Marque d’Amour in L’Escape Hotel in Seoul is shifting perceptions of the city’s bartending culture. By Holly Graham.
If you had to draft an all-star bar dream team of cocktail maestros, this would be it: Simone Caporale, Monica Berg and Alex Kratena, a.k.a. the tri-force behind Marque d’Amour bar at L’Escape Hotel, Seoul. Together, the three have crafted the concept behind this norm-busting new bar in South Korea’s capital.
L’Escape Hotel is inspired by 19th century French interior decor and designed by renowned French architect Jacques Garcia, whose most notable projects include The NoMad Hotel in New York City. “The bar is like a rich and flamboyant person’s garden,” says Caporale. “Perhaps they’re French, Korean or both. Everything is based on essences of flowers in terms of flavour concept.”
The bar itself is – as Caporale says – very classic, decked out in rich velvets and dark and regal colours with gold accents, replete with ten large top busts of peacocks throughout the space. “The bar has 13 tables and around 48 seats. Though it’s small, it’s a nice size because when you have 30 guests, it feels like a vibrant Saturday night.”
Classic design aside, Marque d’Amour is certainly challenging conventional Korean bartending, doing such things as abolishing the Seoul scene’s customary cover charge and trying to minimise Japanese bartending influence. “Japanese bartending is great, but I encourage my colleagues to be themselves, to be Korean bartenders and to create their own story. I tell them that what we are doing at Marque d’Amour is different, and not to worry about other standards or rules they are used to. They are now they embracing it and really enjoy it. The whole hotel wants to break the norm.”
The staff are really proud to welcome guests with something they have made with their own hands – it’s special for the guest too
Every cocktail is made with a botanical profile in mind. “We have 15 drinks with two alcohol-free cocktails, as we’re encouraging the idea that you don’t need alcohol to make a great cocktail,” says Caporale. Though the drinks aren’t all floral, they all feature elements of flowers and plants. “We have a good mix of soft and delicate flavours and more full-bodied ones. We’ve actually increased our boozy cocktails, as a majority of people want to drink medium to strong cocktails.”
Drinks such as Forget Me Not use a blend of Jeju mandarin, frankincense and pisco. “When you burn frankincense, you perceive notes of mandarin and orange on the nose, so we figured the combo would work. We blended it with mandarin juice and it tasted incredible.” Caporale sourced the frankincense from Oman – a place he visited during his r&d for Marque d’Amour. In the lead up to opening, every two months Caporale took at least a week of travel dedicated to the bar’s ingredients and concept. “I dedicated that time strictly to r&d, as this meant I was not distracted by my other work.”
In Oman, Caporale got to grips with raw materials that have been traded for thousands of years – such as frankincense – and considered how many of these ingredients and essences haven’t really been utilised in the f&b industry. “Around 2013, bartenders started using pure essential oils for infusions and such. If you were one of the few bars in the world at the time that had a rotovap, you could extract things yourself. If not, the only technique was maceration. When we discovered this, it opened a thousand new doors – working with new flavours like ylang ylang, vetiver and patchouli in cocktails – but there’s still so much we haven’t even touched out there.”
As mentioned, in Seoul, bars tend to charge a cover price – something Caporale says doesn’t fit in with his idea of hospitality – deciding instead to give guests a welcome cocktail and a snack. Each week the bar serves a different welcome cocktail, and Marque d’Amour is creating a database of these welcome drinks with a mind to publish a cocktail book. All the snacks are made in-house by the bar team, something which Caporale says gives staff a sense of pride. “The staff are really proud to welcome guests with something they have made with their own hands – it’s special for the guest too.”
Though it’s Caporale’s face you’ll see more often than not in Seoul – as he visits for a week every month whilst Alex and Monica are focusing on another project – the three of them make all decisions together. Caporale has every faith in his frontline team, led by head bartender Max Rokham. “We’ve worked together since 2011 and I feel he’s one of the most talented Russian bartenders of this decade.” The rest of the staff are local and a fairly young team – a team Caporale says is great to work with. “I find it easy to communicate through cocktails with my staff and guests. When we make any changes, everybody must be involved and feel ownership – everyone’s point of view is helpful.”
Recipe (click to view)
Endless Light by Simone Caporale
Marque d’Amour L’Escape Hotel, 67 Toegye-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea. +82 2317 4000, lescapehotel.com.