There are few finds like Jeju Izakaya. It's the kind of place you're hesistant to tell people about, lest it become too popular and you run the risk of never getting a seat again. Well, here we go.
Hidden in plain sight on Yuyuan Lu, right outside The Cannery, the entrance to this "Korean izakaya" by the team behind Professor Lee and Belloco is marked by little more than a sliding metal door and a knee-high sandwich-board sign. It was once a Guilin Mifen noodle shop, and it has just enough room for a five-man team in an open kitchen surrounded by eight bar stools. It fits that contemporary design mold of exposed concrete, brick and timbers. An L-shaped slab of polished grey marble countertop ties the room together.
It’s an intimate and impressionable space that sets the bar high with its lively atmosphere. The welcome drink, a sip of house wine, only coaxes you into your meal. It's small, unique and bursting with character, a refreshing change to the new restaurants of late.
The menu features contemporary Korean dishes with an emphasis on seafood, much of which is kept live in tanks and cooked to order. One of these dishes is the Jeju Seafood Ramen with Octopus (RMB98). A plump octopus is served whole atop a pot of ramen, not 10 minutes after its been removed from its tank. It’s then snipped into bite-sized pieces, joining prawns and clams in the rich and spicy seafood-based broth. The result is a combination of spice, supple octopus, and comforting noodles that is to die for.
Another highlight is the Kimchi Tofu (RMB88). The tofu is made in-house, squeezed dry, and shaped into a ball with cheesecloth, which gives it an almost feta-like consistency. Mild, milky undertones are boosted with sharp and spicy kimchi and evened out by a buttery hollandaise soy sauce.
With little to go on, the Dried Pollack (RMB88) appears to be the most uninteresting item on the menu. That’s where you’d be wrong. A whole dried pollack is splayed in half, its flesh flayed off the bone, served as brittle slivers with a garlic mayo and yeasty beer and chili dip. It's something we'd imagine is served at a beach bar on Jeju Island.
The husk doesn’t go to waste either. They deep-fry it and serve it to you as a crunchy snack.
Then, there's the Pork Neck with Korean Anchovy Sauce (RMB128), an indisputable crowd pleaser. While juicy and tender, the pork could use a few more minutes on the fire to coax out a crispier exterior.
The Sea Urchin Sushi with Sweet Chili Seaweed (RMB108) also makes for a great appetizer to share. It's pretty hard not to love uni.
When compared to the other bold flavors on the menu, the Jeju Island Steamed Clams (RMB108) are less memorable. They're fresh but minimally seasoned.
Despite its limited space, Jeju Izakaya also makes room for a few simple but solid cocktails. Highballs are a highlight. They even pour a cocktail made from North Korean ginseng liqueur. It's pleasantly bitter with aromas of ginseng and plum. You should order it.
With its interactive space, lively atmosphere, and unforgettable food Jeju Izakaya is a prized find for any discerning diner, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be packed out every evening. You can make reservations through their WeChat account.
Our Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
What: Jeju Izakaya
Address: 1095 Yuyuan Lu (near Jiangsu Lu) 愚园路1095号 (近江苏路)
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