L'impasse 81 mixes French tradition and pure comfort
What we talk about when we talk about French food: foams and aspics, miniscule portions, pinch-faced chefs and bank-breaking checks. Especially here in Korea, this misconception runs deep. If this is the hoity-toity truth of French cuisine, then how could it be so beloved around the world? Enter L’impasse 81, a new French comfort food spot that wants to welcome doubters and believers alike into the cuisine’s meaty, everyman bosom.
L’impasse, or “The Dead End”, is situated behind Donggyo-dong’s snazzy new green space, just out of Hongdae Station, Exit 3. Beyond the foreboding, paint-stripped door, the decor gets even more dungeon-y. However, hanging from all that metal is some of the most sumptuous charcuterie in the city, all concocted in-house by co-owners/chefs Gregoire Michot and Jio Jeon. Despite the initial feeling of potential dismemberment, one will find the interior strangely welcoming. Vintage French cookbooks line the shelves leading up to a high ceiling. The tables are spacious and the arm chairs enveloping. The result is something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre-meets-Martha Stewart or a reimagining of the black comedy, Delicatessen.
A good place to start is with the sausages which are a veritable grand tour of regional styles. Each plate features a couple of sizable links with various starchy sides and alone are enough to quell modest hunger. Being first on the menu is usually a reliable indicator and as such, one would do well to go right for the chipolata, a zesty spiced sausage similar to what Americans call “Italian sausage” which comes with a creamy potato gratin. Merguez should be next on your list and the go-to for any cumin addicts out there. The lamb sausage, which originates from Moroccan cuisine, sits on basmati pilaf with harissa and ratatouille. It’s a fitting accompaniment considering Michot was a sous chef at La Tour d’Argent, the restaurant that inspired the setting for the animated film Ratatouille. Perhaps most interesting is the andouille. Americans will associate this with Cajun cuisine’s smoked andouille; however, the French original is another thing entirely. Spectacularly odiferous, this andouille is unapologetically intestinal much in the way that haggis is stoutly offal-intensive. If you’re a devotee of the nasty bits, you can’t do much better. Lastly, another must-try is the boudin noir, the French blood sausage which is a richer, bloodier cousin of Korean sundae.
Continuing with the transmutation of pork, the menu also offers a fantastic charcuterie plate. Those lamenting Seoul’s lack of quality cured meats will herein find Xanadu on a wooden cutting board: saucisson, jambon de Paris, lonza, chorizo, cervelas and on and on all 100 percent made on-site. If this doesn’t curb your porcine lust, rilettes and pate en croute are also alluringly available. However, getting lost in a total meat fugue would be a mistake and one should remember to eat their vegetables. The frisee al lardons and haricot verts, although certainly plant-based, are sinful in their own right, owing either to studs of thick cut bacon or heavy applications of butter. The menu is rounded out by unimpeachable French staples such as duck confit, cassoulet, and quiche lorraine. There is also a high quality tiramisu and other dessert if, somehow, you’ve managed to not eat to the point of bursting. Needless to say, very well-priced wine and beer are offered.
The verdict: haute cuisine this is not. And thankfully so. Instead, L’impasse 81 gives Seoulites a rare chance to experience French food as represented by the bouchon, a kind of French pub, where down-home trumps high-minded and relaxed and affordable prevails over stiff and expensive. If the phrase “neighborhood French place” has never crossed your mind, it should now.
Address: Donggyo-dong 149-11
Hours: Mon-Sun 12-2:30, 5-10
Photos by Peter Kim