For some reason, the new French restaurants springing up around Korea often are hidden in alleys that make them difficult to find. 11 Chesterfield Way, opened in 2011 by Gyeongju native Kim Jeong-hwan, is no exception. Located half way up a pedestrian lane off of Dongdae-ro in the city’s student quarter, there is no sign jutting out that enables a passerby to notice it. Finding this place is worth it for anyone spending time in the historic Shilla capital, however, and Kim Jeong-hwan makes it all happen.
Chef-proprietor Kim grew up only five minutes’ walk away from his restaurant, which he opened because he missed having food options in Gyeongju during his youth and he wanted to introduce international cuisine to his fellow citizens. After graduating from Gyeongju University with a degree in culinary arts, Chef Kim attended the London Cordon Bleu in 2005-06. He chose to study there because he did not want to spend time learning French and the London branch has the same curriculum as its storied school in Paris. He then spent a number of years at French restaurants in France before returning to his hometown.
Kim admits that he does not yet get many customers, so business has been on the paltry side. Koreans, he complains, think French food is expensive and difficult to eat; many of his diners have to ask him how to eat certain dishes. Thus, he declares it is a very, very hard thing to get business going. There are many wealthy people living around Gyeongju, he points out, but he cannot get them interested in other countries’ food because they do not want to spend money on a different culture; they prefer expensive Korean food like steamed monkfish. Therefore, Kim feels he must persuade influential people to try French food so that others will follow.
Most people associate French restaurants with elaborate décor and swanky ambiances, but 11 Chesterfield Way banishes this stereotype: its glass front lets in natural light on bare walls and plain tables and chairs laid out across a cozy dining area. Cocktail lounge music plays and there are yellow circular place mats on the tables.
Since Kim does all the cooking and serving himself, there is one set menu for both lunch and dinner, which is changed every month. I was there on a Saturday in December, and he was serving potato soup with corn puree, homemade pork terrine with an apple-onion salad, haddock wrapped in iceberg lettuce in reduced jus with bean sprouts, beef wellington for the main course and chocolate fondant imported from Belgium for dessert. After that comes coffee, served with a tiny brownie, madeleine and meringue. All this costs only 45,000 won, and is well worth it, especially the haddock, which is prepared with just the right amount of salt and whose reduced jus is extra flavorful. The Belgian fondant comes with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, and both are definitely the real thing.
Since 11 Chesterfield Way is a one-man show, it opens only for reservations, and Kim asks that prospective diners call him well in advance so that he can buy and prepare ingredients. He is also busy growing many of his own herbs and vegetables in spring and summer, which he uses to create special menus. However, he normally closes for two to four weeks in summer and winter, since business drops off then.
Kim Jeong-hwan can be reached at 010-3628-7045 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The restaurant address is 620-495 Seonggeon-dong in Gyeongju. The pedestrian lane where it lies is called Dongdae-ro 18 beon-gil, which is less than 100 meters east of the Dongguk University Bridge and has a Dream Depot and Woodstock Bar on either side of its entrance. You can see the sign for Grazie Italian restaurant at the end. 11 Chesterfield Way is 25 paces up on the right. Bon appétit!
Photo by Zachary Thomas. You can check out his blog here.