Blink and you’ll miss the entrance to Magosaburou, an upscale Japanese yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant, on the 4th floor of Ion Orchard. Compared to other shops on the same storey, the discreet entrance is just a narrow doorway, guarded by two friendly suited servers. Once you pass the sentries, down the corridor, up the stairs, you’ll arrive at a different world, an enclave, peaceful and grand, that overlooks Orchard. This discreetness feels very Japanese and exclusive. (An alternate entrance is at the carpark on the 5th floor.)
The specialty of the restaurant is that they import entire cows so that they possess the rarest cuts, as rare as 3kg per cow. They also scout the entire Japan for the best wagyu beef. Do you know wagyu beef is a broad category of beef, and within the category there are different breeds? They change the wagyu monthly. We had the Kagoshima wagyu, available in February, and in March, Miyazaki wagyu, the best beef in Japan, winning first prize for the past 6 years. Be prepared to spend about $100 for each person, set lunch and dinner are available starting from $58++ and $80++ respectively. (Menu here.)
Can’t speak Japanese? Speak Cantonese to Executive Chef Takatsuki Toshiki! He oversaw the opening of the first overseas outlet of Magosaburou in Hong Kong and was there for so long he has picked up the language. After Hong Kong, the Japanese food consultation company In Shock Group started another outlet in Shanghai, which Chef Takatsuki took charge too, before finally arriving in Singapore.
The trio of appetizers was shockingly delicious, oxtail soup (with a hint of floral scent), aburi beef sushi (seared beef), but especially so, the chicken and mushroom in dashi stock. The stock was more gelatin than liquid, holding the chicken and mushroom together. Taken as a whole, it was likened to intense mushroom soup meeting creamy chicken broth, and it gave that umami feeling. Oishii!
The raw ham and mushroom salad ($20 for 2 persons) was showy, cooked in front of patrons, mushrooms on fire, burning on brandy. On the base was a simple salad with greens (lots of bitter rocket) and just a touch of balsamic vinaigrette. Perhaps the appetizers were too outstanding that we couldn’t appreciate the salad. The mushrooms were too heavy with brandy, good for drinkers but not so for teetotalers like us, and the ingredients didn’t amalgamate together, like three separate ingredients, not a whole dish.
Let the grilling begin! You can either grill it yourself or let a server do it for you. Rest assured that you won’t smell of BBQ after you finish. The restaurant invested in a grill that sucks the smoke in at the sides, so not a bit of smoke escapes. The assorted seafood is seasonal priced and was $48++ on the day we were there. It comes with two humongous prawns, Mongou squid and a king size scallop sliced into three. The latter two items are imported from Hokkaido and at a sashimi grade, they only need to be half-cooked.
Out of the three items, our favorite was unanimously the scallop: juicy and fresh with such a great bouncy texture. Instead of getting the assorted seafood platter, we’d recommend getting just the scallop at $19 a portion, or get two. The prawn, however, could be fresher.
Such a visual feast! Have you seen anything so stunning, displayed for your inspection of its quality and color? If I could marry it, I would. The beef platter comes in different selections and serves 2-3 persons, starting from $180 to $220. You can also get cuts as individual portions although a platter is always more worth the money. The Japanese cuts are different from the European or American cuts so ask the server before you order. The wagyu is grade A5, the best grade, with a marbling of 11. They are unmarinated (except the short rib) and come with a few homemade sauces but to be honest, I tried all the sauces and thought, what a waste of good beef. Just dab a few salt crystals on the beef and eat it straight.
And truly, the beef is the star of the restaurant. It was sensational. Chiobu has expensive taste and liked the Special Prime Yakishabu ($88 for 120g). Yakishabu is a new style of bbq-ing where the thinly sliced meat is lightly boiled before grilling. This cut was like butter in the mouth, no resistance, and tasted very pure and clean. While I could appreciate and understand why Chiobu picked it as her favorite, I thought beef should have a beefy, meaty taste and preferred the special prime ribeye ($38 for 100g), tender yet possessing a more substantial mouthfeel and it was the most flavorful.
Chiobu’s second favorite is, surprisingly, thigh yakishabu ($38 for 120g), which was comparatively the toughest of the lot. By “toughest,” I mean still super duper tender that a baby with milk teeth can bite. As a result, this cut had more bite than the rest but I thought not as flavorful. My second favorite is Chiobu’s first, so I shall talk about my third, a tie between the short rib ($28 for 100g), just lightly marinated to bring out the beefiness of the taste, and prime tongue ($25 for 90g), as chewy as tendons, although this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Chiobu, for instance, couldn’t eat the tongue.
My suggestion for improvement is to use charcoal, instead of a gas stove. Charcoal grill makes a difference as smokey flavors enhance the meat.
If it seems strange that a Japanese restaurant serves bibimbap ($18 for 2 persons), they use the most coveted and expensive rice: koshihikari rice from Uonuma, Niigata. A server will mix the rice so thoroughly and in a fanciful manner that it is a delight to watch. Towards the end, our server flattened the rice according to the contours so that it was a bowl within a bowl. She asked me if we wanted normal or crispy and since she liked hers normal, we took her advice. Only at this point did she add in the spicy sauce, roll the rice into two balls, one for me and one for Chiobu. I didn’t know if I was bedazzled by the showmanship that I thought the bibimbap was simply the best I have eaten. It was tomatoy-sweet and spicy, almost too spicy for me at first, but I couldn’t resist taking another bite and another bite until I eased into the heat. The texture was equally excellent with a few crispy grains and crunchy vegetables, padded with fluffy grains and cooked yolk. If you ask me what the difference is between koshihikari grain and other grains, I cannot say but all I know was I finished the entire pot all by myself (Chiobu was on a diet, no carbs).
We thought the desserts were all for us! But it was just a display to pick from. The creme brulee ($12), the bestseller, was tinged with matcha and was a very thin layer on a shallow saucer so the caramelized top had a significant proportion to the dessert, giving it a pleasing burnt aroma. The dessert was very sweet but somehow didn’t come across as cloying. It could, however, be smoother. But we thought, after such a heavy meal, the champagne sorbet ($12) was a much better choice: a bitter champagne over a sweet champagne sorbet, contrasting and refreshing.
Having written 600 food reviews, I realize that the most accurate judgment of whether a restaurant is good or not isn’t made on-the-spot; the judgment has to be reserved for the day after. When I wake, is the food the first thing I think of? The day after visiting Magosaburou, I woke up, screaming, “S***! LATE.” I brushed my teeth, rushed out of the apartment, and dashed to work but later, when my stomach growled, feeling empty and lonely, it longed for the wagyu beef. It was the moment I knew I would return, bringing dates or a group of friends for a perfect meal on an intimate evening. Costly but worth it.
2 Orchard Turn
#04-11A and #05-01 ION Orchard
T: 6634 1411
Rating: 3.888/5 stars
PS: Thank you to Mr. Zhang Yong Qiang and Chef Takatsuki for the tasting and to Michael for grilling for us.