Hello Inquisitive Stranger,
You have discovered a peculiarity.
In your hand is a letter from a scribbler hoping it would land in your very palm. I know, dear stranger, the small thrill that an envelope clothed in handwritten script can bestow. Gently squeeze the plump packet and experience the tingle of anticipation of unknown treasures inside.
This is the first of Seoul’s lost letters, a caffeine hit of thoughtfulness, creativity and mischief. The missing link between coffee and kindness. A literary apothecary of decency in human and coffee kind.
Folded within these papers will be my reflections of the emporium where you discovered this curiosity. A place I have lifted a cup from a saucer, sipped a cocktail with a bobby-dazzler of a name or plunged a fork into cakey depths. The quest is not only to ruminate on food fare but to spread a paper trail of kindness to people I may never get to meet. To speak to the soul of Seoul and hope that this small effort to sprinkle handwritten letters filled with peaceful words may perhaps inspire others to pick up a pen and write a letter (in your bestest handwriting) to someone special, simply pass on a smile to a stranger or just explore a new part of town where you may be seduced by a book in a coffee shop nook.
But why letters? On paper?
My father, the generous author of bundles of letters, inspires me to doff my cap at the forgotten art of letter writing. Dad’s sumptuous calligraphy graces fat envelopes, his penmanship so elegant my postman believes he has a letter from Charles Dickens in his mailbag. Any person who has been the delighted recipient of a handwritten note will value the prize. Like a contagious smile, I want to pass this simple joy forward to whomever finds it. Handwritten letters rock. Thank you, Pops!
I invite you to join me on adventures in coffee, cake, kink and, let’s face it, the odd alcoholic establishment, around Seoul and beyond. My quill quivers above note paper, my lips tremble in Americano anticipation, my nostrils quiver at the java bouquet, my tummy rumbles at the promise of Seoul’s baked goodies. Delicious drama awaits and so my feet go with gusto to the first theatre of Seoul’s lost letters…
This morning, I sit in watery sunshine bathing the courtyard of ‘Bakehouse’, located on the kooky street of Hoenamu-ro 13 ga-gil. I invite the romantics to make an appointment with a lazy afternoon of mooching between the candlestick maker to the create-your-own perfume workshop, from the record shop to the camping themed Korean BBQ, the intriguingly tagged vintage contemporary gallery to the handcrafted accessories boutique. Don’t forget to stop at the pink, plastic and pineappley world of Misul Sopum where unicorn lamps, flamingo keyrings and old school Happy Meal toys will lure you in, unless the disco balls don’t get you first. This tucked away street is a bohemian gem.
Spread across two floors, Bakehouse has mastered the loose and easy vibe of a panther in a cravat at a cocktail party. Like a cat eyeing the blanket under a radiator, this cafe has all the potential of a comfortable parlor to bunker down for a mellow afternoon. Jumpy jazz is played at a conversationally-friendly volume to cater to your mature debate about hosting the Olympics as a good investment or G Dragon’s latest haircut.
Welcomed on the first floor by a larder of breads, cakes and other baked goodies that elicits a squeal of, “Sweet Lord, load me up with all the carbs!” you may spend 5 minutes deciding what to sink your gnashers into first. Cranberry scones, garlic tartines, spinach ciabatta, citron madeleines, cream cheese filled bagels, cereal campagne loaves, almond croissants, oh my!
The initial problem: savoury or sweet? I decided to push forward on the grand idea of the hearty-looking scrambled egg and bacon brunch. Of course, it would be folly to ignore The Gluttony Imp bearing down from my left shoulder, so appease her with a homemade autumn dessert special. Her glittering eye winks approvingly at the portly wedge of orange yoghurt cake with its moist goodness, delicate citrus burst and lightly charred orange garnish.
Enjoy your eats amongst the elfin garden greenery where vines creep along the brick wall or descend the iron staircase to a cosy courtyard beside the cavernous cafe. Here, the lofty space homes a mismatched medley of solid, wooden tables and comfy couches galore. Bakers in whites zoom around the spacious open kitchen. Gene Kelly dances in the rain across a wall. The film projection may be silenced but his look of glee is undeniably one of a man falling in love. Meanwhile, I am falling for my buttery eggs on wholemeal seeded toast and delicate lemon dressing on the pepper and mesclun lettuce salad. The bacon is yet untouched. As a recent recruit of the meat-eating society, this once pescatarian (noun: person who does not eat anything that had eyelashes) is still getting accustomed to my contemporary caveman diet of animal flesh. I don’t quite dig piggie products yet, however swoon at the thought of building a bacon and marmalade butty. Woefully, there is no citrus condiment to be gotten (although they do peddle homemade fig jam) so Dad’s sandwich recipe remains a fantasy.
Traditionally a bitter coffee drinker, I decide, in the name of adventure, to sample the coconut coffee smoothie. It has sold out. Adventure over. I’ll stick to a traditional Americano classico. I spy patrons sipping their liquid refreshment from unromantic take-away cups and inwardly sigh at the environmental impact. The smiley lady at the counter must list ‘pyschic powers’ along with ‘barasta ace’ under the key skills column of her curriculum vitae as she offers me a mug.
Bakehouse 1, Landfill 0.
A firm believer that a toilet is the most sincere litmus test of an establishment, I am happy to discover them clean and sparkly. Although there is not a wink of a periwinkle twig, this bathroom has a delightful lavender aroma. How bothersome that such an infrequent amount of public restrooms invite a person to sniff deeply. This one certainly deserves a ‘Surprising Bouquet Certificate of Achievement’ to proudly display above a toilet seat throne.
Feeling charitable with these accolades, I shall bestow you, dear stranger, with the title, ‘Today’s Goodwill Ambassador’. I encourage you, my darling, on this day, to rise to this moniker and start spreading smiles with a generous heart. Go forth, spread kindness, creativity and mischief, for surely these are the most important things. In the words of my wise grandma while reapplying magenta lips between sherry sips, “it’s nice to be nice”.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
Bakehouse – cakes, breads and surprising bereft of a website
Hoenamu-ro 13 ga-gil, Yongsan-gu
Noksapyeong station, line 6, exit 2
Monday – Sunday 11:00 – 21:00
GN Perfume – Create-your-own-fragrance workshops
Better Than Alcohol – Candles, fragrance & diffusers
Macho’s Hut – Korean BBQ, macho camping style
Galerie Frida – It’s vintage, it’s contemporary, it’s art!
Wooom – Handmade accessories
Misul Sopum (Art Shop) – Tamagotchis and plastic fantastic knick-knacks
Hello you! This letter was released into the wild for a stranger to discover in ‘Bakehouse’.
If you discovered this letter, I would love to hear from you. Did you stock up on the baked goods goodness? Did you scratch a caffeine itch? Does kindness make your world go round?
Perhaps you did not find this letter but you did discover this blog. It would be super to hear from you too. Please share your thoughts on coffee, kindness or anything that inspires your day.
Sending you good vibes,