Japanese yakiniku restaurants usually serve beef as their highlight, but the 2 year-old Hitsuji Club at Boat Quay, touted to be the first Jingiskan specialty restaurant in Singapore, grills lambs on hotplates. Besides lamb, there are new otsumami (“snacks”) items on their menu, added half a year ago. Most ingredients are imported from Japan or Australia, depending on which country could produce better, fresher produce.
I liked Hitsuji Club the moment I saw it. It is inconspicuous; a discreet opening squeezed between loud signboards that you are likely to miss the BBQ restaurant if you’re not looking for it. The shop space is long and narrow and cramped, reminding me of restaurants in Tokyo.
I later found out that although Hitsuji Club is an original concept, their parent company is based in Japan, and runs 9 other restaurants in Tokyo and an izakaya called Mikoto in Singapore. No wonder Hitsuji has such an authentic touch: you can take a restaurant out of Japan, but you can’t take Japan out of a restaurant!
We began our meal with the otsumami, which usually act as accompaniments to alcohol. They are meant to be heavy-handed–salty and sourish–to arouse appetite and to increase alcohol consumption.
Unfortunately, because we are (almost) teetotalers, the otsumami did nothing for us. The Hokkaido delicacy trio ($12), which change from day to day and may consist fish innards and shiokara (salted squid), are extremely salty for us. But I did enjoy the iburigakko ($10), cream cheese on pickled and smoked daikon radish (like those appetizing purple things in bento sets).
While the lamb tataki ($15), raw lamb that has been seared at the sides, gives a sneak peek of the amazingness that is to come, I’d advise you to skip it and concentrate your resources on the spectacular grill.
The grilled lamb is really something. It is very fresh. Without a hint of gaminess, it tastes almost like beef but it is better than beef. It has a curious long aftertaste, a complexity that beef lacks.
For any yakiniku, the most important thing is the ingredient. Hitsuji sources for chilled, not frozen, lambs from Australia that are grain-fed and are 6 to 8 months old.
Mr Fitness asked me what the difference between grain-fed and grass-fed cattle is. It’s actually up to the breeder. Some farmers contend that grass is the natural food for cattle, so the meat is healthier but tougher. Others argue that grains make cattle fatter and tastier. In this case, Hitsuji is going for taste.
Why 6 to 8 months old? Because young lambs are tender, haven’t put on much fat, and the meat has “live aged” enough.
To order, I suggest each person take the premium Jingiskan with lamb chop set ($65, pictured above). It comes with vegetables, fillet, loin, and lamb chop. Or you may want to order a la carte but it is not priced as well as the set.
It is table-side service. The amicable waitress greased the hotplate with a piece of fat and cooked the fillet ($18/100g) and loin ($18/100g) in turns for us. Actually, I’d prefer to finish the fillet first, and then move on to the loin because the loin is fatter and has more taste, so there is a graduation. The fillet is also excellent; a nice chewy bite that I like, I like to bite all the juices out of it. When she was cooking for us, my interior monologue was “OMG, don’t cook piece by piece. Just cook everything at once, I want to put them ALL in my mouth.”
Excellent as the fillet and loin were, they didn’t prepare me for the epicness of the lamb chops. There are two kinds: premium lamb chops ($25 a piece) or premium baby lamb chops ($12 a piece). The latter comes from 3 month-old kids.
I prefer the more expensive one, because the meat has more flavor and the fat is, miraculously, fruity with a tinge of blue cheese. Magical.
Mr Fitness prefers the baby lamb chop because it’s more tender. The cubes of fat, though not as complex as the adult lamb’s, are full of pure, unadulterated umami happiness.
Hitsuji is at the essence a very simple restaurant. It does one thing exceptionally well, and that’s enough to convert me to a regular customer. Besides, the first two pages of its menu extol the health benefits of eating lamb. (Do you know lamb has very low cholesterol, comparable to that of chicken meat?) It’s delicious and healthy–those are the excuses that will draw me back to the restaurant. Next time, I’ll skip the otsumami and whack the lamb.
The Hitsuji Club
65 Circular Road Singapore 049419
Tel: +65 6221 3789
12pm-3pm, 6pm-11pm, closed Sun
You may be interested in…
–Niku Katsumata, Duxton Road: Healthy Kagoshima Wagyu Beef Yakiniku, Grilled on Crystal Plate
–Gyuu Yakiniku Grill @ Emporium Shokuhin, Marina Square: Japanese Supermarket Housing 7 Restaurants
–Ito-Kacho Yakiniku Dining, Mandarin Gallery: Grade A4 Wagyu Beef from Kyushu
–Tenkaichi Japanese BBQ Restaurant, Marina Square: The Most Affordable Wagyu Buffet in Singapore
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.