Sitting on the quiet Craig Road, just a few blocks away from the bustling streets of Tanjong Pagar, sits Niku Kin. This yakiniku restaurant specialising in Hokkaido Wagyu beef that opened last November has clean and simply appointed interiors, with seating mainly tables of four with a small bar section up front.
Niku Kin is the brainchild of Hokkaido Chefs Tsubo and Chef Rafael Andres Bueno Mendoza. Alongside co-founder, Hokkaido-trained Benjamin Liew, the intention is to introduce the yakiniku and wagyu culture to consumers with premium (but affordable) premium grade Hokkaido Biei Wagyu cuts. They manage to keep the prices low by purchasing cows whole. Of the 32 cuts each cow is able to provide, there are eight at any one time at Niku Kin, which rotates every few days. This gives the folks at Niku Kin the chance to showcase lesser known parts of the cow, and create an experience that’s more three (or eight)-dimensional.
The restaurant also serves up a plethora of diverse wagyu-related appetisers; the standout starter was the Wagyu Hamburg Katsu ($12.90). Served with a light apple katsu sauce, I at first had my reservations that it would be dry, but it was very juicy, succulent, and crispy on the outside. The portion is relatively large, and could easily be shared between two people.
If you’re looking for something light to start off the meal, the hand-chopped Wagyu Tartare ($14.90) allows the natural freshness and flavour of the beef to shine through; with added richness from the egg yolk and dried nori. That said, we would love a greater contrast in textures, and the truffle oil didn’t really come through. The Wagyu Niku Miso Tofu ($5.90) and Waka Tama Soup ($3.80) were a little nondescript, but adequate.
For your grill, choose between the Niku Red ($48) for three cuts, Niku Blue ($128) for five, and Niku Gold ($198) for eight. This evening, we were served five cuts: beef rump, short plate, sirloin, and two different types of chuck tender. Ascending through the levels of marbling, each cut had clearly defined individual taste and texture. The portion is definitely be enough for three people, so the prices are pretty reasonable for the quality you’re getting.
The fattiest cut, the sirloin, gave the quintessential melt-in-the-mouth feel that we all know and love; but having a variety of cuts gave us the opportunity to appreciate the different taste and textures of the other meats. The rump, being the leanest cut, has more bite. The only gripe I have is with the Himalayan pink salt dip; the fine grain picked up a lot more than necessary, so maybe a coarser salt would have been better.
It would be worth mentioning that yakiniku purists may be a little irked – regular ol’ charcoal is used instead of the traditional binchotan. Because the charcoal is smokier as well, smoke hoods are installed above each grill; the kimchi served as a side also had a strangely-sweet taste. Niku Kin can feel a little less Japanese and more Korean barbeque, but that’s just us being fussy.
While their ambience is a little inconsistent, the quality of wagyu here is anything but. Every section of beef, whether raw, seared or fried, was fresh and flavourful. The restraint on seasoning showcases the unique taste of each cut; and the attention put into building an experience for diners really emphasises the passion of the folks here. Niku Kin is still a great option for those with tighter purse strings.