It seems Korea is rapidly filling up with French restaurants these days: this year’s France-Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s guide lists over 70 nationwide, but next year’s will list over 100. One of them is Merciel, a two-story establishment whose upstairs brasserie opened last July 12; the first floor restaurant is also open, but requires reservations. Both offer spectacular views of Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches from atop Dalmaji Hill. Getting there is an uphill slog, but the food and view justify it.
Other than the seascape, what makes the trip up the hill worthwhile is Merciel’s chef, Yun Hwa-yeong, whose resume can be found at Merciel’s website. The nephew of a former Korean ambassador to France, Yun has been connected to the country for a good part of his life: he studied at Le Cordon Bleu and the Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Francaise, and has worked at a variety of Michelin-starred dining establishments in France over the years. Without his unique contemporary Parisian cooking style that combines natural Korean ingredients, Merciel would be just another eatery. Yun founded Merciel together with his wife, Park Hyeon-jin, with the mission of bringing real French food to Korea. Having tasted the duck breast with black currant-cherry sauce, I can attest that he did not waste his years in France.
At first, you will be surrounded by peace after you ride the elevator up to the brasserie, which is cheaper and has a larger menu. Inside, you will be welcomed by unctuous staff, including Kim Eun-seon, who speaks English well. All of the tables have an uplifting vista of sky, sea and beach, and there is an outdoor deck with tables as well.
The menu is dazzling but a little pricey: salads run up to 18,000 won (but are large, at least), burgers and sandwiches are around 19,000, pizzas top off at 17,000 and pastas are 20,000 or less. The latter include parmegiano raggiano and merlanovo, as well as the usual kinds.
Needless to say, there is food other than French cuisine, which is useful knowledge because the four French entrees, such as duck confit and beef tartare, are all over 20,000 won and are only available later in the afternoon.
If you’re feeling wealthy, try one of their steaks, which start at 32,000 and go up into the 50s. Or end the night with one of their desserts, including, of course, chocolate or orange mousse and crÃ¨me brulee, which are only around 8,000. Alas, there is a 10 percent service charge on all orders, so bring extra cash.
Thanks to its sommelier, who studied in Lyon and Bordeaux for over six years, Merciel has an impressive wine list that includes champagne and sparkling wine, as well as vintages from around the world. The bottles are expensive, with most in the 40-70,000-won range, but for those really yearning for some French wine to complement the food, they may be irresistible, and there is an ordinary house red and white by the glass for 10,000 won. More good news: guests are allowed to bring their own bottles.
The rest of the drinks menu includes a good range of cocktails for 10-12,000, and the Singapore sling I ordered was well-made. Fresh tonic water is added to gin and vodka, and frozen lime slices are available on request. Merciel also serves Suntory draught and a reasonable range of imported bottled beers, but is, naturally, mainly a wine-bibbing establishment.
If you want special food in a quiet location with a view that makes you feel inspired, then Merciel is worth the trip and cost.
Photos courtesy of Hal Swindall.
Merciel’s address is Haeundae-gu, Jung-dong, Dalmaji-gil 65-154, and its phone number is 051-747-9845; when you call, ask for Kim Eun-seon, although other staff may also speak English. Its hours are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m , so you can enjoy that special midnight dinner. Getting there requires a 2,500-won taxi ride from Jung-dong subway station’s exit 7, right in front of the E-Mart. Buses 100, 139 and 39 all stop at the base of the hill, too, providing a nice walk to stimulate your appetite.