Like Dal Mi Cocco in PNU, this is a mainly Italian place with several French options. Also like Dal Mi Cocco, and nearly every other establishment serving French fare in Korea, it is hidden in an alley that is hard to find. Yet like its fellows, it is worth the effort to get there, because the food is really special, especially in the ambiance of a tiny courtyard tucked away from the bustle of the Seomyeon area.
Ici Lounge’s proprietor is a young man named Kim Dowoo, a sharp entrepreneur from Busan with large horn-rimmed glasses and artistically tousled hair. He opened this place, whose name means “here” in French, in 2008 with a diligent chef named Cho Miyoung. It seats only 24 diners in a small area, but there is a horizontally folding wall-sized window across the entrance from the courtyard that is open in fair weather and bathes the tables in natural light.
The bulk of Ici Lounge’s menu is of course pizza and pasta, but these are better than at most Italian restaurants in Korea. The pizzas are around 15,000 won, but are large with golden crusts. Dowoo’s three most unusual kinds are prosciutto, gorgonzola apple and rucola. He also offers nine kinds of pasta for around 14,000, and six salads from 8,500 to 18,000.
Although the taste of French food is “unfamiliar and difficult” to Koreans, Dowoo nonetheless decided to serve some, because he believes French dishes marry best with wine, and he has a decent wine list. Ici’s French offerings include raclette cheese on potatoes, quiche Lorraine and Bourgogne escargots, with the piece de resistance being the lamb chop steak with apricot sauce for 43,000 won. Not being in a financial condition to order the latter on my first visit, I settled for the quiche and escargots, and was not disappointed. The former comes with a small side salad, and is a filling portion. It tasted the same as quiche I have eaten in France and elsewhere, and was well worth it at 9,000 won. The escargots were even more interesting: served in an iron pan on a plate with a side of bread, they were finely chopped and mixed with chopped mushrooms and squash. The price of 18,000 won was a little steep, but the portion was basically filling, and the recipe worth trying. I was able to try the lamb chops on my second visit, and found them as good as one could expect in France.
So far, Dowoo only has a few foreign regulars, but there are also some Korean “big fans” who make it a “big pleasure” to run Ici Lounge, and word of his restaurant is spreading among both natives and Westerners. The excellent food and secretive ambiance make this place worth locating, as does Dowoo’s attentiveness to detail. He says he wants people to be reminded of his establishment when they think of delicious food.
Finding Ici Lounge is the tricky part, but once there you will not regret it. At Seomyeon yeok go out exit 6 and turn 180 degrees to your left. Then go straight about 30 meters to the corner with the Starbucks across the street. At the corner, turn right and walk east 170 paces with your eyes to your right. Look for the narrow entrance to a short alley across from a blue Ediya Coffee. On the left of the alley is a women’s clothes boutique, and there is an Aritaum store on the right. Walk down the alley a few meters and enter the courtyard.
Photos courtesy of ICI Lounge