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A cut above the ordinary
Wakanui Grill Dining
5 Straits View, #04-02
Marina One The Heart
Mon to Fri: lunch (11.30am to 3pm) and dinner (5.30pm to 11pm)
Sat: dinner only
SO, let's get this straight.
Wakanui is a Japanese steak restaurant in Tokyo which does not serve Japanese beef. Instead, it serves prime beef and lamb from New Zealand.
The restaurant gets the meat from Wakanui, which is not a Japanese name but a place in New Zealand's South Canterbury, possibly named after a famous Maori. It is also where the meat company ANZCO Foods comes from.
ANZCO owns Wakanui in Tokyo and is run by a Japanese person, who also runs ANZCO's business in Japan. So it is technically not Japanese, but if you want to think it is, it will not try to correct you.
Plus it is sexier to think of it as Japanese because Wakanui has a nicer ring to it than ANZCO. And if you really insist, there's wagyu from Kagoshima on the menu.
Wakanui's presence in Singapore is its second, after a short-lived stint in Boat Quay under a different operator. Now it's in the financial district proper, in the belly of the massive Marina One complex that is so new that it's still sporting a construction site on its edges.
The restaurant offers an impressive view of this futuristic skyscraper (a very large swimming pool in the residential portion tells you how expensive living there will be), but what stops you in your tracks are the shelves of dry-ageing meat in chillers that call out to you as you walk by.
In varying stages of prized decay, meat is wet-aged for four weeks before being transferred to these chillers to be dry-aged, with the hunks of bone-in ribeye staying in there for 21 days.
Apart from a smattering of Japanese that we can hear from a couple of diners, there's little to indicate any Nippon influence in the restaurant. Our server is proudly Bosnian, and offers nationality-neutral good service.
We home in on the Seasonal Hassun (S$32) as the only Japanese representative on the menu.
Translated as the appetisers that appear in a traditional kaiseki, we get a trio of pretty but blah attempts at high-brow ryouri.
Apart from a refreshing sweet fruit tomato with plum sauce, a jellied terrine of local turnip has more acidity than taste, while a promising scallop-tofu ball wrapped in a layer of braised winter melon is thankfully warm but thanklessly pallid.
Rich, piping hot and creamy mussel chowder (S$12), on the other hand, hits the spot with its old-fashioned goodness - hailing from an era when drinking cream was a perfectly acceptable mealtime option. Here, it's studded with potato bits for texture, and chopped up New Zealand mussels for a hint of brininess.
It's a pretty limited menu, as it is with steakhouses that want all the glory for the meat such that everything else is a grudging effort.
Incidentally, if you're limited in your appetite but still want the variety, Wakanui offers single lamb chops (S$8) cut from racks of Wakanui spring lamb that are wet-aged for four weeks and then flash-frozen for use over a year.
The frozen bit doesn't sound so appealing but the meat has an impressive tenderness and a very mild flavour - maybe a little too mild.
While the star of the show is a 1kg bone-in, 21-day aged ribeye on the bone, we opt for the more manageable 350g Ocean beef ribeye (S$79), which is already quite a hunk.
It's a credible piece of meat, a testament to its pedigree as grass-fed Angus cows which are grain-fed for four months before slaughter. You don't see the marbling so much as you taste it - it's impressively tender and quite beefy, but suffers a little from not-so-precise grilling on binchotan or Japanese coal.
Our medium-rare order continues to cook till medium with dry edges on our plate, but at least we get to taste certain portions of perfection in time. But even perfection has its limits and after a while, monotony sets in.
Our affinity with wagyu means we're more partial to the Itogi wagyu chef creation (S$69), which features cubes of melting-soft beef on top of too-sweet mashed turnip, grilled mushrooms and steamed spinach. The small cubes are easy to eat and perfectly enjoyable.
Less enjoyable are the sides, like a middling mashed potato (S$10) that tastes as if the chef has taken the world butter shortage so seriously, he whipped it with water and a UHT milk substitute. If you need some roughage, the grilled seasonal vegetables (S$18) will do the job.
For dessert, do the Hoky Poky (S$14) and dance around the scoop of scrumptious homemade ice cream that Wakanui is quite adept at.
Sticky, chewy and velvety vanilla is streaked with fragrant caramel and honeycomb bits. Of course, at S$14, it's a pretty pricy Poky.
You get better value for your S$14 with the baked chocolate cake (S$14), which is a pretty ordinary thick slice of firm bittersweet chocolate ganache paired with homemade raspberry sorbet which is rather good.
While we may quibble over its citizenship, a must-tweak menu and general teething problems which include a slow kitchen, Wakanui at least delivers the goods meat-wise. It's not quite Wolfgang's Steakhouse but it's still a cut above the ordinary.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.