JOO – New Makgeolli Bar & Restaurant with Modern Korean Fare
Located within a heritage three-storey shophouse opposite Bugis Junction, Joo Bar is the latest trendsetting addition to a vibrant F&B scene. What’s in the name? ‘Joo’ is ‘alcohol’ in Korean – and Joo, the bar and restaurant takes it seriously, with a funky drinks menu complemented by quality food. It is the first in Singapore to proudly brew its signature drink – the makgeolli – as well as serve it on tap.
Makgeolli is the oldest alcoholic beverage native to Korea. The first mention of the drink was in the founding story of Goguryeo Kingdom during the reign of King Dongmyeong (B.C.37 – B.C. 19). Unlike other traditional clear liquors like soju, makgeolli is not distilled after fermentation, resulting in its beautiful milky off-white colour and unique opaque appearance. Apart from its low alcohol content, makgeolli also contains amino acids, lactobacilli and vitamins B1, B2 and C. The Koreans believe that the combination of these nutrients helps to aid digestion, lower cholesterol and even slow down one’s ageing process.
I first had my makgeolli in a popular restaurant in Korea. It has a rich nutty flavour and a fragrant aroma that I cannot forget till today. At Joo, the owners are steadfast about making only preservative-free makgeolli with organic rice and purified water. The fermentation and filtering process takes two to three weeks, rendering a milky white, subtly sweet and delicately fizzy beverage. Joo’s version wasn’t as rich as the one I had in Korea, but it certainly is one of the better makgeolli locally.
Makgeolli has since gained popularity among young drinkers who enjoy it in hip makgeolli bars. For makgeolli newbies, an ideal choice would be Joo’s Makgeolli sampler ($35 for 5) that showcases the home brew and four in-house creations. Selections will vary but options could include makgeolli blended with ingredients such as black raspberry, yucha, mango and strawberry. The sampler will give guests a sense of different flavour profiles that makgeolli offers. I like the yucha one, it makes me feel like I am having yuzu sorbet.
A range of soju (distilled Korean rice wine) is also available ($20 per bottle), along with makgeolli cocktails such as Busan Breeze ($20) and Hong Dae Tripping ($24). The former is made with Joo Brew, Tanqueray No. 10, Peach Tree and Blue Curacao; while the latter is made with Joo Brew, Grey Goose, Apricot Brandy, Cherry Blossom, Lemon and Rosemary.
Typically food that goes well with alcohol, anju is essential to kick start the evening. Recommended items at Joo include Tofu chips with guacamole and kimchi salsa ($14) – a house made platter of ‘hexagon’ chips served with an enticing avocado and cucumber-based duo of dips; and Baby eel paper ($14) which is an addictive deep-fried snack served with a sprinkling of chilli salt and lime zest.
The menu at Joo promises unique options and presentation styles, as well as suggested alcohol pairings. Chef puts emphasis on homemade ingredients and customers can be assured of authentic flavours.
Hearty dishes to tuck into include Kimchi chicken potpie (S$14) – cracking the golden pastry dome unearths a rosy kimchi béchamel gravy studded with chicken tenderloin pieces as well as celery, carrot, mushrooms, onion and corn. It is interesting to turn western potpie into Korean style. The crust is buttery and flaky, but the kimchi béchamel lacks a punch. It is brighter in colours but If you were to close your eyes and taste it, it’s just like any other pot pie.
On the other hand, Warm Kimchi With Tofu And Spam ($14) fare better. The stir-fried pork belly with kimchi is flavourful and spicy enough. You sandwich the kimchi with spam and tofu, the combination works perfectly well. The smooth tofu balances the spiciness from the kimchi, while the spam (though not my favourite) enhance the flavour.
Only the best Hungarian Mangalitsa pork is used for Joo’s porcine selections, of which recommended items are: Slow roasted mangalitsa belly ($32) – approximately 200g of meat is brined with salt, pepper, soju and makgeolli before it is steam-roasted for 2 hours and 45 minutes, then served with a scrumptious side of shredded chives seasoned with chilli flakes and soy sauce.
If the belly is too fatty for you, go for the more traditional version – Joo Bossam ($28). The meat is boiled with doenjang (fermented bean paste) and served with yucha-vinegar pickled cabbage and spicy radish salad. The acidity of the cabbage helps to cut the heaviness of the pork. Other options include Hand-chopped Korean minced rib steak ($20) – tender US prime meat is lightly marinated with garlic, soy, honey and yucha, hand-shaped, flame-grilled, then served with chopped nuts.
The Seafood Gochujang Risotto ($24) entices with lashings of fresh shrimp, black mussels, clams and squid sautéed with hot pepper paste, then added to Korean rice that is prepared the traditional way – by gradually adding stock, and finishing with cream as well as parmesan cheese.
We end the meal with Yucha sojurita ($28, for 2-4pax) which is a big glass of frozen soju-yucha-Cointreau-lemon juice mix with an added slug of an overturned 330ml bottle of Hite beer. Other creative drinks include Grape Soju Mojito, Yucha Makgeolli Slush and a selection of makgeolli cocktails.
As you can see, the interior has rich hues of black and copper, complemented by dark Korean pinewood furniture specially imported from Korea. On the 2nd floor, a wall with hand-painted tongue-in-cheek illustrations of Korean drinking etiquette educates and amuses at the same time.
Address: 5, Tan Quee Lan Street, Singapore 188094
Tel: (65) 8138 1628 (Reservation Enquiry)
Opening hours: 5.30pm to 12am daily
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