Bonjour Étranger Curieux,
You have discovered this lettre in Acacia, the cafe with the European vibes in Sinsa, the continental corner of Seoul. Perhaps you are dithering to decide if Acacia is a cafe or a café, that is to say, is it more London pub or Parisian bistro?
Purists may scoff at the idea of a fusion yet it can be hard to diagnose what makes a pub a pub and a bistro a bistro.
If pubs were human, gangs of them would have drawers crammed with 100th birthday cards signed by Queen Elizabeth. Being a geriatric working well past retirement age seems to be a defining feature of the public house. Samuels Pepys, a 17th century member of Parliament whose sterling work for the British navy is shadowed by his diarist activity, wrote an account of watching the 1666 Great Fire of London from The Anchor. This pub still serves pints on the South Bank, as do many counterparts, multi-centennials bearing witness to the historical tapestry and serving as part of the local fabric.
Similarly, the pub’s French cousin has been comforting the café society for hundreds of years. ‘The Frenchman’s café is his club’, wrote Jonathan Cape in 1927. It is here the beautiful people rendez-vous to wallow and plot, exhibit and pose, debate and philosophise.
So, how do we define Acacia? Adjoining the boulevard of ginkgo trees and expensive boutiques, Acacia’s circular pavement tables and flimsy-legged chairs make the statement, ‘Je suis un Parisian!’ Tall stools at a marble bar covered in fresh flowers suggest you have found the perfect venue to act out your French fantasy. Yet observe closer and discover details commonly found in your average ‘Crown and Sceptre’.
Cease your French poetry recitals at once and discharge that rakish, sooty-eyed homme from your grasp. Prepare for small talk about the weather and find a line to do some hard, orderly queuing.
Here come the British!
Framed pictures of ye olde cricketer, dried flowers and a collection of beer bottles on walls, quotes to rouse the drinker in you, wholesome pub grub on the menu includes spicy Hawaiian burgers (although scampi is woefully missing).
First bistro, then pub. The switcheroo sneaks up on you. Acacia is either wannabe Frenchie or balmy about Britain, either way, squint a bit and you are in Europe. The marriage works, yet historically the two cultures have not weaved together with such successful fluidity. For centuries, the froggies and roast beef have been bickering over football matches, the name of the channel that separates them and which nation has the wrinkliest bulldog.
The biggest squabble was the Napoleonic war years which culminated in the climax between each country’s heavyweight military leader. In the French corner was Napoleon Bonaparte. Sizing him up was British opposition, the Duke of Wellington. Two of the greatest strategic leaders of their time were to meet at the Battle of Waterloo. This was Godzilla takes on King Kong, Jaws squaring up to Moby Dick, Conor McGregor versus Floyd Mayweather. This showdown was the big one.
We both agree, dear Stranger, war has no winners so this letter shall not dwell on how the battle ended. The cardinal point is that war is horror and mockery. A story to emerge from the clash at Waterloo illustrates this. There came a moment during the skirmish when two cavalrymen clashing swords realised they held no ill feeling towards the other so rode off in separate directions. One of the soldiers, inspired by the war whoop of his rival, practises his own rallying cry when he gets walloped over the head. After tumbling from his horse, our fellow is bayoneted and lanced then has his thumb shot off. The enemy then steal everything from him including his trousers. Horror and mockery.
I hope this sad story has not turned you off your lunch. The purpose for this recount is to serve as a reminder of the fruitlessness of war. Centuries of fighting for what? France and Britain found no peace in their loathing so tried the alternative: friendship. It is reassuring these old adversaries now work together as allies.
So my dear Stranger, I ask that you put down the truffle parmesan fries and call a halt on the apple cinnamon & sausage french toast. Consider those with which you have had beef or whom you met with rhubarb. Has your battle left bad words or abrasive feeling suspended in the air? I hope you have released each other from the pointless baggage of negativity and are moving forward together with fresh positivity.
France and Britain, two nations with a long contentious history are now buddies. Acacia represents how the two can meet with harmony and in friendship. Only good can come of that.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
Acacia Cafe and Bistro – a European marriage so nice I returned to try a Christmas orange Americano
31-1 Dosandaero 13-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Sinsa station, line 3, exit 7
Monday – Sunday 11:30 – 23:00
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