In a quiet, unassuming corner of Seoul's residential Bangbae-dong, pastry chefs Tetsuya Otsuka and Lee Min-sun craft elegant French pastries with a subtle modern twist at Maison M'O.
Madeleines are coated in a citrusy lemon glaze, arranged, plump and inviting in their baking trays for passersby to stop by and pop into their eager mouths, while chaussons shed their more conventional apple filling for tart apricots and rich almond cream infused with a hint of lavender.
"I do not want the experience of eating our desserts to be monotonous," said Maison M'O co-owner Tetsuya, 39.
Tetsuya and Lee met while working at Pierre Herme Paris in Japan and launched Maison M'O this March.
Tetsuya, who also honed his formidable range of experience in desserts and pastries at the Tokyo-based La Boutique de Joel Robuchon, explained how he wants all his creations to possess a medley of soft and crisp textures and "fragrance with impact."
"Our goal is to continually put out more diverse products and make it fun," Tetsuya explained.
That playful aesthetic, more under-the-radar than in-your-face, shines through in desserts like Maison M'O's "banana uyu," a nod to Korea's popular banana-flavored milk.
Tart and creamy mango-passion fruit pudding, ginger-inflected, tapioca-studded cream and banana foam round out this near-seamless dessert, which amplifies its juicy, fruity, sour edge with bits of fresh tangerine.
While there is a definite experimental bent to the treats at Maison M'O, the backbone is decidedly French, with a firm foundation in traditional pastries, cakes and cookies.
Nowhere is this more evident than in pastries like the shop's chaussons and pithiviers, both classic French pastry pies.
At Maison M'O, those puff pastry treats are rendered impossibly flaky, with gossamer thin layers of pastry that are rich, buttery and ever-so-slightly salty.
Lee and Tetsuya revealed that French AOP Isigny butter is used to make the pastries along with other delectable treats like their madeleines.
Customers can enjoy these desserts by nabbing one of the few seats, seven in total, inside the minimal, airy, bright space or get their treats to-go.
Of the to-go concept of the relatively small space, Tetsuya said, "At first, I was worried if a take-out sweet shop would work."
Apparently, the concept has been successful thus far. According to co-owner Lee, 32, "The response is better than expected."
Indeed, if one drops by in the afternoon, the selection is quite limited, with many of Maison M'O's treats already sold out.
To really get the chance to choose from the shop's full repertoire, Lee recommends showing up when the store opens, at 11:30 a.m.
"It is the best time to select from the widest variety of sweets," Lee said.