Four minutes’ walk from the Asian Civilisations Museum, the newly opened JU95 at Boat Quay took over the space of what used to be Maharajah restaurant. Ju95 plays with the Chinese phonetics of the word izakaya which in Kanji is 居酒屋. The pinyin for 居 is “ju” and酒屋 in Mandarin sounds like 9 and 5.
The kitchen is helmed by Chef Louis Lee who, having worked at several fine dining restaurants in Singapore, opened JU95, a modern izakaya, after plans to follow a one-Michelin starred chef to Belgium folded due to the pandemic.
To start the meal, the Irish rock oysters ($7++/pc, $39++ for 6 pieces and $72++ for a dozen). are very fresh – voluptuous and clean-tasting. The light and almost-citrusy ginger dressing that accompanies the oysters highlights their freshness. They are also garnished with spring onions and briny ikura. Moreish.
Another item on the snacks menu, the parfait ju ($15++ for 2 pcs) looks like a cute cookie but packs an umami punch. Thinly sliced raw white button mushrooms perch on top of a layer of fermented mushroom jam and creamy chicken liver parfait; nicely cushioned with a savoury sweet sable (French shortbread biscuit). It tastes like an intense mushroom soup. The sable cookies, which are made in-house with koji, take three days to prepare. The end result is sublime.
The stuffed chicken wings ($18++ for 2pcs) make for a satisfying bar grub although they do not come cheap. The meat is tender and seasoned lightly, best eaten together with the foie gras and mala dip. The pickled cucumbers help undercut the spice.
To prepare the hay smoked hamachi ($25++), an item from their small plates section, the meat is first cured in kombu for 2 days, then smoked over hay and lastly, seared with binchotan. The smokey notes are well balanced as you could still taste the sweetness of the fish.
For mains, the portion of the grilled baby squid donabe ($45++) is good enough for two. As dishes prepared in donabe (Japanese for claypot) style are typically not rich and heavy in flavours, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the rice when mixed with a generous amount of grilled baby squid, shimeji mushroom and umami ikura is a umami bomb. In order to maintain a good balance, Chef Lee informed us that the rice is intentionally not meant to be burnt as the grilled baby squid is already charred. What elevated the dish is likely the seaweed schmatz, which consists of rendered chicken fat.
To round off the meal, the ice cream sandwich ($10++) for desserts feels more like an ice cream taco as the biscuit that holds the lightly sweetened sour cream and cherry soaked in sake has a crisp texture. Perhaps adding a splash of rose water to the sour cream mixture might have complemented the dried rose petals topping better.
JU95 is a great place to come for non-pretentious casual fine dining (oxymoron?!) food and drinks, where you won’t leave thinking that you need to go for a second round. The passion and effort that go into curating the menu on a monthly basis and the drive to create new and well-balanced dishes to keep it fresh for the customers by Chef Lee earn much brownie points. My only gripe is the ventilation because of the open concept kitchen.
You may be interested in…
–Kakurega (The Lair), Chinatown: Japanese Sake Izakaya with Great Bites + Liquid Buffet
–Izakaya Niningashi, Tanjong Pagar: “Probably One of the Best Izakayas in Singapore” with Alcohol Buffet
–Ikki Izakaya, Metropolis @ Buona Vista: Not Authentic Japanese but Hella Great Experience with Live Band
–Kamoshita, Neil Road: Oden Izakaya, Better Than Japan’s Restaurants
This was an invited tasting.
Written by Vanessa Khong. Vanessa is someone who enjoys checking out the local food scene. She believes the way to her heart is through her stomach.