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Cafes on Itaewon’s fringes

Three eclectic spots in three hip, new eat-and-drink neighborhoods

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Published : 2013-04-19 20:35
Updated : 2013-04-19 20:35

It is no secret that Itaewon is an eat-and-drink hotspot. In fact, the area is so populated with eateries there is little room for newbies to find a perch of their own.

Rather than wait for turf to open up, more spots are opting to set up shop nearby, and the resulting spill-off of establishments to surrounding areas has fostered the growth of three relatively new foodie habitats ― Haebangchon, Gyeongnidan-gil and Hannam-dong.

The hip trio of neighborhoods keeps it fresh with an eclectic offering of eats and an equally unique selection of cafes like Kongbat Coffee Roasters. 
Kongbat Coffee Roasters’ homemade bandrek soda

Situated in Haebangchon near Bosung Girls’ Middle School, Kongbat opened last October.

“This is a charming neighborhood,” owner-roaster Kim Seok, 32, said. “I like that this place has history.”

Kim is referring to Haebangchon, an area known for being where refugees of the Korean War took up residence and which is generally defined as encompassing Yongsan 2 ga-dong. More recently, the stretch of turf close to Noksapyeong Station developed into a lane of restaurants and coffee shops, earning the area street cred as a foodie habitat.

Rather than open near all those eateries, Kim went for a spot close to Haebangchon 5-geori.

From his quiet perch, Kim not only roasts coffee for an affordable 3,500 won a cup, he spins out from-scratch Indonesian ginger ale and a Turkish yogurt drink.

“Coffee used to be a hobby, then, I traveled to a coffee farm in Indonesia and decided I needed a place of my own,” Kim said.

While there he developed a taste for bandrek, a drink hailing from Indonesia that is concocted of spices and served hot.

Reinterpreting bandrek as a cool soda, Kim makes an extract with lemongrass, cinnamon and ginger, combining it with homemade lemon marmalade and fizzy water to create a fragrant, spiced beverage that rides the line between ginger ale and sangria.

His ayran, a Turkish drink, is made from homemade yogurt, Himalayan salt and apple mint.

Down the hill in Gyeongnidan-gil, 40192 Roll hedges all bets on its star item ― the Swiss roll.

“We focused on roll cakes and believed that people would come to us,” said owner Nam Ran, 28.

When 40192 Roll launched last April, Gyeongnidan-gil ― which essentially runs from the road opposite Noksapyeong Station to the Grand Hyatt Seoul ― was relatively less-traveled. Though technically it encompasses parts of Itaewon-dong and Hannam-dong, the area is frequently defined as its own foodie territory and now, says Nam, it draws quite a crowd.

As evident by its name, 40192 Roll specializes in thick slices of cream-filled Swiss roll fashioned from a mixture of rice and regular flour. 
40192 Roll’s biscuit choux (front) and caramel roll cake (Photos by Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Also on the menu are the establishment’s biscuit choux ― a take on the classic cream puff. Featuring a thin, crumble-like “biscuit” crust, the profiterole is filled with thick, vanilla bean-flecked custard.

On the other side of Itaewon, near Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Hannam-dong, Wonder Coffee holds its own amongst the new crop of cafes by making brews with beans from prominent roasters.

The cafe uses beans from the four generation-old, Italy-based roaster Tazza d’Oro to brew espresso and other coffee-based drinks.

Patrons can also have their espresso, espresso macchiato, cappuccino or cafe latte brewed with the Los Angeles, California-based Handsome Coffee Roasters’ Dandy blend.

As a shot of espresso Dandy is tart and citrusy, as a cappuccino the blend mellows out, sending across a rich, butterscotch note at the end. 
Wonder Coffee’s cappuccino

All brews are served inside the pared-down, rustic space on a back road near Hangangjin Station.

“The first three months were tough,” said Wonder Coffee co-founder Yu Young-gul, 34, explaining how when the cafe opened last July the area behind the main road where it was located was pretty devoid of other eateries. Now Wonder Coffee is surrounded by several restaurants and cafes.

“More places opened, more people started coming,” said Yu.


Kongbat Coffee Roasters

- 1F, 34-1 Yongsan 2 ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul/(010) 2649-5841

- Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Fridays through Sundays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., closed Mondays

- Bandrek soda costs 5,000 won, ayran yogurt drink 4,500 won, coffee-based drinks 3,000 won to 4,000 won

Wonder Coffee

- 739-18, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul/ (02) 793-5521, www.wonder-coffee.com

- Open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, from noon to 10 p.m. on weekends, daily

- Coffee-based drinks cost 4,000 won to 7,000 won

40192 Roll

- 675 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul/ (02) 790-4192

- Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, daily (closes early if desserts sell out) 

- Biscuit choux costs 3,500 won, roll cake (green tea, chocolate, plain, caramel, tiramisu) costs 4,500 won

By Jean Oh (oh_jean@heraldcorp.com)

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