JOO Bar: Bringin' Korean sexy back.

Having had a stint in Sydney, I'm no stranger to Korean food; the convenient trips to Korean supermarkets in the dead of the night; the camaraderie that build around a table of Korean fried chicken and imposing beer towers with friends -  all familiar experiences in my book. Yet, truly Korean restaurants - good ones - are woefully limited here in Singapore. One reason is that, as with so many ethnic cuisines, there's too much competition and strife; the local palates usually tend towards a more Western flavor in pursuit of idealism. Another, is that Korean food is always associated with the smoky stench of barbecued meats sticking to your hair, the folds of your favourite cotton sweater and just about everything, that puts people off. While the spills of having to pay hefty price tags for enormous dishes fit for a party of 6, when there's only the 2 of you is vaguely a dampening factor; fret not, that's where Joo comes into the picture.

While most Korean restaurants tend towards the bright, sparse and basic look - not completely without its charm with the cling clangs of silver chopsticks against metal bowls serenading its diners; but predictable nonetheless, and bit too kitschy - Joo runs in the opposite direction and takes you instead to darkened enclaves accented by a repeated case of hexagonal patterns, and handcrafted designer lamps illuminating the den. The establishment, sprawled over three floors screams "hidden find" all over its interior, the comfy booth seats perfect for intimate parties and chill out sessions with the better half. 

Joo, obviously out to capture the drinking audience impresses with its extensive drinks list. The homemade Makgeolli is the perfect beverage to kick start a night of merry making. Made using organic rice and purified water, you can get the milky white drink in a variation of flavors from black raspberry to yucha, mango and strawberry. For first timers, its always a wise choice to stick with the Makgeolli Sampler ($35/5), the board giving you a clear idea of your next choice of poison. My preference lies with the yucha version, its mouth puckering qualities ideal in revitalising the jaded taste buds.

The food here reflects a modern sensibility as well. Instead of the humongous sharing bowls of army stew and what not, there are delicious small plates or bar snacks to accompany the onslaught of alcohol at the table. There is the Baby Eel Paper ($14), an addictive snack heightened with a good spray of lime juice over the top. And speaking of bar snacks, Joo Bar does a Korean version of nachos with their Tofu Chips with Guacamole and Kimchi Salsa ($14) served with hexagonal house made tofu chips (no surprise there), smashed avocado, and chopped kimchi and cucumber in place of the salsa. My favourite appetiser, however, had to be the Warm Kimchi with tofu and Spam ($16); simply a play on the Budae Jjigae (army stew), this dish presents a similar pairing of its condiments but in dry form - Sandwich the warm house made kimchi littered with exquisite morsels of mangalitsa pork belly between tofu and spam, and VOILA! you've got a winning combination.

Tofu Chips with Guacamole and Kimchi Salsa
Baby Eel Paper
Warm Kimchi with Tofu and Spam

It's easy to make a meal out of the appetisers here; but I implore you to boost your dining experience with a couple of larger plates such as the Joo Grilled Squid ($20), a beast sprawled out, or rather fanned out seductively on a plate, the charred bits on the ends of its tentacles evidence of how hot the grill is out back. The result? - tender chunks of squid, with a hint of smoke, best savoured with a squirt of lime and a quick dab of gochujang mayo. One dish you should never deny yourself of while you're at Joo Bar is the Slow Roasted Mangalitsa Belly ($32) - exclusive to this establishment, the Hungarian Mangalitsa pork belly can only be found here. The kitchen does justice to its impeccable nature by slow roasting it for approximately 3hours and then serving it with a piquant side of shredded chives. Fatty and incredibly sinful, yes I know, but there's just no way around it. Take my money already...

Joo Grilled Squid
Slow Roasted Mangalitsa Belly
Hand Chopped Korean Minced Rib Steak

Other options include the Hand Chopped Korean Minced Rib Steak ($20) which consists of US prime minced rib meat seasoned with garlic flakes and soy then served with chopped nuts. This would have been terrific in a burger, however, just a little uninspired on its own. 

To finish off the night, share a Yucha Sojurita ($28) between the both of you, or 4 if you're feeling like pussies... here, a bottle of Hite beer is overturned into a big frosty mug of frozen soju flavoured with yucha, cointreau and lemon juice; from there, you sip and gulp till its all gone because good drinks like that shan't go to waste. At least not under my watch.

Joo Bar engages the rebel in all of us, the freedom fighters and those warding off social expectations and acting by the norms. The appeal is strong, and I'm looking forward to diving into it on my next visit - as well as more of the inspired dishes at this much needed Korean standout.

Joo Bar
5 Tan Quee Lan Street

Operating Hours:
Daily: 5 30pm - 12am

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