Owner-chef Kim Tae-min translates the name of his restaurant, L’Enfance, as “Childhood.”
“I called it that because it is my first restaurant,” Kim, 32, said as he explained how it signified he was new to the owner-chef side of the business.
Kim may not be experienced at running his own show, but he is a veteran chef, having spent over 10 years working at restaurants in Korea, America and Australia.
After clocking in long hours at two high profile French restaurants in Seoul, he struck out on his own, finding a small patch of turf in one of the city’s latest hotspots, Seongsu-dong.
Within two months of opening this February, the restaurant was fully booked, thanks to, Kim says, a couple of posts from prominent food bloggers.
The 22-seat bistro-style restaurant fills up quickly on any given day. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Now the 22-seat bistro-style restaurant is busy on any given day, with diners ordering from a streamlined menu with a “classic French base.”
“There are only two people in the kitchen,” Kim said. “There are limitations to what we can do.”
The food is straightforward and pared-down, and for that reason, worth every bite, especially given the reasonable pricing and generous portions.
Fried olives with yogurt are just that. The only additional seasonings are lemon juice and salt; and it works, the meaty green olives with a crisp outer crust and tangy and creamy yogurt.
Then there is the oft-Instagrammed endive platter.
Oblong curved leaves of Belgian endive are liberally filled with a blend of goat and mascarpone cheese, sprinkled with roasted almonds and chives and served with a vinaigrette of grapefruit, raisins, olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
Creamy, crunchy, nutty, sweet and tart, the light and fresh dish delivers a variety of textures and flavors in one fell swoop.
Among the small selection of main dishes, there is pork loin with mango, which, according to the servers, is one of the most ordered dishes on the menu.
“We brine the pork for four hours,” said Kim, elaborating how the meat is brined in “lots of black pepper,” garlic, bay leaves, onion, salt and sugar to get it moist and fragrant.
L’enfance’s endive platter features curved leaves of Belgian endive topped with a blend of goat and mascarpone cheese, roasted almonds and chives and is served with a grapefruit-raisin-lemon viniagrette (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
The loin is then pan-seared, finished in the oven and plated with a wedge of lime and half a grilled mango, which has been garnished with salt and cilantro.
The generous amount of meat served up ensures one will leave satisfied, but it is the combination of juicy and crisp pork with sweet, soft mango, tart lime juice and the final punctuation of salt and cilantro that makes it easy to understand why this dish has become a crowd favorite.
Future visitors eager to check out the popular eats at L’enfance need not worry too much about drastic changes to the menu any time soon.
Kim and his team are thinking up some new eats for autumn and winter, which is months away and even then, he revealed, “We will just change three to four dishes.”L’enfance
272-41 Seongsu-dong 2-ga, Seongdong-gu
Open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 3 p.m., 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., closed Sunday and Monday
Lunch appetizers cost 8,000 won to 14,000 won, lunch main dishes cost 18,000 won to 36,000 won, lunch prix fixe meal costs 14,000 won, dinner a la carte dishes cost 6,000 won to 36,000 won, dessert costs 6,000 won to 8,000 won
By Jean Oh (email@example.com