Craving a spot of British home-comfort when you’re in South Korea? Look no further than the Sherlock Holmes-themed café, 221B, in Gangnam! Two of our writers visited 221B separately during August 2014 and here are their thoughts…
221B is actually very easy to find. I managed to screw it up and take 30 minutes to get there from Gangnam-gu subway station but on leaving the café, I realised it was actually a very short walk along the main road from exits 3 and 4. The café is situated just off the main road, around a corner, and is below ground level so it escapes the noise from the road completely. The atmosphere is therefore fairly chilled, both because of the laid-back acoustic playlist and the extremely welcoming air-conditioning. This is definitely a place to go to and relax.
Having said that, the time of your visit will no doubt affect just how relaxing the café seems. Our other member of staff, Donna, recalls visiting during lunchtime and being met with a flurry of customers, a buzzing atmosphere. Considering the busy rush, she didn’t stay long. On the other hand, I visited at roughly 3pm midweek and saw only two other tables occupied. It seemed like this place would never be packed, especially since it is set so far away from the bustling streets of districts like Myeongdong and Hongdae.
The concept of the café is actually very classy. Yes, it is a Sherlock concept. But it isn’t cheesy or thrown in your face. (Except maybe the Union Jack-patterned bins in the bathroom…) The décor is very pleasant and detailed with beautiful wooden tables, deep leather chairs, real chain-link wall décor and complimentary colours throughout. The café insignia is found on the coffee cups, as with most coffee shops, though it strangely comes as a surprise. The initial reaction is, “Why have I never seen anything like this in the UK and where can I buy one?!” They do have cups placed artfully on display, though I think this is merely to fill space and I am not certain whether they can be bought.
Another nice touch was the ‘Sherlock Coffee’ on the menu. Donna asked the barista what exactly that was and received no more than an enigmatic smile in return. She took the plunge and ordered it anyway (and now I wish I had, too, because when else does one get to try a ‘sherlock coffee’..?). “It had a taste of liquorice.” It might be worth heading down to 221B just for this mysterious coffee blend! Taking the safe route and opting for a caramel latte actually left me pleasantly surprised; it’s true, fellow coffee obsessives, that you can never get a good cup of coffee in Korea. This cup was pretty damn good though because the taste was good, the temperature perfect and the cups weren’t too small. I can’t really offer much more than that; it just tasted like a nice cup of coffee. We found that coffee elsewhere was too weak, almost just like water and milk. However, if you are searching for a decent cup, the coffee chain ‘De Chocolate’ does wonderful coffee and ‘Holly’s Coffee’ have an expansive range of delicious frappucinos, aptly named, ‘Hollycinos’.
221B has free wifi, but you might need a Korean speaker with you to crack the wifi code! Rather than a password, the team at 221B have devised a sneaky quiz that you have to answer to get onto the wifi. Having said that, it isn’t always hard to see which answer they’re looking for… These are the questions translated roughly.
1.) Your visit to and experience at 221B is…
1 – Satisfying 2 – Just normal/like usual 3 – Not good
2.) What is the thing you like the best on the 221B menu?
1 – Sherlock Coffee 2 – Americano 3 – Latte 4 – Juice 5 – Ice Cream
3.) What addition would you like to see to the 221B menu?
1 – Bingsoo 2 – Slushie (or frappucino) 3 – Cookie, Bagel, Cake, Scone 4 – Nothing
If I remember correctly, I chose ‘Satisfying’ and ‘Sherlock Coffee’; answers I thought they’d want to hear. I think I chose ‘Slushie’ for the last question, seeing as it came across more like innocent market research than something with a hidden meaning. I’m not sure if these are the only correct answers, but I got on the wifi with them straight away!
This café has many lunch options on offer, too, and a drink selection other than coffee. There’s a tv that plays reruns of Sherlock episodes and beautifully bound copies of the Sherlock books on display. There are tables outside as well as inside, though take your pick of sitting outside or sitting in the air-con… I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and will be absolutely sure to go back again next time I’m lucky enough to be in Seoul. Let us know if you’ve already been or if you plan to go!