South Korea is famous for a great many things; Fried Chicken, Korean BBQ, Soju, A demilitarized zone with 100,000 active troops ready to blow each other up over a misunderstanding. What it isn’t famous for is a thriving coffee culture. Which is a little strange, not because much of the country is still jittery from its northern neighbours, but because if you were to walk down any street in Seoul you’re likely to walk past about a dozen uniquely named cafes and more than a dozen coffee chains.
So Anthracite in Hapjeong, Seoul is pleasantly distinct in its difference.
The crisscrossed timber frame on the roof is understandably on display just as much as the paintings and design scattered on the walls. It’s like everyone’s dream New York open plan loft was gutted and you just invited people to sit around and drink coffee.
Built inside a retired shoe factory the space it presents is vast by any other comparison. You could run a game of futsal on the second floor dining area if you removed all the wooden lounge chairs and black steel framed tables and that coffee pot hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. Why is that even there?
The ground floor of Anthracite houses the register, kitchen and roasting area. Perhaps the most unique roasting room I’ve ever seen as the owners kept the rubber conveyor belt in the factory and turned it into a table for its coffee school and viewing area. I don’t know if they turn that conveyor belt on but a sushi-train style coffee shop is an idea I’m thinking of patenting. Back off my ideas okay?
Coffee is great, one of the best I’ve had in Seoul but pricey at ₩6000 for a hot café latte. The Cranberry Scone (₩3000) was also a pretty good compliment but I get the feeling my late English grandmother would highly disapprove of a Korean scone. Sorry Grandma.
It perhaps works against itself that cafés in Korea aim to have a well designed sense of style and modern fit outs. Everything is different but everything is the same, kind of like snowflakes and fingerprints. Korean police would be well served having a catalog of every café in Seoul.
Interestingly the name of the cafe comes from a black, common mineral, not actually mined by South Korea, but by the North in large numbers perhaps ironically stands out among all that other commonality. Bit strange but pleasant.
The words that came out of my brothers mouth when we walked onto the third floor of D&D Department Dining in Osaka pretty much sum up how I feel about it.
‘Oh shut up.’
A wave of sophistication hits you the second you catch sight of the ambient lighting, black leather sofas and stark white walls. That sophistication though is completely disconnected from the price tag of the items on the menu. It is a perfect example of contemporary dining in a comfortable and affordable enviroment.
History on D&Department is scarce to find in English. It was started in 2000 by designer Kenmei Nagaoka as a homewares and furniture store focusing on the ethos of ‘Life Long Design’. Sometime in 2009, Kenmei expanded the brand into a Japan exclusive travel magazine that is going to document smart design and travel ideas for Japans 47 prefectures.
D&Dining Osaka, the shortened and official name of the restaurant on the third floor of the home-wares shop is one of three such eateries in Japan, the others being in Tokyo and most recently Fukuoka.
I’ve spent hours in D&Department ordering just a latte (¥500) and enjoying the atmosphere. Dinner takes it to another level and the Daily Special Pasta (¥1000), a glass of red (¥500) an the company of my delighted brother on his first trip to Japan delivered one of my favourite meals in Japan.
There is this underlying rivalry of sorts between Osaka and Tokyo. One is friendlier than the other. Nicer than the other. Cooler than the other. The easiest way to explain it for my Australian friends is a sort of mutual understanding that Sydney and Melbourne are building too. It’s kind of obvious though when you walk into Streamer Coffee Shibuya after visiting their Osaka branch first that one rates itself higher than the other.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Osaka branch of Streamer Coffee and so much so that I confidently asserted that its reputation as a premiere coffee house that it has pretty much built from the ground up was extremely well founded. What I did enjoy most about it was the underlying superiority associated with titles such as that was noticeably missing in action.
Perhaps my bias towards Osaka is clouding my judgement. Perhaps that Osaka was just a counter and there was no lingering customers made me feel at ease. Perhaps my ego was hurt I couldn’t engaged the staff or customers like I could in Osaka. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to hang around as much.
This wasn’t more apparent than when informed with a crossed arms symbol from behind the counter as we were leaving that photos were not allowed. We had asked before we ordered, and the barista told us the rules of taking photos, very politely and with a smile mind you, to which we adhered to. We followed the rules and waited for the coffee as an older American gentleman in a dapper outfit with round rimmed glasses and a young Spoodle in hand, high fived the staff as he was leaving. It’s friendly, there’s no denying that. But behind the counter photos were implicitly not allowed and interior pictures will find you on the wrong side of the staff that didn’t know you had already asked.
I can understand a brands reluctance to allow photo taking so I haven’t posted the one I took. It is always the first thing I ask before I do and I’m not foolish enough to think this lowly website is entitled to the good graces of the exclusive side of culture without a proper ‘appointment’. It does have to be mentioned mind you because it was part of the experience as a customer.
Uniquely and surprisingly the coffee mug was the size of my face so predictably when one shot of espresso is used the latte (¥550) was very milky and very heavy to drink. It was good but it wasn’t finished, more likely due to the size than the taste. There are other coffees on the menu, the most interesting of which was the Military Latte. A mix of Green Tea, White Chocolate, Espresso and Cocoa that is safe to say that soldiers would probably prefer to their military supply instant coffee.
Donuts and cakes are also available as well as Streamers’ emerging clothing label and coffee hardware. Seating is plenty and smoking is allowed outside. Open every day including holidays but hours change on weekends.
Streamer Coffee Shibuya still comes recommended here but not so at the top of the list. There is plenty of competition in this city that now nudge it out as one of the better places to have a coffee in Tokyo. Well, to me at least.
Omotesando Koffee has closed in December 2015. Toranomon Koffee is still open in Minato-Ku if you’re interested in the brand.
Did you know that the best coffee on earth is located in the trendy backstreets of Omotesando? Yeh, I didn’t know either until I read the online reviews of Omotesando Koffee. ‘Pinnacle of Coffee’, ‘Zen Atmosphere’, ‘Staring Tom Hanks’. Okay, that last one was made up but reading those reviews is more like reading the RottenTomatoes cliff notes of Christopher Nolans latest Hollywood epic. I’m not one for superlatives so I’ll just say this, if you like coffee you should visit Omotesando Koffee.
Omotoseando Koffee (The K is for effect perhaps?) originally opened in 2011 with the intention of only being open for 12 months by Bread, Espresso & owner Eiichi Kunitomo, Omotesando Koffee makes use of an essentially abandoned tatami floored home with a 3 x 3 meter metal frame encasing a lone LaCimbali M31 Dosatron with a sole barista working through the queue. It’s almost an exhibition in making a coffee. Business is good because he’s still open and the line is usually out the door.
Small baked custard square canelés, not much bigger than a die, serve as the only other item available and are made in a small enough quantity that they are sold out before the lunch time crowd arrives in droves. The Sunday I visited Omotesando Koffee presented a line with a 25 minute wait where no one bemoaned of the waiting time.
‘But I need my coffee fix now’ I hear your screams and usually I’d be right there with you, but not this time. This time, you know you’re gonna get the same attention to detail as the person ahead of you and it’s simply fine.
The Iced Cappuccino (¥560) and Latte (¥500) that I ordered, goes without saying really, was awesome. Not entirely sure it was worth a 40 minute total wait (because I lined up a second time) but I did wait and didn’t mind. It’s just part in parcel with a space such as this… and just me wanting more material for this website.
It was probably my first week after moving to Nagasaki that I was first told about Monne Legui Mooks. I had asked a friend if they had any cafes or restaurants they would recommend and he immediately answered;
‘Mooks!’ without any hesitation. But, he followed this answer up with the question;
‘Do you own a car?’ I timidly shook my head and he went on to say not to worry about it.
Don’t worry about it? You’ve basically just told me about this mysterious car only access cafe, how can I not worry about that? So, Monne Legui Mooks has been a destination sitting in the back of mind for about a year. Far too long to not follow up on a suggested location.
After acquiring a Japanese licence two months ago Meg and I made plans for a road trip encompassing stopping off in the anonymous town of Hasami which housed the restaurant. We arrived thinking there’d be a few people at this restaurant but there was already a 20m queue of people patiently waiting for Mooks to open at 11am. Luckily enough we got one of the few remaining seats at the counter.
Housed on a plot of land with three other ex-manufacturing buildings Mooks is the star attraction. A labour of love by the owner who turned the area into a tourist trap with the three buildings sheltering the cafe, a art gallery and the wonderful Hasami Porcelain homewares shop. All have maintained the original timber construction with a surprisingly sparse littering of modern fittings throughout. The owner later told me that he didn’t want to waste the already fine construction by demolition. That’s why he picked these buildings and the town of Hasami.
The set menu is typically priced for a modern Japanese cafe at about ¥1000 and includes the daily entrée, a main and a drink. We we’re lucky enough to get the mix omelette (above), containing mushrooms and cheese as an entrée that was devilishly smooth and a perfect precursor to the main. So far so good.
Not long after tunneling through the omelette came out my order of Taco Rice (above). Served with a fried egg on top, sour cream and a small salad I pretty much cleaned the plate. The taco, spices, mince and sour cream combo came together that wants me going back once more just for it. It was nice to eat something with some substance for a change. The girl ordered a That green curry which was also brilliant. I may have stolen some when she went to wash her hands.
So yet again a non descriptive building in an utterly ordinary area harbours an extraordinary experience. Japans fascination with 廃墟 (Haikyo/Ruins) is a pleasure to be a part of and something I hope I can incorporate into the things I do in the future. It’s like they know that the people who designed these things were good at them, so let’s just bring what we’re good at in into it.
If you ever have the chance to visit Monne Legui Mooks it comes highly regarded from two previous customers.
© 2017 Carey Ciuro