|Ground floor, Joo Bar|
The recent opening of Joo Bar at Tan Quee Lan Street is proof that the city’s small plates dining culture is not just alive but thriving.
In a dim-lit triple-storey conservation shop house space festooned with arty light fixtures (look out for the hexagonal hanging copper lights handmade by the owners) against a backdrop of black and white tones, Joo Bar comes to the fore with the city’s first Korean-accented small plates bar.
|The makgeolli sampler (the yucha ice blended makgeolli is the one to beat)|
If you believe the Korean theory that alcohol is the main course and that anju (Korean bites consumed with alcohol) is merely supplementary, there’s no better way to start than with the makgeolli sampler (S$35 for 5) of 5 different types of house-made Korean rice wine. But if you prefer to stay with just 1 flavour, the yucha – the Korean name for yuzu – ice-blended makgeolli is the one to beat (S$22 for small, S$36 for large). Or try the heady – if overly sweet – makgeolli-based cocktails (S$20-S$24), each named for the Korean cities of Busan, Hong Dae, Gangnam, Itaewon and Insadong.
Graze on anju whilst drinking: paper-thin sheets of dried baby eel flavoured with chilli salt (S$14) are the perfect snacks, as are the toufu chips with dual dips of guacamole and kimchi salsa (S$14). For something a little more filling, the warm kimchi with toufu, and spam (S$16) is highly recommended. For a change, the house made kimchi is tossed with pork belly and served warm with sides of toufu and spam that match remarkably, more so when washed down with makgeolli.
The modern Korea fare comes courtesy of Korean chef, Kim Chang Heon, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (New York), whose chops are particularly exemplary with the mains. The slow roasted Mangalitsa pork belly (S$32) is a “must order” – think tiles of generously marbled Hungarian pork marinated in pepper, soju and makgeolli served with a mound of tear-jerking onion and chive salad.
|Hand-chopped Korean minced rib steak|
Equally riveting is the hand-chopped Korean minced rib steak (S$20). Marinated in honey, yucha, soya sauce and garlic, the steak teems with beautifully balanced, sweet and savoury flavours. Texture-wise, it is so tender that one could slice it effortlessly with a spoon.
|This is no ordinary chicken pot pie, it’s kimchi chicken pot pie|
The kimchi chicken pot pie (S$14) is another winner. Chicken tenderloin and little chunks of vegetables are served in a puff pastry-topped bowl brimming with a creamy béchamel sauce spiked with mildly spicy bits of kimchi.
Decidedly blander relative to the fore courses but no less alluring, the joo bossam (S$28) arrives as slices of thinly sliced boiled pork belly served alongside a stack of spicy radish salad as well as small portion of white yucha kimchi. Should you decide to order this, tuck into this pork dish before you dig in to the other dishes with more intense flavours.
We are less intrigued with the seafood gochujang risotto (S$24), a Korean rice dish prepped with fish stock and a riot of seafood – including shrimp, black mussel, clam and squid – in a fermented red pepper paste cream sauce that leaves a lingering sour taste.
Even if the risotto is not up our alley, Joo Bar weighs in with plenty of delicious plates that are worth a schlep (to say nothing of the addictive makgeolli). And with the food menu this affordable, we can see why it’s packed on most days.
Perhaps it’s the start of a modern Korean food craze in Singapore?
5 Tan Quee Lan Street, Singapore 188 094 | +65- 8138 1628 | joo-bar.com
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.