Tucked away in an alley off a side lane in Daegu’s Nam-gu district is a secret treasure in which, if you have someone to go with, you can enjoy a multi-course French meal. Minou is practically impossible to find, since it is not visible from the entrance to the alley; the only indication that it is there is a green lamp with the image of an orange cat looking up at a white flower. Its building is colored rusty red and is unimposing, but the inside is warm and relaxing, with soft lighting and music. Smoking is forbidden, and diners keep their voices down. Even though the food is French, the décor is oriental and characterized by wood paneling in small curtained salons that can seat several people. Reservations are required for parties of at least two; Minou does not serve solo diners.
Founded in 2008 as Mon Ecole (French for my school), this restaurant is listed under that name in the French-Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s guide to French restaurants in Korea, which contains 58 listings in total. Now under its new name (French for kitty cat), it offers a framed menu in which French words are rendered in Hangeul, which would make deciphering it difficult for anyone who does not know French. To add to the problem, the waiters, though highly polite, do not speak English; therefore, someone in your party must be bilingual.
At 45,000 won, the bouillabaisse course is Minou’s standard set, and is what my Daegu friends and I order. It begins with a caviar and shrimp amuse bouche which is tiny but tasty, followed by a hot roll with butter. Next is a salad with a cube of feta cheese, three drops of balsamic vinegar and three morsels of dry-aged sirloin in a cream risotto; once again, the flavor is heavenly, but the amount is for gourmands. An icy mango sorbet comprises the fourth course, after which comes the standard element of all Minou’s offerings, the steak. This is served with grainy Dijon mustard and is of such high quality that even if it were the last course, the meal up to now would be worth the price.
Happily, there is much more: a large pot containing bubbling bouillabaisse, Marseille’s famous seafood stew. I confess that in all my years of chasing French food I have never tried this dish, so I cannot say how close it is to bouillabaisse in France. It is certainly different, since the fish used here are not Mediterranean, and the FKCCI guide states that Minou adds saffron to suit Korean tastes. I can, however, say that this Korean-style bouillabaisse is the best soup I have tasted in all my time in Korea. It possesses a perfect level of saltiness and spiciness, and is served with another roll. The FKCCI guide claims it is the bouillabaisse that secured Minou’s reputation, and I can believe it. After this dish we are all full, and relieved that dessert is just a teensy square of handmade tiramisu and red tea.
For diners who do not want bouillabaisse, Minou also offers a diet set with less steak for 35,000 won, a foie gras set for 60,000 and a giant set for 55,000. Most of the wines are Chilean reds, with only two French and one Italian among them, and there is only one Italian white and one sparkling. Bottles run between 45 and 165,000 won, and cabernet or moscato are served by the glass for 5,000 won. All meals have a 10% service charge added, so be prepared to spend at least 40,000 per person.
This is one of the most unique restaurants I have ever been to in all Korea, and I would almost say it is worth a trip to Daegu. The quiet atmosphere perfectly accompanies the food, which is clearly made with special care.
Minou’s address is Nam-gu, Daemyeong-dong 484-9, and the closest subway station is Hyeonchungno on line one. At the station go out exit 1, get into a taxi and call 010-8773-8699, then give your mobile to the driver. If you want to walk 10 minutes and can follow the attached map, go out exit 2. Hours are noon to 3 and 6 to 10, and reservations are accepted until 8.
Anyone wanting the French-Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s guide to Korean French restaurants for 15,000 won can email Ms Min-Jung Han at email@example.com to order a copy.
The authority on all things Daegu is the website Galbijim. You can check it out here.
Photos courtesy of Naver Food Blogs.