I love a gastronomic tasting menu and Michelin Star experience but they can become overwhelming, tiresome, pretentious, expensive and exhausting if done too often. That is why I found Naeum Restaurant in Singapore to be a breath of fresh air. Yes it is a one star Michelin, but it’s a minimalist, chic and casual space and you can wear jeans here if you so wish. It’s a small 28 seat, cream and birch colour scheme that imparts calmness and warmth. They serve a manageable 6 course dinner (not a 15-25 course dinner) and they still manage to impress.
Chef Louis Han, was born and raised in Seoul Korea, and this chef who opened this tiny restaurant in Singapore has been winning accolades ever since. He received a Michelin star in 2022, he won Tatler’s Best New Restaurant Award, he was the winner of Singapore’s Michelin Guide, young chef award, and Time Out, 50 best restaurants you must try in 2021. And yet, he remains humble with all this recognition. Chef Han travelled the world before settling in Singapore and you can see some global influences in his menu, including his stint as head chef at the Michelin Star restaurant Meta, but more importantly his food is inspired by his childhood memories. Naeum is a love letter and ode to remembrance and Chef works this into his menu. His food is modern, contemporary, Korean cuisine using Western techniques. The name Naeum means “a fragrance that evokes memories’’.
From the moment you walk in the door you feel welcomed, emitting the warmth of home, and you can enjoy watching the chef and his team work in the tiny open kitchen. The solid, oak wood tables you are seated at, have custom individual cutlery drawers with chopsticks as well as silverware. The interior is simple, allowing the food to shine.
The 6 course $198 dollar menu (with an option for 3 more courses), showcases a different food story and inspiration for Chef Louis. One menu could evoke a sunset, one could be seaside dreams, or a mountain lodge. Our dinner was based on a Han River Sunset. He starts with a strong showing of snacks. A dakgalbi slider, then halibut in lemon gochujang and a wonderful presentation of striped bass atop of buckwheat noodles. A wagyu beef, Korean crepe, Boston lobster, white asparagus, wanja with pigeon with sweet cabbage. Another course with black truffles, morels and autumn mushrooms. For dessert, glutinous rice with honeycomb and figs.
He crafts his creative dishes using the season’s best harvest, sourced from South Korea and around the world. You can do an alcoholic or non alcoholic pairing, but I opted for the Dom Pérignon, which I rarely see served by the glass. There are no cocktails served here, only wine, sake, and champagne. They play lovely soft background music so you can talk to your companion.
Each food forward dish served has layered flavors, elevated to perfection. Get ready to embark on a gastronomic journey in contemporary Seoul cuisine when dining at Naeum.