(Opening July 1)
When Louis Han decided to leave Kimme in early 2020 (which closed down for good during the Circuit Breaker F&B crisis), Covid-19 was still another country’s problem and he was planning to go home to Korea and think about starting his own restaurant.
As with all well-laid plans, they all came to a grinding halt when he left Singapore a week before Circuit Breaker. He found himself stuck in Korea with a fiancee in Singapore he needed to marry (in the end they conducted their marriage registration virtually), but plans for the new restaurant continued. Very slowly, but surely.
Now, he’s finally set to open NAE-UM in Telok Ayer Street on July 1, if the dining ban is lifted as planned. And unlike before, he is starting on a fresh slate as chef and sole proprietor of his own restaurant, financed without partners but help from friends and family. Creatively too, he is older and wiser, and fresh with new ideas after spending time working at the two Michelin-starred Mosu in Seoul, learning pottery and tending to his small family farm.
“I definitely did some soul-searching while I was there,” says Chef Han. “I had been away from Korea for almost six years since I first arrived in Singapore. It was good to spend time with my family and friends, re-discover my roots and get new inspiration. I couldn’t travel, but I could enjoy hiking the mountain near my home and going on road trips to the East Sea.”
All of that is reflected in NAE-UM, which means ‘nostalgic scent’. While it will showcase contemporary Seoul cuisine, “I want to serve my customers innovative dishes with a sense of familiarity”, he says. “I want them to feel like they’re eating in a friend’s home.”
He describes NAE-UM’s menus as “episodic, each showcasing a different food story or inspiration”. His ‘pilot’ episode is a spotlight on his favourite ingredients, one of which is ‘hwae’ (sashimi) – a key ingredient in ‘mulhwae’, a cold spicy raw fish soup popular in summer. In his version for NAE-UM, he replaces the soup with “a gochujang and citrus sauce that is poured over slices of aged fish and koji-fermented daikon rolled in Korean sesame leaves, topped with Korean herbs”. It’s part of the five-course, S$148 dinner menu that he will serve first, along with supplementary dishes.
Doenjang (fermented Korean bean paste) is another of his favourite ingredients. Normally used in stews, he uses it to marinate a dry-aged Challans duck which is seared, roasted and finished off on binchotan.
He will open in familiar territory in Telok Ayer Street, just around the corner from Amoy Street where the former Kimme was. But, unlike the unexposed young chef he was in 2016 when he first came to Singapore, he’s all grown up now with his own business and a more mature perspective on cooking.
“In short, now I have ‘aged’ like doenjang,” he laughs.
161 Telok Ayer Street.
Go to naeum.sg for more details.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
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