Yakiniku refers to grilled meat, and there are a growing number of good Japanese yakiniku restaurants in Singapore with a range of Japanese, Australian and US beef. Most of these restaurants also have other offerings of pork, seafood and other cooked dishes to complement the meal.
Here are The Straits Times' top six places to check out. Listed in no order of preference.
1. TAN HSUEH YUN RECOMMENDS: YAKINIQUEST
If the name Yakiniquest sounds unusual for a restaurant, well, it is. And there is an interesting story behind this high-end grilled beef, or yakiniku, restaurant in Boat Quay.
Its managing director, Mr Suguru Ishida started a blog in Tokyo with four other yakiniku enthusiasts in 2004. For more than 15 years, he ate at 150 yakiniku places a year. The beef chronicles became popular and led to him being featured on television and radio as well as in magazines.
A good way to explore the offerings here is to opt for the $120 Special Omakase. It has three rounds of grilled beef, appetisers, rice or udon, and dessert. The restaurant serves beef from Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Iwate, using cuts such as rump and thigh that deliver on flavour, not just marbling.
A lot of care is given to the appetisers. Niku Soumen (below), beef cut into strands to look like somen noodles, is served like Japanese cold noodles, with a soya dipping sauce, seaweed, scallions and a dab of wasabi. The beef, on its own, tastes sweet, with a slight minerality. Mix it with the sauce and toppings and umami takes over.
Another good course is Yakisuki, which mashes up yakiniku and sukiyaki. Thin slices of striploin are grilled briefly, so some parts remain raw. The idea is to dip the beef in beaten egg before eating, and the hot, smoky beef becomes velvety when covered with raw egg.
WHERE: Yakiniquest, 48 Boat Quay, tel: 6223-4129
MRT: Raffles Place
OPEN: 5 to 11pm daily
INFO: Go to www.yakiniquest.sg or www.facebook.com/yakiniquest.sg
2. TAN HSUEH YUN RECOMMENDS: THE HITSUJI CLUB
There is a hidden gem in Circular Road called The Hitsuji Club. The 22-seater offers something familiar, yet different - it is a Jingisukan restaurant. The word refers to Genghis Khan and the dish comes from the notion that his soldiers grilled mutton on their helmets to fortify themselves for battle.
If you're worried about the gaminess of the lamb, just chill, because the succulent meat, which is from Australia, does not have a strong smell.
Unlike most yakiniku places, which have flat grills, the ones here are slightly domed - sort of like mookata grills but without the soup troughs.
A small bowl of lamb fat appears at the table and you place it on the grill to oil it. Then the meat and vegetables go on.
Prices start at $40 for a set good for one person. You get 200g of sliced lamb and vegetables. For $70, also good for one, you get 200g of sliced lamb, 200g of lamb chops, mushrooms and vegetables.
The sliced lamb, labelled special red and special white although the difference is not that startling, is good. So are the vegetables, which include slices of pumpkin and also onion, leeks, cabbage and shishito peppers. Most of these are from Hokkaido.
Be sure to try the lamb chops ($32 for 200g; below). They come well trimmed and grill up tender and juicy, provided you do not cook them all the way through.
As with other Japanese grill restaurants, there is a champion exhaust system so you do not emerge smelling of smoke. Another good sign is that the clientele is almost all Japanese.
WHERE: The Hitsuji Club, 65 Circular Road, tel: 6221-3789
MRT: Raffles Place
OPEN: 6pm to midnight (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
3. REBECCA LYNNE TAN RECOMMENDS: YAKINIKU YAZAWA
Yakiniku Yazawa is a favourite for Japanese grilled beef among foodies in Singapore. The restaurant is part of a Tokyo-based chain that was established in 2003.
There is one thing you should know about dining at this Japanese barbecue meat specialist restaurant: the three-second rule.
This refers to the recommended cooking time for each side of a thin slice of beef. Depending on the cut, it can go up to five seconds on each side.
The beef here is sublimely flavourful and melts in the mouth, even if you overcook it.
Choice picks are the ribeye ($100), chateaubriand ($150), tokujo kalbi (short rib, $32), misuji (chuck arm, $38; below), and tongue ($18). These cuts are delicious and well marbled. There are plenty of other cuts too, so ask for recommendations.
You must also order the yukke - a raw beef and egg yolk dish with a savoury seasoning which the restaurant does extremely well.
Unless you like greens with a bland dressing and sesame seeds, skip the Yazawa Salad.
When you first dine there, you may be tickled by the fact that the staff can be strict about the cooking time. But they nag with good reason - there is no point having good meat if you are going to overcook it.
Of course, if you are worried about over-charring the prized Japanese and Australian wagyu here, a waitstaff can cook it for you. But then again, cooking it yourself can be half the fun.
WHERE: Yakiniku Yazawa, 11 Unity Street, Robertson Walk, 01-01, tel: 6235-2941
MRT: Clarke Quay
OPEN: 6 to 11.30pm daily
INFO: Go to www.yazawameat.com
4. WONG AH YOKE RECOMMENDS: ITO-KACHO
Ito-Kacho at the Mandarin Gallery specialises in wagyu beef from black cows in Kyushu in southern Japan and is a branch of the Ito-Kacho restaurant in Tokyo.
Go for the Japanese beef which, though more expensive, is superior in flavour and texture.
Begin with a lean cut such as flap meat and work your way up to the short rib because if you start with the prime cut first, chances are you won't enjoy the other cuts as much. The juicy, tender short rib is an indulgence worth every cent, as every bite is rewarded with a burst of aromatic fat.
Another enjoyable cut is the karubi ($36 for 80g and $49 for 120g), which is medium fatty. It may not be as tender, but the meat has great flavour which makes it stand out from the other cuts.
WHERE: Itcho-Kacho, 333A Orchard Road 04-08 Mandarin Gallery, tel: 6836-0111
OPEN: 11am to 2pm, 6 to 11pm (weekdays), 11am to 11pm (Saturday), 11am to midnight (Sunday and public holidays)
INFO: Go to www.itokacho.com.sg or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
5. WONG AH YOKE RECOMMENDS: MAGOSABUROU
Magosaburou at Ion Orchard is a branch of a chain which has similar restaurants in Kyushu as well as in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
It serves excellent grade beef - Ohmi and Kobe beef - with beautiful marbling that translates to tender, juicy meat that oozes aromatic fat when grilled.
What's worth pointing out is the restaurant has an effective exhaust system, so no smell of food lingers in the air, and you don't have the smell of oil clinging to you after a meal.
Order the karubi ($15 for 80g), as well as the Ohmi ribeye ($68 for 80g), which is superior in flavour and juiciness in comparison to the sirloin. Platters with assorted cuts of beef start at $98 for 180g.
The meats are served with a slice of lemon, a flavoured salt and a housemade dip that has a sourish tinge. Dipping the beef in lemon will help if you are feeling weighed down by the fat.
The pork belly ($23), which is from the Hungarian Mangalica pig and marinated Korean-style, offers a good interlude to an all-beef meal. The grilled meat is eaten wrapped in a fresh lettuce leaf with a dash of spice paste. It is tasty and the fresh crunch of the lettuce is a welcome respite from all that barbecued meat.
WHERE: Magosaburou, Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, 04-11A/05-01, tel: 6634-1411
OPEN: 11.30am to 3pm, 5.30 to 11pm (weekdays), 11.30am to 11pm (weekends)
INFO: Go to magosaburo.sg
6. WONG AH YOKE RECOMMENDS: NIKUNOHI
NikuNoHi at Suntec City's multi-concept Japanese food hall is a branch of a Tokyo yakiniku restaurant.
On the menu is a wide range of cuts, including some that are not very common, such as tri-tip and bottom flap, at very good prices. A diagram in the restaurant helpfully shows which part of the cow the cuts are from, as well as the level of fat and marbling.
The Premium Rare Plate ($48 for 150g; above) allows you to choose three uncommon cuts for a sampling before you decide on your favourites.
The less adventurous can go for common cuts such as Chateaubriand ($50 for 100g) and Japanese Wagyu Sirloin ($42.50 for 100g), which are pretty good quality for the prices.
WHERE: NikuNoHi, 03-316 Suntec City North, 3 Temasek Boulevard, tel: 6837-0263
MRT: Esplanade/City Hall
OPEN: 11am to 11pm daily
This article was first published on Oct 01, 2016.
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