New Hidden Bar Ssal is Singapore’s most weirdly enchanting Modern Korean Food concept yet
No indications. No door signs. A rickety wooden door hides, inconspicuously camouflaged, flush against the rightmost corner beside Low Tide’s bar. One’s initial curiosity would peg it as a closet of sorts. Pry it open though, and you’ll be greeted by a dusky flight of stairs leading into the basement, into a hidden bar — Ssal.
The basement dwellings are dimly awash with meek trickles of orange glow and the stairs that guide you down comprise a striation of bamboo bannisters, creaking walnut-hued steps, and a weaved arch of dishevelled withes.
It matches the rest of the space — a melange of rustic textures, weathered wooden surfaces, and sheer linen drapes. Complete with Hanbok uniforms, dyed in creamy off-white, Ssal can almost be described as a bar-based pastiche of feudal Korea.
Limitations such as space may limit the overall immersion but there’s a great charm to the team’s conscientiousness. After all, Ssal is the thoughtfully cobbled-together vision of Jojo, an ebullient bartender who formerly hailed from Sago House.
Supported behind the bar only by another native Korean, Min Ji, the duo’s fixation rests on spreading love for traditional Korean flavours and experiences through the medium they best relate to, bartending.
Tipsy on Korea
Even before the drinks come, you’re showered with hospitality as the bartenders offer up some rice tea, a towel to freshen up, and most importantly, addictive house-made pickles.
Explaining Ssal’s debut menu will have the team run you through an eclectic list of iconic Korean flavours — some well-associated, others less apparent in the local context. Nonetheless, the Korean duo’s first menu is a spectacularly earnest effort.
Differing from the hackneyed Korean flavours seen in Singapore, Ssal first starts off with a slew of concoctions revolving around items such as pear, sweet potato, and pine.
Particularly entrancing was the Goguma ($23), cobbled together using Soju, Cynar, and roasted sweet potato to echo facets of the Negroni, with aromatic sweet potato as the focal point.
Ultimately punchy but smooth —while also less skewed towards harsh herbaceousness— with the Cynar mellowly trailing the background, mimicking the dry, earthy notes of Campari.
Conversely, the Dongchimi ($23) turned out much more palatable than having kimchi as a protagonist ingredient would promise: slight savoury twang to start but ultimately rounded off with calamansi and gin for a balanced and refreshing drink.
Amongst the array of cocktails though, Mitsugaru ($23) emerged as Ssal’s gem. Crafted with Arrack, cream and creme de cacao, the drink assuages you with a balanced sweetness, plush creaminess, and a hit of toasty fragrance — supremely comforting.
In cases where classics are preferred, the Kkat Nip ($23) is Jojo’s interpretation of the potent Vesper that blends in pine liqueur, not only softening the usually merciless sting but also adding a tinge of earthy complement to the Lillet.
Ssal’s Food’s All Good
Complimenting the duo’s assiduously crafted Korean homages, Low Tide Head Chef Edwin Tay also designed a collection of Modern-Korean dishes that prove unconventional but surprisingly splendid.
Strangely enough, the local-born chef’s lack of connection to the cuisine is exactly what allowed his menu to take shape with ingenuity, as his modern fine-dining background from luminaries such as Rhubarb and Nouri helped imbue a certain flair.
One examplar was the stunningly-plated Bibimbap ($25) which jumbles the blueprint with replacement components such as edamame and corn, rendering it less heavy and a bit more elegantly balanced overall.
Another was the Tteokbokki ($6), which riffs on the classic with a heavy touch of charcoal smoke. The bouncy rice cakes are then served with separated sauce trails, ergo giving the smokiness centre stage while the sauce’s tanginess is introduced with moderation.
In a similar vein, the grilled Wild Kuruma Prawn ($25/100g) also establishes itself as another simple but magnificently executed Ssal highlight.
Outstandingly luscious in texture while also loaded with umami and smoke — maybe one of the best prawn dishes I’ve encountered in a while.
The freshness and finesse in handling is in part due to Chef Edwin’s background, as part of a multi-generational family operation specialising in supplying fish. With access to quality catch, ingredients are undoubtedly top-notch.
That consideration itself also makes Ssal’s Seasonal Bowl ($25 to $35) more enticing, as it’s dictated by the fresh catch he chances upon.
My visit landed me a bowl of noodles served in a crisp and hearty fish broth and topped with an alluringly bifurcated crayfish.
As with the prawn, the grilled crayfish texture was impeccable. But the majority of my plaudits go to the broth. It’s light and crisp but still discernably rich, imposing itself as a wholesome broth base that enriches but isn’t surfeit when paired with the crustacean.
Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Korean food enthusiast. In Ssal’s context, it’s the personal meaning and flavour combinations which endear the drinks to me.
Moreover, Chef Edwin’s interpretation of the food with a modern lens and mastery of seafood utterly won me over. To me, this more-than-sincere concept is one of the best bar scene additions, being one of the few bars offering both a promising cocktail programme and toothsome bites to complement.
Make your reservations here.
- Address: 98 Club St, Singapore 069467
- Hours: (Tues–Sat) 6pm–12am