Review: Tres Bon French Cuisine in Gwangan-li
Tres Bon’s authentic-style French cuisine marks a welcome cultural stride in one of Busan’s most vibrant and evolving communities. The great food, sizable portions and cozy atmosphere make it a worthy taste of France.
BUSAN, South Korea -- Fans of French cooking will be thrilled to learn of Tres Bon, a new French bistro established last August near Gwangal-li beach. Its menu is small and it can only seat around twenty diners, but it provides a dining experience unique to Busan. Its fine cuisine, informal tricolor decor and jovial atmosphere, all produced by the proprietor-chef, Edward Ham, make it a welcome addition to the city.
Ham Chung-min was born and raised in Busan before attending Queensland University in Australia, where he studied hotel management. While working at a high-end hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, he took a cooking class that sparked his interest in French cuisine. He proceeded to study his new passion for two years in Lyon, followed by a stint in Bordeaux to learn about wine.
Before opening Tres Bon (which means “very good” in French), he taught at a university and was general manager of a five-star hotel. With his wife Song Su-jin waiting tables, Ham says his mission at Tres Bon is making natural food that both tastes good and benefits people’s health. With the French gastronomic meal named a World Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010, this is a mission worth accomplishing.
Tres Bon’s menu offers pastas as well as French fare, including guanciale, a delicious spicy spaghetti dish made with sausage. All pastas are priced under 20,000 won, with the alio e olio being only 8,000. Diners who associate French food with small portions at high prices need not fear: Ham serves filling portions for 35,000 won or under. He serves a fine French salad topped with parma ham for only 7,500 won, as well as sandwiches for under 10,000; the cheapest item on the menu is the potato sandwich for 3,500 (which, I assure you, tastes better than it sounds).
The five entrees are all worth trying. My personal favorite is the duck confit with orange sauce, but they also have lamb chops, roasted chicken with herbs and jumbo shrimp with cream sauce, all 35,000 won or under, and all of which include green beans and fried potatoes.
The most expensive item on the menu is the Surprise de Chef, a large platter with a little bit of everything; it’s enough for two with medium appetites. For anyone who may doubt the food’s authenticity, I recently took a French couple there and they said they wish they had known about it earlier.
Tres Bon’s wine list is currently limited, but the prices are reasonable for the quality, and only French wine really complements French food. Prices range from 32,000 for a decent white Bordeaux to 85,000 won, with most bottles in the 55-65,000 won range. Unfortunately, Ham does not serve wine by the glass. He does, however, grudgingly allow guests to bring their own bottles. For non-drinkers, Tres Bon also offers real mint tea for 4,000 won with free refills. Ham grows his own herbs in planters by the doorway, including fresh mint and several other herbs which he uses to flavor his dishes.
Welcome news for fans of French food on the peninsula is that Tres Bon is part of a growing number of French restaurants springing up around Korea. In fact, a new one named Merciel is scheduled to open at Haeundae this month, which means both of Busan’s major beaches will have a French dining option—just the touch this city needs!
According to the France Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s new guidebook, there are now over 70 French dining establishments in the country. Restaurants like Tres Bon are evidence that as Korea’s globalization presses on, it’s residents are hungry for tasty international fare.
Tres Bon’s is located Suyeong-gu, Namcheon-dong 5-29 1 cheung, and its land line is 051-625-1334. Edward Ham himself may be reached by phone at 010-8339-7736 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tres Bon's hours are 11 to 11, so you can have lunch or dinner there, and no reservations are needed, but call ahead if you want the Roasted Chicken.
Anyone wishing to obtain a copy of the France-Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry guidebook for 10,000 won can write email@example.com for more info.
Read more from Hal Swindall