The French Institute


To be sure, Korea and France’s bilateral relations got off to a rough start. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say they involved the murder of several Catholic missionaries and an 1866 invasion. Nevertheless, over the past 140-some years, it’s safe to say that the relationship has improved to the point that Korea and France are something of what the French might call a pas de deux.

Perhaps the best example of this is the French Institute, located near Sungnyemun Gate in downtown Seoul. Occupying the 18th floor of the Woori Building, the institute provides Francophiles with a wealth of information and resources about all things French. The City of Lights it is not, but the Namdaemun location hosts lovely wine tastings, a book club and language classes, as well as the Cine France film series every Tuesday night.

The space includes a good-sized children’s library with books appropriate for small kids and even young adults. There are also computer workstations where visitors can watch French television or cartoons.

Beyond studying, researching and the like, it’s fitting that the French Institute would dedicate a fair bit of space to another French art, gastronomy. Connected to the library space by a curious metal tube-like passageway is the Institute-affiliated Café des Arts.

Run by the same people from Itaewon’s celebrated Le Saint-Ex restaurant, the café-bistro’s homage to gastronomy features a weekly menu of seasonally-appropriate sandwiches, soups and crêpes. You can even preview the week’s culinary offerings online. Filling a narrow slice of the French Institute's 18th-story perch, it aspires to create a space where culture and gastronomy meet.

Twelve tables are flanked on one side by a wall of art and on the other by a bank of windows affording great views of Seoul Fortress snaking up Mt. Namsan. The café-bistro provides an affordable and casual dining experience for Seoulites in search of authentic French cuisine. Diners can choose among three set menus (and at least four French wines by the glass). Friendly wait staff arrive table side, menu board in hand. Typical offerings include French-style sandwiches, salads, crêpes and homemade desserts. As you might expect, from sea bass to pork chops, expect lots of butter. The intimate space is also available for private events.

So in lieu of, or in preparation for, your next visit to the world’s most popular destination, Paris, why not visit the French Institute in Namdaemun?

The French Institute can be reached via Line 1, 4, Gyeonghui and AREX’s Seoul Station (exit #3).

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