It has been more than four years since I last visited Singapore due to covid restrictions. A pleasant surprise happened during my visit was that a good friend of mine, food journalist Kyoko Nakayama, successfully made a reservation at NAE:UM for my first night in Singapore. The restaurant décor exudes calmness and warmth, just like Chef Louis Han’s friendly personality.
Korean cuisine has been making its way up the food charts in recent years. One of them is NAE:UM, a Korean restaurant awarded one Michelin star after its first year of operation in Singapore and ranked 83rd in the Asia’s 50 Best this year. The name of the restaurant means a fragrance that evokes memories, and each episodic menu that changes with seasons tells a different Korean food story. For this spring/summer menu, Chef Louis Han stages a theme of Front Yard Barbecue, built on the fondest of memories from his barbecue gatherings back home. Think hot and plump grilled meats, fresh and succulent vegetables and a colourful array of side dishes. Wouldn’t it be hard not to fall in love with all that deliciousness?
Inspired by his grandmother’s cooking and culinary programmes at a young age, Chef Louis Han applied his passion for science and talent of creation to cooking, a career that wasn’t expected by his family at first place.
After graduating from culinary school and working in Lebanon, Chef Han settled down in Singapore, where he trained with Chef Sun Kim at Meta, a Michelin-starred restaurant that led him to the world of high-end dining, and one I also liked a lot on this visit. He founded the concept of NAE:UM in late 2019 and brought the restaurant to life as contemporary Seoul cuisine in 2021 despite difficult situations during the pandemic. With its elegant contemporary vibe and the chef’s personal style of cooking, NAE:UM is dedicated to delicious moments and lingering memories.
Barbecue has long been an integral part of Korean cuisine. People enjoy food and animated chatter with families and friends at front yard barbecues when days get warm. Korean BBQ runs through the veins of the whole new menu, which is enveloped by a rich tapestry of flavours including sweetness, savoury tang, a touch of tartness, and many more.
Dishes at NAE:UM are as nice and friendly as the chef’s personality, joyfully guiding you through what the chef is trying to convey.
Kicking off the journey is a series of three snacks nostalgically presentedin traditional pottery. This includes green peas smoked lightly over applewood, and garnished with charred pickled shallots, citrus jelly, lemon zest and dill; Striped Jack tartare, marinated with pickled chilli and fermented daikon atop a kimchi-tomato meringue; and a house-made Korean crepe that wraps Bulgogi Wagyu beef, sauteed bell peppers and shiso leaf. Delectable caviar adorns the crepe, which nestles on fragrant pine nut cream. A rich and satisfying experience for the palate, this is my favourite dish.
Striped Jack Tartare，Korean Crepe，Shima Aji
Inspired by a traditional spicy stir-fried chicken dish ‘dakgalbi’, Chef Han’s signature ‘duckgalbi’ features minced duck wrapped around a rice cake, pierced with a skewer, and grilled over binchotan. The moreish meat skewer is glazed with a sweet chilli sauce, sprinkled over with quinoa puffs, and served with Korean perilla leaf.
The ‘somyeon’ (buckwheat noodles) goes hand in hand with grilled black pork belly, two must-haves for a Korean barbecue party. The chewy noodles and aromatic roast pork are served with cucumber and pickled vegetables for a refreshing twist that whets your appetite. It wouldn’t be too much of a Korean BBQ party if cold noodles are not served.
A cold water kimchi soup is often served side by side with rich dishes, and Chef Han’s interpretation of his grandmother’s cold soup sees confit Obsiblue prawns, sea urchin, cured eggplant and fermented kimchi in a pool of brine from house-fermented ‘mul’ water kimchi, topped with Hokkaido scallop.
Duckgalbi Skewers/Somyeon/Cold Water Kimchi Soup
In ‘so bbq’ — or literally ‘beef barbecue’ — a MS7 Wagyu Tenderloin is marinated simply in a galbi sauce, then grilled over binchotan. Traditional barbecue accompaniments complement the beef in the form of pickled sweet potato leaf, grilled king oyster mushroom, shishito peppers, all delicately wrapped in Korean lettuce. Rice, the staple pairing for grilled meats, finds itself in ‘doeji-galbi bap’, or pork rib rice. What lends the most flavours to this dish is the Duroc pork that has been braised overnight in the oven. The marinade is a sweet-savoury mix of soy sauce, apple, pear, onions, potatoes and chilli. The fork-tender meat is pulled from the ribs and tops three different grains — barley, short white rice, and brown rice — in a bowl. An edible garden bedecks with beautiful spring colour, including carrot ribbons, pickled onions and grated black truffle.
So BBQ/Doeji-galbi Bap
Rounding up the experience is a palate-cleansing dessert, which includes a sorbet made from a blend of melon, lime juice and soju, paired with vanilla yoghurt mousse and basil. Another dessert featuring jujube is also lovely.
Melon, Lime Juice and Soju Sorbet/Jujube Dessert
The 5th Episode of NAE:UM continues to see Chef Louis Han proclaim an ode to his most cherished memories at home, where the days of spring and summer herald a hot grill, its barely audible hiss, and the hearty procession of meats, vegetables, and side dishes to come. Chef Han is no stranger to bringing out the best of ingredients as they are transformed into his unique dishes. The combination of sweet and savoury flavours with a touch of acidity forms a heart-warming cooking that everyone on earth would love.
It is getting difficult to score a seat at NAE:UM now.Having tasted the Episode 5 menu, I’m eager to see what’s to come for the next episode when I visit again.