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From ‘The Little Prince’ cafe to a secret Savage Garden, here are not-the-usual Korean restos

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 24, 2023 5:00 am

Forget the touristy guides with the usual list of cafes and restaurants in Korea. On your next trip, you can tap into the soul of Seoul by visiting these amazing places for eating, while going to cultural sites and tourist attractions. You can even go celebrity stalking by going to places where K-dramas were filmed or where K-pop stars perform.

Go to neighborhoods that locals frequent, offering fabulous shops, art galleries and museums, unique restaurants, creative concept cafes and themed bars. Interesting areas include Hannam-dong,Sinsa-dong,Garosu-gil, Seongsu-dong, Apgujeong, Yeonnam-dong and Itaewon. Here is my list of cool cafes in Seoul:

Café Comfort Seoul
Café Comfort is known for its serpentine, iron bench on a rooftop with a view of the city on one side and of Namsan Tower on the other.

Café Comfort is a small, three-floor building with a rooftop that has a view of the city on one side, and of the Namsan Tower on the other. It is popular for its serpentine shaped, “iron-barred” bench where many Instagram posts are made. On the lowest floor (you enter from the rooftop and go down), there is a shop selling cool stuff, from home ware to clothes to accessories. I bought their super-popular trinket/bag accessory/key chain of “Piyong,” a black cat that is some kind of “ambassador” of the place. “Piyong” is popularly posted on social media shown hung on designer bags, attached to trousers, or placed wherever on whatever. The minimalistic-designed café itself is on the second floor with big windows to let the view in.

You can sip a pink milk tea or Comfort latte while enjoying a view of Yongsan at Café Comfort.

Since I had a big lunch already, my friend and I opted for the pink milk tea and Comfort latte while we enjoyed a view of Yongsan. Both drinks were refreshing and “comforting” at the same time, as it felt like that perfect hug in a mug that we were after. We loved that both drinks had the right balance of sweetness and notes in it. They offer savory and sweet items on an iPad menu, which looked sleek and delicious at the same time. What I noticed is that there is so much attention to detail, and everything is just so cool. Shop, sightsee, and dine—you can do all that at Café Comfort Seoul.

358-144 Huam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
IG @comfort.seoul

Colline Café

Scenes from K-dramas Vincenzo and Love in Contract were filmed here, but that is not the only appeal of Colline Café. It is gorgeous. Colline Café has another branch on Jeju Island, but we brunched at the one in Hongdae. This area is generally known as where young people hang out, with its trendy shops and clubs. If you love flowers, you will be euphoric as you are literally surrounded by different types of fresh blooms at the cafe. Go in spring, and it is a pretty overdose.

It’s prettiness overload in Colline Café, where fresh blooms surround you while you dine.

Colline Café is known for its persimmon bingsu, which is fantastic. Popular, too, is a coffee topped by blue cotton candy, like a cloud. Their hot teas make you feel you are sipping a “cuppa” in a garden. Everything in this café is lovely. Even their scrambled eggs are presented as a flower.

The Persimmon bingsu is a signature dessert at Colline Café.

45 Eoulmadang-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
IG @colline_cafe

Mammamia Dosan
Mammamia Dosan is two floors of loveliness, from the atmosphere to the food.

This flower-filled, ultra-charming café has different nooks and spaces that I find quite romantic. Located at Dosan in Gangnam, the bakery and brunch cafe are two floors of loveliness. The top floor has flowers everywhere, while an outdoor area has a cascade of vines hanging from the ceiling, almost touching your head. Korean superstar Ji Chang-wook even posted a photo of himself surrounded by these lush plants. The pastries and cakes displayed are just as pretty as the place, while the breads so tempting. The fruits of the season are highlighted in heavenly tarts and cakes. You can also opt for their soups, sandwiches like egg-mayo, onion, pistachio rope buns, or have their yummy Dosan and honey Greek yogurt. There’s an abundance of charm here, and you will want to linger.

42 Apgujeong-ro 46 gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
IG @mammamiadosan

Unlike its exterior, the interiors of Zoosindang are an abundant, oriental garden.

What looks like a barong-barong is actually the entrance of this zodiac-themed bar. There is a stone statue in a wooden frame, which is actually its door; just push and you will enter a fabulous oriental space that looks like a lush garden at night. We sat at the bar but there were semi-private areas around us. No reservations are taken and we had to wait outside for a bit until we were called. The place gets quite full. It was recommended that we order their Asian zodiac cocktails, as these very creative. I ordered the Year of the Snake cocktail while my friend got the Year of the Tiger drink. My cocktail looked so chic. It was made of gin and herb tea, and came with dried fruits on the side. The Year of the Tiger cocktail was a mugwort-infused gin with a hint of lime. They also serve food, which which looks as stylish as their cocktails. Zoosindang is a great bar for a fun nightcap.

411 Toegye-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
IG @zoosindang_official.

An old bookshelf serves as the secret entrance to Euljidarak, a café devoted to The Little Prince.

If you love Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, you will love this café in the Gangnam area. To enter, there is a bookshelf filled with the classics, and you push—what else?—but The Little Prince, and you are in. I like that it did not feel like a movie set, or was so hard sell on the theme. The place was modern with décor and subtle touches referencing the book. There were cacti, a fox, and, of course, a rose in a glass dome. A wall with a clock had a huge quote: “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy.” There were a couple of modern paintings depicting scenes from the book. If you know you know (IYKYK), right? As for the food, their specialty is omelet rice, pasta and meat dishes. As you leave, a sign says, “You alone will have stars as no one else has them.”

25 Eonju-ro 168-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
IG @euljidarak_gangnam.

Born and Bred
Born and Bred has a Hanwoo beef-focused omakase tasting menu.

The Majang-dong area, famous for its beef market, is a fitting location for one of the city’s top restaurants offering the excellent Hanwoo beef. This Korean beef is sometimes considered better than that from the US and even Kobe, because it is not too lean or fatty—just perfect. And it is said that the best Hanwoo beef in Seoul is found in this resto. Included in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, the three-floor Born and Bred has a beef-focused omakase tasting menu. During our dinner, after they cook your choice of cut, they let it rest before serving. While waiting, you are served numerous meticulously prepared side dishes that complement the main attraction. Delicious. A must-dine restaurant in Seoul.

1, Majang-ro 42-gil, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
IG @bornandbredkorea.

Woo Tender
Woo Tender is a premium Korean barbecue restaurant voted as the Best High-End Beef Restaurant in Korea by the Restaurant and Bar Awards.

Another premium Korean barbecue restaurant that offers great Hanwoo beef is Woo Tender. They have three branches (including Bangkok), but we dined in the one in Apgujeong in Gangnam. It was voted as the Best High-End Beef Restaurant in Korea 2023 by the Restaurant and Bar Awards. Reservations are highly recommended, as the place gets full. We had to have an early dinner because of this. Our dinner was Hanwoo rib-eye served with interesting sidings, the most delicious kimchi rice, all washed down with a glass of Shiraz. Perfection.

25-10 Apgujeong-ro 42-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
IG @wootender

Savage Garden
These green-grape and mixed-berries yogurt bowls are a healthy breakfast choice at Savage Garden.

In the middle of a peaceful neighborhood in Yongsan, there’s a secret botanical garden, an oasis of sorts, which is really a café that serves vegan desserts and more. To get there, you walk through a pathway that is wild with bushes. Savage Garden is a two-floor cafe that is just awesome. On the ground floor, stone steps lead you to tables beside gushing water and wild vines. The second floor has graphic art on walls depicting different horticultural species. There are live and preserved leaves within glass tables, containers with samples of plants, and spaces that promote plant biology. It was a peaceful venue to start our hectic day, and have breakfast. Its bakery items looked delectable and they serve these amazing yogurt bowls. We had the mixed berries and green grape ones, which were not only really good, but healthy, too.

5 Hoenamu-ro 35-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
IG @savagegarden_botany_dept._

Mooni Café
Cuteness overload: Mini-cakes and hot chocolate topped with little bear cookies at Mooni Café

In the heart of upscale Apgujeong in Gangnam stands a white, palatial-looking house with huge pink doors. Mooni Café consists of two levels with a grand chandelier as its centerpiece. However, the charming pink entrance says it all. It’s not a formal establishment. In fact, it is cuteness overload with an abundance of pastries and cakes displayed—literally eye candy. They offer savory dishes, too. We had mini-cakes that had a smiley in a daisy, and a chocolate one inscribed with “Bite me!” Hot chocolate topped with foam and little bear cookies complemented the sweets. There is such a thing as cuteness combined with elegance, and it is this place.

16 Apgujeong-ro 56-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
IG @mooni_apgujeong

Old Ferry Donut
Old Ferry Donuts are made with a special dough and come in delectable flavors: They are so popular they have opened a branch in LA.

Old Ferry Donut is South Korea’s first premium donut brand. It is so popular that they even opened a branch in LA. We went to the Hannam branch and were not disappointed. Their donuts are old school, not the mass-market type. What’s special is the dough; it’s light and fresh. Some of their flavors include crème brulee, butter pistachio, tiramisu, butternut, Boston cream, raspberry, milky cream, coconut, and apple cinnamon. There is also the unusual beet and sweet green pumpkin. Some indicate their sweetness level. I could have these donuts for breakfast, as dessert, or a snack. No wonder they are claimed to be the most famous donuts in Seoul.

66 Hannam-daero 27-gil, Yingsan-gu, Seoul
IG @oldferrydonut