All Japanese yakiniku restaurants are not created equal. While most Australian diners are likely to choose their favourite barbeque joint based upon premium cuts of wagyu (guilty as charged), for Japanese diners, I'm told it’s all about the sauce. I’m speaking with Yuri Tazunoki from Washoku Lovers at Nikaido, where she’s very excited about the sauce.
We’re talking thick, brown Japanese barbeque sauce that’s made here with a not-so-secret addition – ramen stock – an idea generated from owner and chef Hitoshi Takagaki’s time in a Sydney ramen shop. From his time managing a Newtown izakaya, Takagaki has brought over an extensive iPad menu of additional dishes to make your simple barbeque meal into a well-balanced, table-sized banquet.
Luckily when our avalanche of side dishes arrives, we’re hidden from view in a top-of-the-line private booth screened with beautiful pale hinoki or Japanese cypress.
Yuri explains it’s quite an extravagant use of this slow-growing tree that is normally reserved for houses or baths. The heavy wood screens cleverly soak up sound too, so our booth feels quite intimate despite tantalising strip-wide glimpses of our barbeque-loving neighbours.
After lining our tummies with Assorted Kimchi ($11.50) in radish, cucumber and cabbage, and seasonal vegetable sides called Namul 5 Ways ($8.50), which included blanched spinach, cucumbers, mushrooms and mung bean sprouts, we were ready to barbeque.
While the defining difference between most Japanese and Korean barbeque joints is that only the latter use marination, here you’ll find they offer a very good miso sauce that’s great for getting some char on thin slices Pork Belly ($10.90/6 pieces).
There’s also a special Nikaido salted sauce that’s good on pretty much everything else, particularly wafer-thin Beef Skirt ($10.90/6 pieces). Both items sing against the house yakiniku sauce, so be generous when dipping!
We load up our Japanese-made gas barbeque with Assorted Vegetables ($12.90) enjoying mushrooms, green capsicum, and corn on the cob.
Leaving our onion rings to get a good level of char, we try something new. Corn Butter ($5.90) presents butter-topped corn kernels in a little metal pie tin you put directly onto the grill - delicious!
Bonito-topped Cold Tofu ($2.90) squares are a good way to reset your palate before the main event.
The Special Wagyu Beef Rib ($15.90) is the meal highlight, and such is the quality of this cut of beef, it needs no marination.
Take it off the grill with the centre still slightly pink, and drag it through your Japanese barbecue sauce – delicious!
We finished with Scallops ($11.90/6 pieces), which, if I’m honest, fell a bit flat after the winning wagyu. Their lack of fat meant they cooked a bit too slowly on the grill for my liking.
It turns out that there are three things that set Nikaido apart from other yakiniku. The first is obviously their barbeque sauce, the second is their wide selection of izakaya-style side dishes, and the third proves to be dessert! Dessert is not usually a highlight of my Japanese dining experiences, but the fluffy Matcha Chiffon Cake ($6.80) here is worth trying.
NOTE: If you love Japanese cuisine as much as I do, become a member of Washoku Lovers (for free) and receive free wagyu ribs and kimchi (worth $19.80) when you dine: http://www.washokulovers.com/
Nikaido Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant
Shop 12 / 166-174 Military Road, Neutral Bay,
Ph: (02) 8540 3322