3.14 + Beer: It all adds up
It’s a balmy Saturday evening at Brew 3.14, one of Insa-dong’s newest and most eclectic restaurants, and I’ve just been handed a Cosmopolitan in a zippered pouch with a straw.
There are no tables — only the bar. I’m sitting shoulder-to-shoulder between a friend and a hefty-bearded foreigner. Indie music plays from the kitchen, loud enough to give a vibrant energy to the place, but not so loud that we have to shout. Every space at the bar is full: Korean businessmen with ties pulled loose, a casual trio in hoodies and baseball caps, neighborhood scenesters and couples on dates. We’re surrounded by a myriad of drawings, newspaper clippings and flea market finds, with the exception of one wall, a space dedicated to the menu, etched out in chalk. My eye catches English shepherd’s pie — something you don’t see every day anywhere, much less in Seoul.
It’s buzzing, and Felicien Vincens is standing in the kitchen directly in front of me, ladling his homemade tomato sauce atop the thin dough of our pizza. Hailing from France, he’s been in Korea for nine months now and is the sole chef of Brew 3.14. Everything on the menu is his own recipe, from the meat sauce to the baguettes, which are as fresh as can be (nothing stays in the refrigerator for more than three days, he tells me). Business has been good since the restaurant opened only months ago, and it’s no surprise: The spread ranges from handmade calzones and thin-crust pizzas to Korean fried chicken, from craft beers to vin chaud (hot mulled wine) and shooters with names like “Gin Destruction” and “O.J. Simpson Bomb.”
Vincens, along with co-owners Patrick Cloutier and Daniel Gray — both expat foodie entrepreneurs who’ve been in Korea for years — is devoted to a fine Italian menu with a French twist. Together, they believe the craft beer scene extends beyond the greater Itaewon area, and while this spot is a bit out of the way, its offbeat style is drawing people in.
I can instantly see why. The chicken calzone is presented on a rustic wooden platter, but before we dig in Vincens takes out a branding iron and burns a message into the crust, another thing you don’t see every day. Smoke wisps rise into the air, and I peer closer: 3.14. My calzone is stuffed with melted cheese, veggies, chicken and a savory tomato sauce, and (naturally) there’s a stack of sweet pickles on the side. The supreme pizza we’ve ordered also has a perfectly crunchy, golden-brown crust, and the dough is cooked beautifully. The sausage and onion are scattered across the pizza’s rectangular shape, making it a proper bar pie. The most miraculous part? Neither one of these dishes exceeds 10,000 won.
Next comes some traditional Korean stoneware housing a decidedly un-Korean dish: With onions cooked slowly in a butter and white wine sauce, soft potatoes, bay leaves and a top layer of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, the French onion soup is the highlight of the meal. Vincens whips out yet another tool before we’re allowed our first taste; this time it’s a blowtorch. He lightly browns the cheese a foot away from us and places this exquisite soup in front of our delighted faces. We paid 7,000 won for this artful masterpiece.
While the space is devoid of cloth napkins and starched white tablecloths, Brew 3.14’s handmade food is of a quality much higher than the setting and price might suggest. The menu is also varied enough to eat there often, and repeat visits offer chances at quiche, handmade chips and salsa or sometimes even Russian beer. The service is excellent, the atmosphere homey and intimate and the staff friendly and sociable. They’ll happily leave you to your evening or help you decide what destination to visit next in Seoul. It’s up to you.
Brew 3.14 isn’t your average pizzeria; nor is it a bar. It’s an experience, and a good one at that. The decision to head there should be a simple one because, as it says on the menu itself, “craft beers + good food = happiness.”
Anguk Station, exit 4. Walk two blocks and turn left at the Crown Hotel on Samil-daero. Brew 3.14 is in an alley on your left, past the Ibis Hotel, with a circular sign out front. Turn left at the sign, and the restaurant is just around the corner.