet Potato Tart with an Americano and the Choco Tart with Espresso. Other popular items include the Omelet Brunch Set – with French toast, bacon and a vegetable mozzarella cheese omelet – and the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which is made with tender chicken and vegetables on Ciabatta.

Prices range from 4,000 won to 10,000 won. Hours are Sundays to Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 9 to 12 a.m. Valet parking available.

140-892 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 790-187

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