According to a lukewarm review of The Original Pancake House (TOPH) by the lady who runs A Fat Girl's Food Guide, the pancakes at TOPH aren't much to write home about. It's always a shame to me when a restaurant or bakery advertises a certain food item in its very name, then fails to deliver on that item. Case in point: Paris Baguette, an over-optimistic Korean bakery chain whose baguettes are positively awful. You'd think that a store whose name suggests specialization in baguettes would get the eponymous item right... but no. TOPH, alas, falls into that category as well: its pancakes really are disappointingly mediocre. Edible, yes—I ate everything in front of me—but mediocre.
TOPH is set up like an American diner; there were plenty of expats inside when I entered. The menu is extensive, but it's mostly variations on a few limited themes: pancakes and their cognates (waffles, crêpes, etc.), sandwiches, salads, and so on. I saw that the menu was advertising a "raspberry-blueberry festival," so I asked the server about that. He said that the fruits had been changed to mango and pineapple. I'd had my heart set on ordering the raspberry-blueberry pancake festival special, so I flipped a page ahead and ordered simple blueberry pancakes instead. "These are frozen blueberries," the server warned (i.e., the festival-special blueberries would have been fresh). I told him that that would be fine, even while I smiled inwardly at his candor. I then ordered the rest of my meal from the side-menu options: two scrambled eggs, a plate of bacon (I had no idea how big it would be), sausages, and a very, very expensive cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice.
The food didn't take long to arrive; the food runner, bizarrely, handed dishes directly to me instead of setting the plates down on the table in front of me. I saw that I'd been given only a single scrambled egg; this was reflected in my bill. Next time, I'll have to slice my finger open and circle the desired selection in blood to make sure the server understands what I want. Everything smelled delightful, and after a moment of indecision as I decided where to begin, I buttered up my pancakes, poured blueberry syrup over them, then started with the carbs.
The pancakes weren't terrible, but they also weren't spectacular. They were flat, not fluffy, and they broke too easily when I tried lifting chunks of pancake up with my fork. A decent pancake shouldn't act like wet toilet paper when you've applied butter and syrup; it ought to retain some tensile strength. I will, however, say that, to their credit, the pancakes didn't swing in the opposite direction: they weren't too dense. Unfortunately, they did have a strange, slightly "off" taste about them, as if there were a hint of yeastiness to them. The taste I'm talking about is hard to explain, but it was there, and very noticeable.
The egg was scrambled in proper American style, but it's hard to get scrambled eggs wrong if you have any common sense. The sausage links were fine, but again, not spectacular. All in all, this was turning out to be a very so-so meal.
Then I had the thick-cut bacon. Five or six large strips of bacon (the side order cost W7,000), all done perfectly and flavorfully, sat on my plate and begged to be eaten. Each slice tasted fantastic, and now I'm curious as to whether TOPH makes a bacon cheeseburger, which I think would be a much worthier item to order if and when I go back again. The bacon was the star of the show for me. Hell, I'd eat a BLT if TOPH offered one.
Finally, there was the fresh-squeezed juice—barely eight ounces of it, poured grudgingly into a small glass, and way too expensive at W6,500. But it tasted great. It, too, was the star of the show—full of pulp and tangy, sweet orange flavor. There just wasn't enough of it.
All in all, that was an expensive meal. It looked like a huge number of pancakes at first, but each individual pancake was small, and I slaughtered the plate with ease. All in all, I'd prefer the International House of Pancakes—at American prices—although I know full well that that's a fantasy. In Korea, when you want Western food, you have to be ready to shell out, even if all you're after is cheap diner food.
And here's my damage:
Blueberry pancakes, full order: W12,000
Bacon plate: W7,000
Link sausages: W5,500
Single egg: W1,500
Orange juice: W6,500
TOTAL AFTER 10% TAX (W2,952): W32,500
Was it all worth it? Well, like The Fat Girl, I must conclude that many of the menu items are things that I could just as easily cook at home. I did enjoy the relaxed, diner-like atmosphere, and the service—except for the egg fuckup—was fine (at least I wasn't billed for two eggs). I'll probably go back again, but now that I've sampled a wide range of breakfast items, I'm going to concentrate on lunch/dinner fare, with an eye to anything that includes that miraculous thick-cut bacon.