Dining at ANJU turned out to be quite a feat with her long waitlist. The dining out restrictions (due to Covid-19) did not help either. It took some juggling before I scored the ideal reservation at this new cult favorite located at restaurant-lined Tras Street.
This isn’t your usual Korean gig. Don’t be expecting Korean fried chicken, Bibimbap, table BBQ, or Jap Chaes! Or if you’re a fan of the free flow Banchan (side dishes) that’s commonly offered at your regular Korean joint, you’re better off finding that along neighboring Tanjong Pagar Road!
ANJU is different from the moment you enter. No smoky grills and overhanging exhaust fans, no cramp spaces and loud conversations either. Instead, be greeted by minimalist style decor; warm cherry wood against white walls, soft lighting and clean oriental art. The place exudes simple elegance and warmth in the same breath.
Our young server, Kelly, had just started working there the day before. Yet she possessed the knowledge and confidence of an older timer; explaining and recommending the menu to utmost accuracy despite not having tasted any of the food before! Management has certainly briefed her well.
The food menu is as small as the beverage menu. We decided quickly on the Golden Barley Soju and a few of their top dishes.
While the most popular choice of beverage appears to be the Champagne Makgeolli, we selected a stronger poison for the evening. Unlike the everyday Soju sold in most restaurants and supermarkets, Golden Barley bore a dry clean taste. This extraordinary Soju is smooth, with a light fragrance. It was love at first sip and we knew almost immediately, we would need more! And yes, it complimented our food very well too.
Our meal kicked off with the Black Bean Mascarpone. A soft block of creamy mascarpone cheese spread mixed with sweetened suritae beans and chive oil. Spoon a dollop of cheese onto the crispy sourdough chip and take it all in one mouthful. The chilled cheese is beautifully smooth with a hint of sweetness and toasty nuttiness from the beans. Like a drug, it was challenging to not binge on this fancy Cheese-on-cracker starter!
It’s so important to get the seasoning right in any kind of beef tartare. ANJU’s Yuk Hoe was immaculately executed, in both taste and presentation. The perfect seasoning camouflages all signs of rawness in the meat. I could taste aromatic sesame oil and crusty sesame seeds; smoked kale in the mix added a faint tinge of leafy bitterness in contrast. The tender meat is finely diced without trading off bite. While sweet Korean pear is usually cut into sticks and mixed in with the meat, here, it is shaved into thin curls and eaten along with. The meat was ultra fresh, the egg yolk gives the chilled marinated beef moisture and silkiness. I love the taste; a little sweet and a little savory, and very light on the palate.
The Bossam here is quite out of this world. Its basically braised pork belly eaten with cabbage or lettuce. But unlike most that I’ve tried, the first thing I noticed different about ANJU’s braised pork belly is the color. Deep golden brown with a slightly torched skin. It is also sweeter than I recall. But most of all, it is the tenderest Bossam Pork belly I’ve had so far! I can’t lie…. but at first sight, I was a little repulsed by the amount of fat ratio in the meat. Nonetheless, I still dove in with gusto! The meat held firmly between my chopsticks and the fatty layer glistened under the soft lighting. Set the meat on a piece of lettuce and top with one or all of the accompaniments, and just pop the whole thing in your mouth! Lo and behold… there wasn’t any eeky fattiness or excess oil in the meat when you bite into it. Instead it was delicately tender. The refreshing lettuce, earthy mushrooms and tart spicy pickles come together balancing the honey sweetness of the meat. I can’t get over how soft (and un-fatty) the meat was! Heck, it was good!
Despite having just 3 dishes, we were filling up quite nicely halfway through the Bossam. Still, we couldn’t help but sneak another look at the menu for one more item! After debating between two other star dishes, we decided on Yangnyeom Cauliflower (over Hogam Jeon).
Looking like a cross between popcorn chicken and sweet & sour pork, a little mountain of fried cauliflower florets topped with fresh scallion shreds appears before us. The cauliflower is first fried, then coated in a sweet spicy Korean chili sauce (think Dakgangjeong aka Sweet Korean Fried Chicken). The spiciness is buffered by the sweetness in the sauce, and therefore, quite mild. The cauliflowers were fried very nicely.. a little crisp on the outside, tender juicy but not overcooked mushy. The sweet spicy sauce glazed every single floret evenly, it wasn’t cloyingly rich or sticky. The fresh scallions counters the overall sweetness and bits of multi grains (tasting like rice puffs!) add crunch. Contrary to what we had expected of a vegetable, the cauliflower proved quite substantial and filled whatever room left in our tummies! We enjoyed it very much; even for someone like me who’s adversed to spicy food, I found that warm bit of heat in the sauce rather appetizing!
We were very pleased to end the evening meeting Chef Kim (and his team), the brains behind ANJU’s cool menu. Speaking in a splattering of perfect English, the soft spoken chef shared his vision for his food, his creations and ideas on bigger things to expect at ANJU. He confesses working in different kitchens with different cuisines being the inspiration behind his tweaks on intimate Korean food but without corrupting it’s origins. How we all adore familiarity speckled with surprises! But best of all, Chef Kim nails the execution of flavors, textures and choice of ingredients to a T.
To wrap our meal, ANJU’s very own pastry chef whipped up a magical dessert, and we were literally on Cloud nine after taking the first bite! Think marshmallow, soufflé, meringue, mousse, cotton candy….., everything that’s light, soft, airy, floaty and delicate! A dessert menu is still underway at ANJU. So this was a rare and precious sneak preview of what’s in store. This cottony cake, literally MELTS. IN. THE. MOUTH! Sweet scented toasty black sesame seeds sandwich in between the fluffy cakes. There’s so much going on here, yet everything seems to blend seamlessly. I taste hints of rice and honey and soy and sparkling Yuzu; plus teeny little savory notes at the end. What a promising start to the dessert table!
I’m all for a good old Samgaetang or Bulgogi. But I’m also loving this pimped up take on the usual Korean fare. Already working on a second visit to ANJU; and I’m determined and eager to check every single item off the current menu before Chef Kim blows us away with more!
ANJU @ 62 Tras St, Singapore 079001 Phone +65 66121172
Disclaimer- This is not a sponsored post!