The area around Seongsu in the east of the city is another part of town where gentrification is seeing old-fashioned neighbourhoods slowly – or not so slowly – turn into trendy and sought-after districts. As with other locales like Gyeongnidan, Yeonnam-dong and Sangsu, cafés are often at the forefront of this social change, enticing younger people into the area and driving the “regeneration” (if you want to call it that) of previously depressed or downmarket places.
[Note: No money, free food or other inducement was asked for or received in return for this post. Soju Sunrise accepts freebies only very occasionally and will always explicitly state if this is the case.]
Seongsu is one of the newer areas to get this treatment, and Onion is one of the more hipsterish places to see it in action. Just like the splendid Anthracite cafe in (the similarly named) Sangsu, Onion has risen from the ashes of a disused shoe factory, converting a fairly dilapidated space into something pretty funky and interesting.
The coffee choices run the usual gamut. Unlike Anthracite, the main focus here seems to be on the breads and pastries, and while the coffee is perfectly good, it’s not worth travelling across town for. Anyway, by the time you actually find somewhere to sit and drink it, it might be fairly tepid – Onion is very popular and seats fill up fast after lunchtime.
Apart from the surroundings, what distinguishes Onion (as I noted above) is its pastries and breads, which are gaining quite a lot of fame on social media. First up, I tried some “cheese baguette”, below.
I bit into the cheese baguette expecting it to be a cheese baguette, but I should have known better, right? It would more accurately be described as a cheesecake baguette. Once I got over the shock of sweet cream cheese where I’d be hoping for something more savoury, it was actually pretty good. Imagine a baguette stuffed with cheesecake mix and you’re imagining this dessert. Not unpleasant, but not quite what I had wanted. Hey ho.
The most photogenic of the breads undoubtedly is the Pandoro – transcribed in Korean as 팡도르 – which is basically their take on an Italian traditional sweet bread topped with a tower of icing sugar. So of course I got one of those, dear reader, the better to inform you and make this blog post worth your while.
Despite its evident popularity, I approached this with the same degree of polite scepticism that I reserve for all Korean bread-based products, most of which I find sickly sweet and disgusting. In actual fact, it was pretty good – more like a fluffy slice of madeira cake than a bread and quite more-ish. The signature star-shaped design doesn’t look quite as funky once it’s been sliced up, though.
Apart from this signature bread – good luck getting one in amongst the crowds of girls Instagramming it – there are plenty of interesting and slightly unusual baked goods to try. The closest thing I found to anything that wasn’t sickly sweet was the splendidly-named Hot Chilli Wiener, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Anyway, my overall impression of the breads and pastries on offer is generally positive; while they do seem to be made with more than one eye on presentation and photogeneity (if that’s not a word, I just invented it), they are better than most similar offerings in other cafes around the city, and I suspect most of my Korean friends and students would love them.
Onion is pretty popular, especially with students from the nearby Konkkuk University, so if you want to sit down and enjoy your purchases, you may have better luck heading up to the delightful rooftop, where there’s more seating.
It’s also a great vantage point from which to see how Onion fits into the still-active industrial district in which it’s situated (Seongsu is the heart of the shoe-making industry and a good place to get a pair of custom-made shoes for those oversized waygook feet of yours).
Like many people, I have mixed feelings about the whole gentrification process, and as a place to drink coffee it’s nothing greatly out of the ordinary, but if “progress” means turning old buildings into lively social spaces like Onion rather than tearing them down and erecting soulless apartment complexes in their place, bring it on.
- Category: Café
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Pandoro (팡도르)
- Subway: Seongsu Station (성수역) exit 2
- Directions: Onion is very easy to find. Come out of Seongsu station and take the second street on the left; you’ll see it on the corner.
- Hours: Onion is open seven days a week. On weekdays it opens 8am (on Saturdays and Sundays at 10am) and closes 10pm every day. Needless to say, they have an Instagram account.