SINGAPORE — Sitting at ANJU makes me feel like a proud parent. The last time I walked past the restaurant was enroute to Telok Ayer MRT after dinner at Restaurant Gaig, the space draped in swathes of plastic to protect the spanking new furniture beneath from the residues and practicalities of a renovation on the last stretch of touch-ups. A few weeks later, the restaurant was in much better shape and ready to receive guests, which was around the time I learned that ANJU is a Korean term for dishes served with alcohol.
Dinner reservations are hard to come by here. So when I managed to secure a dinner for two on 19th May, to say I was anticipating the visit, was a severe understatement. And then, as we’re all well-acquainted, unlinked COVID-19 cases reared its ugly head again, leading to a ban on dining-in starting 16 May, and lasting for five weeks. As of the time of writing, restaurants have already thrown open their doors and are starting to accept dining-in reservations and walk-in for groups of up to five—much to the delight of many restaurants around Singapore, eager to welcome guests back into their gilded dining halls.
When I finally got to the bowels of ANJU on Thursday, I realised that I wasn’t the only one clamouring for a slice of Korea this weekday evening as the space slowly fills up to capacity; the guests an even distribution of locals and Koreans. Inside, the mise en scene is awashed in a soothing shade of cream punctuated by bold wood tones every which way you look. The servers are dressed sharply in dark blue Mandarin collar tops and black pants, enthusiasm and attentiveness bursting at their pores, evident by the number of times they came by my booth to refill my glass of water. I could get used to this, I thought to myself.
Dinner starts with a pair of snacks that eases you into an evening of quality Korean fare. There’s the deep-fried Bori Prawns 보리새우 (S$8++) which is deceptively simple but delicately seasoned. It is served with green baby garlic shoots with specks of salt on it which truly brings me so much joy. Who knew fried prawns could make me this happy? Apparently, they can, the same way the Black Bean Mascarpone 서리태 마스카포네 (S$16++) surprised me with its heady and delightfully sweet mix of Suritae beans and chive oil. It’s milky, creamy, dreamy, and demands extra servings of thin wafers of oven-baked sourdough for maximum enjoyment. It’s so academically proficient. I want to bottle this up, and bring it home to meet my parents. And we’re only at appetisers—my goodness.
From the ‘Cold’ section of the menu, I had the Gyuja Salad 겨자채 (S$22+), a seafood forward salad of prawns and squid with a bright mustard dressing that manages to be sweet, and sour all at once. The seafood here lends subtle umami to the whole presentation, a toothsome flavour bridge between the affairs of appetisers and the business of mains.
That is if you could even regard the Hogam Jeon 호감전 (S$25++) as mains. What it is, is a plate of Korean style crispy potato pancake filled with prawns and Zucchini that, on its own, could do with a touch more seasoning—or so I thought. The trick here is to dunk the pancake in liberal amounts of the Korean soy sauce served on the side that is infused with chilli and pickled onions; the emulsion of salt and acidity a worthy accompaniment for copious dousing. I had mine with the mozzarella cheese; so should you. Cheese makes anything better I say, though here, what it does is make the entire plate abundantly moreish.
Thus far, all the flavours errs on the more delicate side. Which I really don’t mind one bit. And then ANJU serves me the Galbi-Jjim 갈비찜(S$38++), a serving of traditional Korean braised boneless beef short ribs that brought tears to my eyes. I don’t want to oversell this for fear of being too, you know, enthusiastic. But it would suffice to say that these chunks of beef are gaspingly tender with a slight bite and a pronounced beefiness so I know it’s still meat. It sits and coalesces in a poetically sweet broth of braised pear, served with an assortment of equally savoury braised vegetables—carrots, potatoes and the likes. On the side, a small bowl of white kimchi lends acidity without any hint of spice that might otherwise mar the dining experience of this bowl of bold, yet tender beauty. Sweet dreams truly are made of these.
As I was reeling from the transcendent experience of the Galbi-Jjim, Chef Kim stops by to say hello. He apologises for not having any desserts on offer yet—they’re still in the R&D stages and the plates have yet to arrive. No apologies necessary, Chef. I’d rather bask in the good memories of my dinner here at ANJU through the journey of appetisers, salad, and mains which I’m confident has found company amongst some of the best restaurants I’ve visited this year. Bravo, ANJU. Bravo.
62 Tras Street Singapore 079001
Tue to Sat: 6pm - 10.30pm