After Hours: The Baker's Table in Itaewon-dong, Seoul, South Korea
In South Korea, you can find chain bakeries with French-sounding names in virtually any neighborhood, selling near-identical loaves of mass-produced white bread and plastic-wrapped buns and cookies.
But in the land of kimchi and white rice, a real bakery can be hard to find — which makes The Baker’s Table even more of a standout than it already is. This popular restaurant specializes in European breads and foods, all reasonably priced and, judging from its growing reputation in Seoul’s expatriate community, all quite tasty.
Just a five-minute walk from U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan’s Gate 21 (aka the kimchi pot gate), The Baker’s Table is located in an unassuming brick building on a street that has seen an explosion of pubs and eateries geared toward foreigners in recent years. Inside, the restaurant is smallish and quaint, a sort of hip-but-cozy neighborhood cafe with a handful of tables clustered around a counter stacked with fresh baked goods: bread, muesli, cookies and other desserts, ranging from 1,000 won for English muffins to about 7,000 won for loaves of bread. All are available in-house or for takeout.
If you want a full meal, there are soups, salads, sandwiches and German-themed fare like currywurst and bratwurst plates with sides of pan-fried potatoes and sauerkraut. You can also order breakfast dishes, including muesli with fruit for 7,500 won or the “Farmer,” a plate of toast, fried eggs, bacon and hash brown potatoes.
On a recent lunchtime visit, I ordered the vegan sandwich (9,500 won), a deliciously messy, parsley-flecked ciabatta roll stuffed with sauteed vegetables, hummus and pesto sauce. Like every other dish I saw during my visit, it was generously portioned, and, unlike most of the veggie sandwiches I’ve had in South Korea, it didn’t taste like a cardboard afterthought added to the menu in case the occasional non-meat eater wandered in.
However, my sandwich was “vegan” in name only, as I found a rogue piece of chicken inside, which did not make this vegetarian happy.
There are plenty of options for carnivores, from ham and provolone paninis to the crispy chicken salad (12,500 won). One of the more interesting-sounding meat options was the fisherman sandwich, with pan-fried cod and cilantro jam on a baguette.
The other downside was inconsistent service. I sat at my table for several minutes as servers walked back and forth in front of me without glancing in my direction before I realized that I needed to walk to the cash register to order. After I finished my sandwich, I lingered at my table for a full 15 minutes and nobody bothered to clear my plate. But, when I knocked my fork to the floor, a server brought me a clean one almost before I could pick up the dirty one.
Negatives aside, this is without question a place I’ll go back to. The atmosphere is informal and relaxed, the kind of place where you might linger with a book and cup of coffee or bring a group of friends for Sunday brunch. Or, drop in for a glass of wine (5,500 won) or beer (6,000 to 8,500 won) and munch on a homemade pretzel.
Does the food taste like something you’d find in Europe? I don’t know, and because it’s good, I don’t care — although I will probably inspect my next sandwich there for stray meat before I bite into it.
The Baker’s TableLocation: In Itaewon-dong near U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan. When you exit Gate 21, walk to the main road and turn left. Take the pedestrian overpass, and you’ll end up in front of The Baker’s Table. From Noksapyeong Station, take exit two and walk approximately 10 minutes until you reach the overpass.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Mondays.
Prices: Main dishes from about 5,500 to 12,500.
Clientele: A mix of Koreans and expatriates.
Information: phone: 070-7717-3501; http://blog.naver.com./mirabakery.