There's a bounty of Korean barbecue spots in Hongdae, and they open early if you feel like a meaty start to the day. Though you'll struggle to find anything similar to our brunch styles back home, there are plenty of coffee joints offering more familiar breakfast fare, with baked treats and sandwiches available at reasonable prices. If you're craving something basic but beautiful, the famous Isaac Toast serves up a simple menu of toast, bagels, muffins, coffee and juice. Their toasted sandwiches are cheap as chips and absolutely delicious.
Seoul is littered with Starbucks, so I was relieved to discover a number of delicious independent coffee roasters in Hongdae. Order the "strong latte" at Red Plant Coffee Roasters for a smooth, creamy coffee that resembles a flat white, and make sure you specify you want it hot – iced coffee is very popular in Seoul. Just a short walk down the same street will take you to Beliefcoffee roasters, where the baristas are familiar with flat whites. You can accompany your coffee with a croissant or toasted sandwich, or there are sweet treats available in the form of macarons, which come in a range of mysterious flavours – I tried a green one which I think was matcha. There's heaps of room to sit down and read a book here, or connect to the Wi-Fi and get some work done.
I never caught the proper name for this spot, but the manager of the Lazy Fox Hostel in Hongdae where I stayed directed us to "the 4500 place" – where every meal costs a tiny 4500 Korean Won (NZ$5.90). The food is unbelievably good and the portions extremely generous, making this the perfect spot if you're travelling on a shoestring. Ask around; it's on Jandari-ro in the Seogyo-dong neighbourhood in Hongdae. Otherwise, most Korean barbecue spots will only set you back NZ$15 or so, and aside from the meat, you're allowed unlimited access to the lettuce wraps, kimchi, spring onion and sauce to dress up your meal with.
The Playground Rooftop Cafe & Bar is a party hotspot, but earlier in the evening can be a lovely place for a drink at dusk. Across from Hongik University, the institution that lends itself to Hongdae's youthful, alternative vibe, Playground's view over the rooftops gives some much-needed perspective on the labyrinthine layout of the area. Suitable for groups to enjoy cocktails on the deck or solo travellers to nestle in with a book, it's also wonderfully easy to strike up conversations with the international crowd that passes through these doors.