Over my years in Korea, Vietnamese cuisine has become more and more popular. I first became familiar with the style of food when I travelled to Ho Chi Minh city and Nha Trang a few years ago, then on our second trip to Hoi An, after taking a local food tour it became one of my favourite kinds of food. Last week I was invited by Tuan, a Hanoi local, to come and try his food at his restaurant +84 in Insadong. After taking a look at his menu I couldn’t resist, so I took my two favourite boys along with me to give it a try.
The cute and adorable restaurant is located in a small alleyway just off of the main Insadong street. The place is quite small with only a handful of tables. Tuan told me that so far 70% of his business has been from the Vietnamese community, which I always consider to be a good thing. The menu is pretty small, about half a dozen dishes, so we just decided to give a try to all of our favourites.
First up were the deep fried Vietnamese spring rolls (6,000). These came with a traditional dipping sauce made from vinegar, chili and fish sauce. They were crisp on the outside and tasty on the inside. They were quickly followed my favourite dish, Bun Cha (8,000). I haven’t had Bun Cha since we were last in Hanoi, yet I have never forgotten the delicious taste of the meaty soup. For me it is superior to pho in every way. I was concerned that the Bun Cha wasn’t going to live up to my expectations but it easily surpassed them. A big and resounding Mmmmm was let out as soon as I took a spoonful of the soupy goodness. In amongst the sweet and sour broth were char grilled lumps of pork. When combined with the rice noodles and herby fresh salad I was in heaven. It was actually my friend Scott’s first time trying Bun Cha and he absolutely adored it too, so we knew we were on to a winner with that one.
Next up was the Bahn Mi (5,900). Banh Mi has become very popular in Seoul in the last year or so, and there has been huge debate who serves the most authentic one. For me this is probably the best one I’ve had outside of Vietnam. There are a few different varieties available and we tried the marinated grilled pork, and the roasted pork. My favourite was the grilled pork, whereas the boys preferred the roast pork which we had with more hot sauce. One of the things that makes these Banh Mi sanwiches so great is the pate, which seems to be lacking in most Vietnamese sandwiches in these parts. Due to the locals’ fear of cilantro, the owner did have to inquire as to whether we wanted any on our sandwiches, our answer being that of course we did, and who doesn’t love cilantro? The baguette that housed the meat was also crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle. I honestly don’t think you could do any better for the price.
Also on the menu is classic Vietnamese noodle dish, Pho (7,500). Although it’s not a dish I am mad about, I thought this one to be very good indeed. Good clean flavours, and it really reminded me of the bowls of noodles we slurped in Vietnam. The key to a good Pho for me is the broth, and this broth was well balanced and hit all the right notes flavour wise. The meat was tender and there was plenty of it. This dish, like all of the others was a real winner, especially for the price point, they also serve a larger bowl for 9,000.
Overall I was incredibly impressed by +84. although the place is on the small side, the flavours are bold, and if you’ve been to Vietnam you’ll find that the food tastes exactly as it should. For me its by far the best Vietnamese food I’ve had in Seoul, and that is really saying something. If you are in Insadong and looking for a good value and tasty meal then it’s a must try.
+84 is located at 6 Insadong 16 gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul. To get there take a train to Anguk Station (line 3) and come out of exit 6. Take the first left down the pedestrianized street and walk for maybe 100m. Turn left into the little alleyway (Insadong 16-gil) and you will find +84 just a little bit along on the right hand side. For more information you can call them on 02-735-1112 or check out their facebook page.