Why is rivalry an indisputable element of human nature? To be human is to want to compete against others. There are all sorts of rivalries but none are so exciting – yet conflicting – as national rivalries! Australia vs New Zealand, England vs Scotland, Singapore vs Hong Kong, Italy vs France… Japan vs Korea!
I wish that Japan and Korea would stop squabbling over trade wars and ancient history. Let’s settle this once and for all by comparing who has the best barbeque. To test it out, I visited two comparable top barbeque restaurants in Singapore, Renga-ya House of Japanese Steak and Go K BBQ.
Renga-ya House of Japanese Steak
I visited Renga-ya Japanese restaurant inside Chimjes to learn about the art of Japanese barbeque, which is called yakiniku in Japanese. Renga-ya is considered a rather high-end establishment and the quality of food did not disappoint (although my wallet hurt afterwards).
We were served some tapas to begin our meal. Small and elegantly presented dishes of marinated burdock, creamy potato salad and kimchi were gently placed on our table shortly after we arrived. Burdock is a root vegetable that tastes similar to bamboo and has a deliciously firm and nutty texture. We were addicted to munching on the straw-like shoots and quickly devoured the plate whilst the barbeque grill heated up.
Yakiniku is all about beef and the menu at Renga-ya boasts several high-grade wagyu options. However, I’m also a pork fan so we ordered a platter that consisted of five different cuts of beef and pork.
After heating the element we were given super long chopsticks and allowed to cook the meat ourselves. I liked the fact this allowed me to control how rare (or well-done) I wanted my meat to be grilled.
The highlight of the barbeque was the karubi wagyu steak, which is A5 grade imported from Hokkaido. The steak slices were half a centimetre in thickness and well-marbled, resembling giant pink dominos matted with thick spiderwebs. The abundant fatty marbling helped to tenderise the meat as it cooked, resulting in a rich and beefy taste. Cuts of diced wagyu rib eye and wagyu karubi were also on the platter and whilst the fat to meat ratio was far lower, the quality of cuts was evident in how juicy they tasted.
When it came to pork, we enjoyed cooking marinated pork belly as well as pork tenderloin with sesame. The meat was a rose-coloured pink and sweet-tasting. We took advantage of all the various dipping sauces including spicy chilli-soya, salty garlic and teriyaki, to enhance the flavour of the meat.
Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of cooking our own food and all of the meat was juicy and delicious. The flexibility to order a mixed platter designed for two people meant that we could sample a range of different cuts without over-ordering. Furthermore, the barbeque plate was clean and did not produce an overly smokey or burnt taste thus allowing us to enjoy the freshness of the meat as well as the subtle flavours of the marinades.
Renga-ya has an extensive food menu with many interesting Japanese appetisers and side dishes to choose from as a complement the barbeque. We ordered the Hokkaido Scallop Mentai, which was served in the shell and laden with plenty of spice-infused cod roe dressing. We also ordered a Japanese crab salad, which was wonderfully presented in a pale crab shell although a little stingy when considering the amount of crab meat relative to the $18 price tag.
The beautiful thing about Renga-ya is they have prosecco and we ordered a bottle to accompany our meal. Altogether it was a great night out with plenty of different flavours to savour. We left the restaurant feeling well and truly satisfied.
Flossie’s rating: ★★★★
30 Victoria Street
Go K BBQ
To sample Korean barbeque, I went to Go K BBQ restaurant on Amoy street. This area is considered a mini-Korea town and this particular restaurant had one of the highest Google ratings.
When we entered Go K BBQ, I was pleased to see a fridge full of fresh cuts of chunky beef steak next to slabs of marbled pork. I remember going to Korean barbeque restaurants years ago, when I was living in Sydney, and being served half-thawed frozen meat still glistening with crusty ice. So, I was delighted to see that this place actually served fresh and bloody meat. My inner-vampire heart was pulsing!
We sat down and were ready to order lots of different meats from the menu, when the waitress informed us that a minimum order of two servings per item was required. Since one serving was around $20 dollars and 200 grams of meat, it meant for two of us we would only be able to manage one meat selection. Darn it! After a lot of heated debate, we selected the taipai sam gyeop sal (pork belly).
Quickly after ordering, some complimentary starters arrived, as per the Korean tradition. This included one very hefty portion of kimchi. I am not a kimchi expert but this was definitely not good kimchi. It was barely spicey and barely fermented either; more like globs of red-spotted cabbage! However, the additional small dish of sea kelp was tasty albeit not very Korean!
Finally, the meat arrived and it looked incredible. Thick, robust and firm like a young woman’s thigh with lots of creamy, white fat gleaning at the edges. The waitress laid the two slabs of pork belly on the heated barbeque along with one wedge of mushroom.
We were not permitted the pleasure of barbequing the meat ourselves. The waitress spent twenty minutes at our table first sealing the meat cuts, then cutting them into bite-sized rectangles before cooking the pork belly to a bubbly, brown perfection. Her looming presence was a bit of a conversation dampener and we would have preferred to handle the meat ourselves. However, this is the restaurant policy. Nonetheless, it tasted incredible and we scoffed the soft, juicy pieces of pork in record time.
Our main came with a complimentary lettuce and sesame seed salad as well as some bland-tasting mushroom soup. These dishes were neither here-nor-there but they were generous portion sizes.
We also order a Korean pancake to accompany our meal. We thought it would be served first, as an appetizer, but it came out well-after the barbeque meat. Unfortunately, the pancake was a disappointment. The pancake was soggy and potato-dense in the middle, yet oily-crispy at the edges. It didn’t live up to the Korean pancake I have tried before.
We were full by the end of our meal although not quite satisfied. We’d eaten too much pork belly, which weighed on our stomachs. We would have preferred to order smaller portions of different cuts of meat had the menu allowed it. The side dishes and pancakes did not live up to our expectations, however, the meat was top quality. This place would be better suited to large groups who could order a variety of different cuts.
Flossie’s rating: ★★
76 Amoy Street
I’m not sure if Renga-ya and Go K BBQ are fair representations of Japanese and Korean barbeque, but they are probably as good as it gets in Singapore. Both restaurants are considered relatively upmarket and both score higher than 4 on Google ratings. Overall, I preferred the Japanese barbeque because we were able to try a selection of different meats and we could cook at our own pace. The wagyu beef was incredibly tasty. At Renga-ya, we also had the option to order some delicious Japanese side dishes.
Go K BBQ on the other hand, did not allow us the flexibility to try different meats or barbeque our own food. However, the meat quality was truly excellent and we were served generous portions of free sides such as kimchi, sea kelp, salad and soup.
That’s why I’m voting for Japanese BBQ. Korea, you lose!