Today, the war drill sirens went off. I never used to think much of them, but now that I live near the American army base, everything seems just a little louder and more intense. The fighter jets flew right over the house sending the cats scattering under the bed for cover.
I checked the time. 2pm. Definitely a drill. Everything is fine.
But for the rest of the afternoon, it seems I’ve heard nonstop sirens. Probably no more than usual — it’s a beautiful day, but my subconscious mind seems to be inventing emergencies.
But it is a beautiful day, and all of the store fronts and restaurants are beginning to peel back their facades and open up to the world outside, which is one of my favorite things about Korea.
The back alleys of Hannam-dong are particularly lovely at the moment. The open air kitchens of cafes like Sous le Gui are pumping the streets full of the smell of pastry and coffee.
“Sous le gui” means “under the mistletoe,” and while there isn’t any mistletoe to be found inside the cafe, and while the cafe is not particularly Christmasy, it’s not too hard to figure out where the name comes from. Dangling from metal pipes and beams that run the width and length of the cafe are dozens of air plants. The cream tiled back room nestles under a skylight with gravel for flooring and a large bush positioned in the center. It kind of reminded me of a bombed out and long abandoned early 80s bathroom. In a nice way.
The floor throughout the rest of the cafe is made of cream brick, the holes filled in with soil and more gravel, while small bushes run the length of the cafe underneath the tables. In reading up about the cafe, the first thing I came across was a blog post from one of the interior designers who essentially found the entire concept to be insane. It works on an aesthetic level, but it’s not the kind of cafe where you go to hunker down with a good book for a few hours. In other words, it’s a bit uncomfortable. But that hasn’t kept it from overflowing with customers from noon to night on most days since it opened in February.
Maybe this is why. Their pastry is beautiful.
The patissier studied at Le Cordon Bleu and she definitely knew what she was doing. While every element of both pastries my friend and I tried was understated and delicate, they somehow all came together to form a dynamic whole. The cappuccino fleur petit (left) was crisp, but not dry. The flavor of the custard was bright and gentle, while the texture was surprisingly light for how well it held its shape. The cappuccino cream was more Korean style — very whipped and light on the butter, and there was just enough of it. The blueberry pot (right) gave way to the fork like a dream. The custard inside was, again, very light, but the heavier blueberry frosting, fresh blueberries and toasted hazelnuts balanced it out.
I’ve pretty much realized that I like my coffee much stronger than most places brew it. Surprisingly, it’s easier for me to find coffee as strong and dark as I like it in Korea, these days, than it was in Europe earlier this year. But even so, Sous le Gui offers a cappuccino that doesn’t make me feel like I’m settling.
While the design and concept of the cafe may be a bit precious, it is fortified with real substance. If you feel like straddling a bush while having a nice, strong cup of coffee and a delicious pastry, Sous le Gui may be the only place for you.
Sous le Gui
서울시 용산구 한남동 683-65683-65 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul