In recent years, Seoul has shot all the way to the heart of the international style radar.
With Asia and the rest of the world taking its lead on everything from fashion and beauty, to design and technology, nothing has been left untouched by the city’s irrepressible flair for style.
If there’s anything that encapsulates Seoul’s mastery of chic in daily life, look no further than its dessert cafés. The best part — the treats served in these envy-inducing interiors taste just as good as they look.
1. Dore Dore
This wildly popular café might have started the rainbow cake craze in Seoul (known as the Feel Good! cake), but its other cakes are works of art in a deliciously offbeat, sloppy chic way.
Slapdash-style icing like impressionistic brushstrokes paired with pastel and primary colours — think an Opening Ceremony ft. Carven of cakes.
With the cafe featuring monochrome rooms of various sunset colours, iridescent cellophane windows, and clean lines, you might just feel like you’ve stepped into a Wes Anderson-designed Malibu Barbie house.
544-4 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
2. Melting Shop
Another Instagram cult favorite, Melting Shop evokes 1930s American dance hall in a modernized-vintage interior of dark leathers, warm woods and white tiling.
The inviting setting begs a sharing of dessert, and portions at the cafe are more than generous for two. You’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order from their enticing selection, but for sheer visual and tactile magic, order their Blue Velvet Cake.
Subtly sweet, yet fresh and tart, it is a marvel of whipped cream and air. You’ll be able watch it wobble for ages.
55 Apgujeong-ro 46-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
3. Sous le Gui
Opened by a Le Cordon Bleu-trained patissier, the delicate French pastry served at Sous le Gui stuns with its raw, clean beauty.
The interior, of brick floors filled with soil and gravel, industrial wooden stools and scattered planters, feels like a Tokyo-Berlin-Copenhagen café hybrid.
If cafés were equated to bouquet styles, then Sous le Gui would be that bouquet of organically arranged wild flowers wrapped in brown paper and string — nonchalant, understated, and utterly captivating.
683-65 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
4. Dinga Cake House
While it might be more famously known as the cake supplier to the cult Itaewon café, ways of seeing, a visit to Dinga Cake House will defy all impressions of cake suppliers as nondescript entities.
Looking like a 1950s prop set on steroids, the café’s deep pastels — recalling a Cartoon Network retro meets Miu Miu vibes — makes for an instantly transportive experience.
Cakes covered in various Playdoh-coloured buttercreams look beguilingly fake, and exactly like grandma made them. Moist, light but rich in flavour, these cakes are crazy good fun.
467-2, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
5. Avec El Café
Avec El began life as a Muji-inspired lifestyle store, so it’s no surprise that the café has an understated industrial vibe with a curation of sleek, vintage items.
Cast against the beautiful white, naturally lit setting, Avec El’s fresh offerings almost come aglow. It’s famous for its fruit-flavored coffee, each flavor designated by a slice of fruit nested in a thick foam layer, and chiffon cake.
A restrained use of flowers and dried leaves allow the natural fruit hues to shine, making an exquisite tableau of Miss Dior x Jurlique x sakura season visuals.
1F, 41-1, Huam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
This modernized traditional Korean rice cake shop or deok-jip is helmed by French-trained chef Shin Yong-il. Haap is renowned for elevating traditional jeungpyeon (steamed fermented rice cakes) and juak(makgeolli-fermented glutinous rice flour doughnuts) into luxurious, elegantly packaged sweets.
Along with these, the café also serves patbingsu (shaved ice), and an array of traditional Korean teas and drinks like baesuk (steamed pear) tea. If you’re seeking for unconventional edible souvenirs that aren’t Korean seaweed or ginseng, you won’t go wrong coming to Haap.
Haeseok Building, 10 Dosandaero-61-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Brancusi is the perfect place to spend a few hours reading or chilling with coffee and cake.
A former tofu factory, the metal-smithing background of its interior designers comes through in the earthy, industrial setting. Red brick and warm greys create a cozy atmosphere, and what’s on the menu is equally robust.
Order their Dirty Coffee: served in a glass mug intentionally overflowing with milky foam and shards of dark bitter chocolate, this one’s for slow sipping and intimate conversation.
104 Yong mun-dong, Yongsan-gu Seoul
8. Tokyo Bingsu
A delightfully charming bingsu boutique that takes a cue from Japan’s artful kakigori creations, the shaved ice at Tokyo Bingsu are simple, gorgeous presentations — a breath of fresh air from its typically overladen appearance in Seoul.
Each vivid mountain of color is more than sufficient for two; traditional flavors like strawberry and peach are available, but it’s the tomato bingsu that really pops.
414-56, Mangwon-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
9. Proust Tea
If you’re seeking some quiet and reprieve from the city, Proust Tea is a hybrid scent store and teahouse set in a refurbished hanok (Korean traditional house).
Hidden away in the old neighborhood of Ikseon-dong, the ambience is part minimalist spa, part hushed fragrance lab, with whitewash, steel, glass, and warm lighting.
Two types of milk tea and a selection of Madeleines in homage to its namesake are served. The menu may be lean but the space is so unadulterated, there’s no need to have anything more.
17-26, Supyo-ro 28-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
One of the latest patisseries to open in Seoul, Compostela has quickly drawn a following for its delicate spherical confections.
Each glistening orb is named after a planet in the solar system, and cut open to reveal gorgeous multi-textured, jewel-like interiors.
And New York trained pastissier and owner Kwon Young-mi certainly has a eye for color — with each lush cake paired against dusky pastel plates, it’s almost too chic to look at.
647-23 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
This story first appeared on Harper's Bazaar Singapore.