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Top chefs turn to baking for their newest ventures : Bakeries from Seoul’s top culinary minds offer appealing treats

May 08,2018
Golden Crumble, on Mount Namsan in Huam-dong, central Seoul, has been opened by Mongo Kim, executive chef of Italian restaurants Mongone in Yeonhui-dong in western Seoul and Sinsa-dong in southern Seoul. At right is one of its two desserts served there, Apple Crumble. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Julian’s Sandwich inside the Hyundai Card Cooking Library is put together by chef Kim Ji-woon of restaurant company Cucciolo Group, which runs Volpino, Cucciolo and others in Seoul and Busan. The roast beef sandwich, featured on the right, is one of the seven items now available. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Sikbugwan in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, is a bakery run by chef Kim Dae-chun of TocToc. Besides baking bread, it also serves 10 breakfast sandwiches everyday, at right, which usually sell out a few minutes after the store opens at 10 a.m. [LEE SUN-MIN]
The smell of bread fresh out of the oven coming out of a bakery or a dessert shop can attract customers any time of day. While many eateries focus on having Instagram-worthy interiors and exclusive menu items, it’s hard to argue that there is something more appealing than the sweet aroma of baked goods wafting through the streets.

This seems to be the impetus behind the recent rise of casual bakeries opening up around Seoul, most of which are the side projects of local restaurant chefs who specialize in Western-style food.

Top of the morning

Chef Kim Dae-chun of TocToc, which serves dishes inspired by Italian and Japanese cuisine in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, has opened a bakery called Sikbugwan a few blocks away from his first restaurant.

Chef Kim said he always wanted to open a place where he can bake fresh goods. All the bread served at TocToc is made here as well.

The bakery doesn’t have a very diverse menu - although more items have been added since the shop’s grand opening last year, there still remains less than 10 options to choose from. Here, the most popular item to get is simple square-shaped bread, which is often used to make sandwiches or toast.

These breads are mostly made for orders placed in advance, but extras are prepared for walk-in customers as well. There are three options to choose from - plain, natural and rich. The rich option has the most full flavor, as it is made with extra butter. For those who want to make toast on the spot, the bakery has a toaster ready for anyone to use.

There is a recently-added item made with red bean and green tea flavors called Shrek, but what sells out the fastest is the breakfast sandwich. The bakery only makes 10 a day, and one person can only buy up to two. They usually sell out within minutes of the bakery opening its doors.

The buns made here have also been used at Donsindang, chef Kim’s pop-up store in Garosu-gil in southern Seoul. As a part of food information service company Poing’s pop-up food court, chef Kim’s Donsindang serves pulled pork, and bread from Sikbugwan is provided for diners to make themselves a pulled pork sandwich.

A pack of buns starts at 4,500 won ($4.17) and slices of bread starts at 4,000 won. The bakery is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Mondays to Saturdays.

A chance to be casual

Chef Kim Ji-woon of Cucciolo Group also has a dream of making more things with bread. After starting four different Italian restaurants in Seoul and Busan, he has chosen to shift his focus to making sandwiches. At Julian’s Sandwich, named after Kim’s English name, he makes all the comfort food he used to make and enjoyed eating while he spent time in London where he studied.

“Different from all other restaurants, I wanted to make a place that’s easier for everybody to come stop by,” said Kim. “There shouldn’t be any long explanations necessary to explain the flavors and be able to enjoy these sandwiches.”

The first sandwich shop opened inside the Hyundai Card Cooking Library in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. There are seven different options to choose from including Cheese Toasties, the Roast Beef Sandwich and the Lebanon Series No. 1: Pulled Lamb. He uses different breads such as baguettes, sour dough or ciabatta for each sandwich. Cheese Toasties, Kim explains, was his favorite snack when he was craving Korean style street food like sundae or tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) while living abroad. He also added the Lebanese style sandwich to introduce new, yet comfortable flavors to eaters as it uses Harrissa sauce, which is an ingredient equivalent to gochujang (red pepper paste) in the Middle East, thinking that locals here can also enjoy the flavors.

While he keeps working at his other restaurants like Volpino, Maremma or Cucciolo, Kim said he will continue to expand his casual style food under the brand of Julian’s. After the sandwich shop, he is also considering opening Julian’s Pasta and other eateries where he can serve tasty food at a cheaper price than at his high-end restaurants.

“Not all food has to be easy and comfortable, but casual food is accessible to diners anywhere,” he said.

Julian’s Sandwich is open whenever the cooking library is open, from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Tuesdays through Saturdays, and until 6 p.m. on Sundays. Items on the menu range in price from 14,000 to 25,000 won. Cheese Toasties are one of the cheaper options available.

Sweet dreams

A more casual spot is something Mongo Kim of Italian restaurants Mongone in Yeonhui-dong in northwestern Seoul and Sinsa-dong also had in mind for some time. While chef Kim of Cucciolo Group did so with sandwiches, Mongo Kim decided to try his hand at desserts. He opened Golden Crumble, a new dessert spot on Mount Namsan, central Seoul, after many frequent guests to his restaurants requested that he sell desserts separately.

“One of the biggest requests I have gotten from guests is that they want to be able to get a take-out order of the dessert or just eat the dessert [without ordering food],” said Mongo Kim.

While the restaurants serving pasta dishes that cost around 30,000 won aren’t as easily approachable as daily spots, Kim aims to make his desserts more casual. He chose to open his new bakery in Huam-dong, close to Mount Namsan’s scenic Sowol-gil, central Seoul, as he thought the area could remind many of small Italian cities that have many tight alleys and are located close to nature.

At the moment, there are two menu items: Tiramisu and apple crumble. Both have been popular at the restaurants and sell for over 10,000 won, but at Golden Crumble, each costs 5,000 won. Diners can order on a screen and find a seat at the bar table in the small dessert shop. Desserts are served in a paper box so that guests can take them out of the shop and eat them while they walk around Mount Namsan, enjoying the nature around them.

To really cater to the requests of Mongone’s diners, Kim plans to make Golden Crumbles available across the country, with his goal being around 100 locations. The shop is in its pre-open period, and opens from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. everyday.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]