The legendary Casablanca Sandwicherie recently celebrated its fifth anniversary as one of HBC’s best-loved institutions. They’ve marked the occasion by expanding the menu, which previously was comprised almost solely of baguettes (albeit fantastic ones).
Café culture was never something I was that keen on – perhaps because I come from Glasgow, where
most all social interactions centre around the pub. If there’s one thing that living in Seoul is slowly bringing me around to (other than eating fermented cabbage), though, it’s the joy of a good café.
For years, I’ve been saying that a proper bagel place in HBC / Gyeongnidan would make a fortune. For years! I even considered opening a bagel shop on the HBC main road. The only thing that stopped me was (a) I don’t have the money to open a bagel shop (b) I don’t know how to make bagels. I was so close, though, dammit!
[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This pop-up has now ended. You can find Pick a Bagel at their main location in Apgujeong.]
The phrase “hidden gem” is wildly overused in all walks of life, not least among pretentious bloggers writing about food and drink. But in this case it is quite justified, because this new HBC cafe is about as well hidden as any establishment could ever be. It’s no exaggeration to say that you could spend a day looking for it and never find it unless you knew exactly where to look. Let me tell you about Orang Orang.
Regular readers will be aware of my enjoyment of Vietnamese pho, which for the uninitiated is a beef and noodle soup served with herbs, thinly sliced onions, lime and chilli sauce to taste. Most Korean chain pho is rubbish, but there is the odd gem here and there doing it right, most notably Pham Thi Chinh in Wangsimni.
Pho For You is much closer to where I live – a four minute walk rather than a 40 minute journey. So when it opened up a few weeks back I was intrigued, and a positive review on a Facebook page made me curious to go in.
Advertising itself as an American pho restaurant, Pho For You is a nicely appointed restaurant with plenty of seating just past Craftworks Namsan, in Gyeongnidan. The menu is quite small; a couple of spring rolls, rice dishes, and the main event, the pho. I had been told that pho in the States is usually made with a deeper and darker broth, which often leads people to be disappointed with the “real thing” when they actually visit Vietnam.
Certainly as soon as it comes to the table you can see and smell the difference. The broth is certainly darker and a bit more intense. I’m not sure it tasted all that rich to me, but there was no mistaking the depth of colour. I added some bean sprouts, coriander, a bit of green chilli, Sriracha and hoi sin, and squeezed over some lime.
Verdict? Pretty solid. The portion of meat was quite generous, as I’d have expected for the slightly high price of 9,000 for the regular bowl (I ordered the version which comes with two cuts of meat, brisket and deckle; you can get it with other bits and pieces, including tripe, if that’s your fancy). I felt it lacked much in the way of complexity; the broth was flavourful, but not particularly aromatic. I ended up adding more of everything to amp up the taste.
I also ordered some shrimp spring rolls, but they were out, so I didn’t get to try that. I’ll be back to experiment with some of the other menu items, and its convenience so close to my bus stop to work means that this is likely to be a semi-regular lunch stop for me. But Pham Thi Chinh retains its crown, for now.
- Category: Vietnamese
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Pho with brisket and deckle (9,000 won)
- Directions: Pho for You is at the base of the footbridge which connects HBC with Gyeongnidan, just a bit past Craftworks. From Noksapyeong, walk up towards Namsan until you get to the bridge, and you’ll see Pho for You on the other side of the road.
- Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, lunch and dinner – I think.
With the weekend almost upon us, here’s a quick shout out for a new late-night food option in HBC. One corner of Fat Cat, the very nice cafe / restaurant formerly known as Indigo and Il Gattino, is now occupied by a takeaway sandwich window, styled as a “Food Truck” though there are no trucks to be seen.
[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This location has now closed. Fat Cat continues to serve excellent sandwiches in the same premises, and Leo Jehn runs a cocktail bar upstairs, which also offers sandwiches, empanadas and other snack foods.]
Open from 6pm every day (except Monday) and until 3am on Friday and Saturday night, proprietor Leo Jehn is serving up three varieties of filled baguettes to the hungry revellers of HBC, and I’m pleased to say that they definitely hit the spot.
There’s a Mexican chicken sub, with home-pickled onions, a bit of melted cheese, and tomato slices which Leo marinated, if I recall what he told me, in raspberry vinegar.
Just mildly spicy, I drizzled a bit of extra sriracha on there once I got home to amp up the chilli level. As ever with things Mexican, it tastes a lot better than it looks.
The star, for me, was the meatball sub (above). Three golf-ball sized meatballs with great texture and a hint of crushed red chilli in there, and a slather of marinara sauce.
I might have preferred a bit more sauce, but as Leo pointed out, these sandwiches are made for eating on the go and packing the baguette with another ladleful of piping hot tomato sauce would probably be a recipe for disaster. After making the sandwich freshly to order in front of you, it spends a couple of minutes in the oven to crisp up the bread and heat up the filling.
There’s also a tandoori chicken sub which I haven’t yet tried. All the sandwiches are 7,000 won and that represents fine value for money. They’re easy to eat, pleasingly filling, and a godsend for those of us who have to work (or play) late on a weekend night. Recommended.
- Category: Sandwich
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Meatball sub (7,000 won)
- Directions: Fat Cat is on the main HBC drag, just opposite Bonny’s Pizza.
- Hours: 6pm – late Tuesday – Sunday, with 3am closing time on Friday and Saturday nights.