For the general public, wagyu is not cheap. A new kid on the block along Craig Road, Niku Kin is prepared to change perceptions by making 100% authentic Hokkaido wagyu (A3 to A4 grade) affordable for the public. The restaurant specialises in yakiniku and boasts of a bar that provides Japanese liquor to go with the food.
Thanks to a direct supplier, Farm Chiyoda Biei Cho in Hokkaido, Niku Kin can keep their prices for wagyu low and at the same time, not compromise its quality. Their farm-to-table practice ensures authenticity and freshness of the beef.
It is a good idea to start with Japanese Kimchi ($4.50) and Wagyu Miso Tofu ($5.80). Their Japanese version of kimchi is spicy and sweet, and less sour than the traditional Korean kimchi. The fermented cabbage is fresh and crunchy. Very appetising. The tofu comes with a generous dollop of miso-marinated wagyu and julienned cucumbers. It is leaning towards salty but it may be because of the substantial topping. Overall, a nice prelude to the beefy meal ahead.
To eat the Wagyu Tartare ($14.90), you mix the quail egg yolk into the mound of perfectly seasoned raw ground beef with truffle oil, scoop a spoonful of tartare on a sheet of seaweed, roll it up and pop it into your mouth. Wrapping the tartare with seaweed is such an ingenious idea. The combination of the flavours is sublime.
The Wagyu Hamburg Katsu ($12.90, a la carte; $18.90 with rice and soup): The golden-brown patty is dressed with homemade apple sauce and served with shredded cabbage, sliced cucumber and cherry tomato. It looks normal until you break it open. The aroma of the juicy meat fillings permeates the air immediately. The accompaniments help to alleviate the greasiness of the katsu.
The Wagyu Aburi Sushi ($7.90 – 2pcs, $16.90 – 5pcs, $28.90 – 10pcs) can go well with an alcoholic beverage from the bar. On its own, it seems unremarkable after the incredible tartare and hamburg katsu.
We were told that the right way to eat yakiniku is to eat it with a bowl of Waka Tama Soup ($4.80). It is a big bowl of eggy seaweed soup that gives a warm and comfortable feeling in your tummy. The condiments for the grilled meats are Himalayan sea salt, spring onion and onion sauce. The pink cuboid is beef fats that is used to grease the grill before we can start grilling the meats.
Out of the 32 parts of the cow, Head Chef Toki selects the best eight cuts of the meat daily. The meat is sliced upon order. You can order them ala carte or opt for a set meal that comes with Japanese Gohan and Japanese Kimchi. There are three sets to choose from – Niku Red ($48) offers 210 grams of three special cuts of beef, Niku Blue ($128) has 420 grams of five special cuts and Niku Gold ($338) comes in 700 grams of eight special cuts (including two premium cuts) with five pieces of Wagyu Aburi Sushi. The sets give bang for the buck as they provide assortment and make up a solid wagyu meal for about $50-70 per head, depending on the size of your appetite.
Above is the Niku Blue set and there is a sequence to consume the different cuts in order to maximise the enjoyment of the meal. The sequence starts from top right in a clockwise direction: Knuckle, Rib Finger, Chuck Roll, Bottom Round, and Chuck Tender. Of course, you do not have to follow the sequence strictly. It is a free country but it helps to follow sagely advice from the chef sometimes.
Each cut has its own characteristics. You may develop your fondness for a few and may order them as an ala carte in future. The knuckle is lean and chewy while the rib finger has distinctive layers of fats that heighten the umami flavour of the beef. The bottom round has more bite and gives a meatier taste. My favourite out of the five is chuck tender. It is aptly named and savoury from its fine marbling.
All the cuts are lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. I like the stripped bare approach because over-marinating them will mask the exquisite taste of fresh wagyu. The quality of the meat is so good, I do not even need to use the condiments. The meat cooks evenly and acquires a pleasantly charred flavour from the charcoal grill. One of the tips in grilling is not to flip the meat too often. In fact, once is more than enough. This will seal the flavours and retain the juices of the meat better. The only bone to pick about this set meal is the Japanese rice that comes with it. The rice is too soft and the grains clump together.
If getting the beef right is not enough, Niku Kin makes their own matcha and yuzu ice cream as well. You can order a single scoop of Japanese Ice Cream ($3.50) or a bowl of Matcha Zenzai ($6.50) that comes with mochi balls and azuki beans, drizzled with gula melaka syrup. Like the rice, the mochi balls are too soft and they lack a ‘gummy’ bite. They can also go easy on the gula melaka as I find the entire bowl too sweet. The matcha ice cream is lovely though, there is a good balance of sweetness and bitterness in the ice cream.
The restaurant is only serving beef at the moment but they are looking into serving other types of meat in future. It will also be nice if they can offer a vegetable platter for grilling with the meat. I like the cool concrete dining tables that beat the heat from the charcoal grill and appreciate the heavy-duty industrial smoke extractors that allow us to walk out of the restaurant not smelling of grease. Overall, Niku Kin is a very good yakiniku restaurant for wagyu lovers. No meat or pocket will be burned if you are prudent.
53 Craig Road, Singapore 089691
tel: +65 9817 0591
11.30am – 2 p.m., 5pm – 10.30pm, daily
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–Niku Katsumata 肉勝又, Duxton Road: Healthy Kagoshima Wagyu Beef Yakiniku, Grilled on Crystal Plate
–The Hitsuji Club, Boat Quay: Hokkaido BBQ and the Silence of the Lambs
Written by Cheang Shwu Peng.