Updated on December 17, 2020 by Julia
Address: 1095 Yuyuan Road / 愚园路1095号
Hours: Tues-Friday, 6 PM – late
Visited: January 2018
Average Cost Per Person: 300-500 RMB
I discovered my love for Korean food while living in Atlanta. You drive a little up north towards Buford Highway, you’re bound to find among the thousands of strip malls little eateries opened by adorable Korean couples. Y’all, jajangmeyon, naengmyeon, soondubu, kimbap, that was my jam. Drive even more up north to Duluth, then you’ll discover my haven (also home of the best AYCE KBBQ I’ve ever had, I see you Breakers).
Unfortunately, in Shanghai, a lot of the great Korean places are located in Gubei. Also known as the place where none of my friends want to accompany me, and thus I’m too lazy to go by myself. Most places in Jing’an have been underwhelming– it’s just not the same when it’s not a homey place run by an ajumma and ajusshi.
So when Jeju Izakaya popped up, although the contemporary concept veers from the traditional fares of Korean food I typically enjoy, with great reviews, I jumped at the chance to book a seat. Luckily, when I only had to book a month in advance. I hear they’re now fully booked until the end of March.
The place itself is extremely unassuming. There is no sign besides a tiny stone (?) board propped up against the entrance– itself a heavy set stone door. After heaving the door open, you get exactly what you’ve heard– an eight-seater izakaya with an open kitchen concept. I was greeted by both Chan and Tom– both who alternated serving our dishes and both completely charming.
Having been anticipating this culinary journey for over a month, I had already memorized the menu and with four people in our reservation was ready to get going the minute I sat down.
Our first dish was the black pepper beef carpaccio (88 RMB). This was recommended by several people, and the slices were very thinly sliced– as beef carpaccio should be. However, the flavors were lacking depth. Since beef carpaccio is elevated by its garnishes, the marinated greens on top and the pickled radish could have done more to make this dish more worthwhile.
Next up was the kimchi tofu with hollandaise soy sauce (88 RMB). This is where we’re seeing more of the contemporary twist. The bed of kimchi added a great kick without an overpowering garlic taste that tends to leave a bad overnight aftertaste. Eaten with the tofu, which definitely acted more as a sponge for the surrounding flavors, it was the perfect pairing. The hollandaise soy sauce, unfortunately, fell a little flat. I expected it to add a creamy kick to balance out the very mild heat from the kimchi, but was met with a more tasteless sauce. It’s a great concept with an interesting twist, but, ultimately, wasn’t able to fully deliver.
The sea urchin roe sushi with sweet chilli seaweed (108 RMB) was one of my must-orders. (It is now a necessity of mine to order uni anytime its present in a menu.). I think this may be just personal preference, but I like my flavors a little heavier, and I wish the sweet chilli was able to have more of a presence in this dish. However, it’s also understandable to let the buttery sea urchin take its rightful spotlight in the dish.
The cheddar cheese volcano steamed egg (78 RMB) is the best of comfort foods. I am an egg fiend, and use to consume 5-6 eggs a day until I realized my cholesterol would be through the roof. A perfectly steamed egg in a stone bowl covered in delectable cheese sauce. What more could I ask for? The pouring of the cheese was an orgasm for the eyes itself.
Then came the star of the show: the aglio olio with sea urchin roe (108 RMB). My dreams are made of uni pasta. There was definitely debate whether to order the dish again…The pasta was perfectly seasoned with garlic and pepper without the oil being overwhelming. When lightly tossing the pasta with the uni, the dish truly defends why its the top recommended pick at Jeju.
The stir-fried octopus with Korean spicy sauce (128 RMB), personally, was a contender to the uni pasta. As I noted before, I lean towards very heavy flavors, which is why gochujang has been a staple in my fridge regardless of where I live! Although I missed the action (most likely too absorbed with consuming as much food as I possibly could), supposedly the baby octopus is taken straight from the tanks lining the back walls and straight into the pan.
Since it was obvious that I was one of those extremely obnoxious self-proclaimed food photographers, our chef posed with the octopus so I could get a couple action shots. The octopus was snipped into bite-sized pieces and the meat was extremely supple. Add in 20 RMB, and they’ll mix the remaining sauce with rice and top it with dried seaweed and a beautifully fried runny egg to give you a home-y kimchi fried rice classic.
There was definitely light contention as to whether the jeju seafood ramen without octopus (78 RMB) was a worthy dish (also, for 98 RMB, you get the ramen with octopus). Using trusty Shin ramen (the only ramen I knew of growing up), this dish is an elevated take on your college classic. Topped with clams and pieces of large shrimp with a side of bokchoy and swimming in a creamier broth, I found extreme comfort in this dish.
Although the seafood ramen was the end of our first round of ordering, we definitely knew we had room for more. So we tacked on the pan-fried pork neck with Korean anchovy sauce (128 RMB). I’m usually wary of eating pork in China because I find the cuts tend to be more inedible fats. Even pan-fried, the cuts still felt light, and the anchovy sauce gave a nice kick.
I’d say the stir-fried dried pollack (98 RMB) was the biggest curveball of the night. Only one out of four of us kept asking for it, and being the great group of friends we were, we responded with “It’s just dried fish, dude.” (forgetting that we also had also ordered “just ramen” and “just kimchi fried rice”). They do this flayed fish justice. The brittled pieces are reminiscent of the dried octopus snacks I used to eat as a kid, but it was the sauces that brought this dish to life. A larger percentage of the table was enamored by the garlic-y mayo-based sauce, and I, singularly, ate the entire serving of what Chan introduced as “North Korean chilli sauce.” A dish I would highly recommend since it seems to be overlooked by some of the big hitters of the menu.
Because we ended on quite a savory/salty note, we were all craving for dessert. While already ideating our next stop, Chan surprised us with a mini dessert paired with baekseju, a rice-based alcoholic drink usually flavored with herbs and ginseng.
If anything, the chefs at Jeju know how to mix textures and flavors. The toasted carb on the bottom served as a great platter for the sliced strawberry (hallelujah to strawberries being in season!) paired with a candied walnut that laid on a dollop of fluffy cream cheese and a piece of spinach. The singular green added the necessary light crunch and slight bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the strawberry and walnut. Followed with a shot of baekseju, I felt like we had reached a happy denouement for the night.
Drinks-wise, in true izakaya style, the menu focuses mostly on highball mixes. Not a fan of whiskey, I ordered the plum wine (matchsoon) with tonic water (47 RMB). It’s delicately sweet and pairs nicely for those who prefer to keep their meal a little less alcoholic.
Was it worth waiting over a month? Definitely. I love my traditional Korean dishes, but being able to see a more fusion/contemporary twist in such an intimate environment with a great group of chefs that are more than happy to serve you makes it well worth the anticipation. Make a reservation since as of today, I heard they’re booked until the end of March, if not further down the calendar year now!
Recommended dishes: Aglio olio with sea urchin roe, seafood ramen with octopus, stir-fried octopus with Korean spicy sauce and +20 for rice, and stir-fried dried pollack
Would I return?: Yes, especially if there’s a new menu to test!