Saturday, 8 November 2014

Nikuya - the Japanese Meat Shop

I have to tell you, blink around this town and you're gonna miss a lot. Just when I thought I'd finally checked out all of the restaurants at the Valley hotspot of M&A Lane, a new one opens up to taunt me! We were walking to the Valley last weekend to do some furniture shopping (yep, I bought some cool stuff - see here) and we came across Brisbane's latest Japanese restaurant - Nikuya.  We made a mental note to check it out sometime, but curiosity got the better of us and we made a reservation for later that night.

Now that we're into the warmer months, we're finding ourselves walking around a lot more and even though we'd walked about in the hot sun for most of the day, we took advantage of the lovely evening and wandered into the Valley for dinner.  As we arrived to Nikuya, we got a sense of how big the restaurant was.  Like it's neighbour The Flaming Olive (see post here), Nikuya is a massive space, but unlike it's neighbour, dining is split out over two levels - a more traditional restaurant downstairs and a Japanese BBQ up.

The direct Japanese to English translation for Nikuya is 'butcher' but Owner Patrick Ip uses the more literal translation of 'meat house'.  Some of you might know Patrick Ip's other restaurants Ginga and Bamboo Basket, which are popular dining spots in Brisbane (Ginga seems to be everywhere).  With a name like Meat House, you're going to expect to get some amazing meat and it's something that Nikuya seems pretty proud of.

After arriving, we followed our waitress to the back of the restaurant to a booth that was quite spacious for the two of us.  It seemed like quite a long walk and I was able to check out the interior and decor of the restaurant, which was very modern in appearance.  The dark wood of the tables and chairs were interspersed with circular beach coloured circles that had a bit of a retro feel about them. I also noticed the huge kitchen and bar area - I guess with a space that holds over 200 customers, you're going to need a huge kitchen....

Looking over the presented menus, it became pretty clear why the place was called 'meat shop'.  A list of the meats used were clearly described in the menu, along with a guarantee of their highest quality, premium grade Australian meat and seafood.  The two meats that stood out most on the menu were the Kurobuta Pork, which played a role in the restaurant's signature dish 'Tonkatsu', along with Wagyu Beef (marble score of 6+).  

We are big fans of Japanese food and were excited about some of the options available on the menu, so much so that it was hard to decide on what we wanted!  While we negotiated on the night's offerings, SC ordered a Kirin, which came delivered shortly after in a tall, frosted glass with Japanese script.  By the time it arrived, we'd sorted ourselves out and set about building a meal plan for the evening.

I'm a firm believer in kicking off a great Japanese meal with a sashimi plate, so we'd ordered the Nikuya sashimi morlawase, or combination platter.  Our starter was delivered on a pretty cool looking plate and was well presented with three distinct type of fish: salmon, tuna and kingfish. While the plate presented well, my initial thought was that the sashimi was sliced very thick, much thicker than I would have expected.  However, true to their guarantee, the sashimi was of the highest quality and the thickness proved not to be a problem, in fact, due to the freshness of the fish - the flavours were wonderful.  Of course we added a little bit of soy sauce from one of the three sauce pots at the table, which just enhanced the flavour of the raw fish.

We had intended to share our next two dishes, but it didn't work out that way.  SC had opted for some gyoza, but unlike her normal choice of pork filled dumplings, she went for the 'yasai gyoza', which were pan fried dumplings filled with an assortment of vegetables.  Now, if you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that the choice was never going to sit well with me but I did try one, for the sake of the blog.  The gyoza were green!  Yep, that's right, the vegetable gyoza were green and while the pastry was well put together and fried to perfection, I didn't really enjoy the textures or flavour.  On the other hand, SC loved the freshness of the vegetables and the slight caramelisation of the dumpling pastry.

I was on much safer ground with my waguy tataki, succulent seared rare MB6+ waguy slices which were presented traditionally on a long plate.  Where the Nikuya version of the tataki differed was the green salad that it was placed on top of it and with the ponzu sauce on the side.  Normally, tataki is presented on the plate with the ponzu sauce already poured on for flavour.  It was a little different, but I quickly got used to the idea of the wagyu and salad together, and once I dipped each mouthful in the ponzu sauce, each bite was a delight.  Again, the guarantee of amazing quality produce was evident, with the beef just melting in my mouth and delivering on the rich and slightly fatty taste of good wagyu.

Time for mains and while neither of us went for the restaurant's signature dish of 'Tonkatsu', with the famed Kurobuta Pork, SC did run with another of Nikuya's specialties, the soft shell crab in panko crumbs.  There were two whole soft shell crabs fried in panko crumbs and were accompanied with a creamy tartare sauce.  The meal also came presented with a small bowl of sesame seeds, with the idea of grinding them up (in a tiny little mortar and pestle), and mixing in with the tonkatsu sauce for additional flavour and aroma.  The crab pieces were beautifully cooked and really sweet and with the addition of the texture from the dry panko crumbs, the dish was an absolute delight.

Sticking with beef for my main, I went for the wagyu cubes, chunky pieces of MB6+ beef that had been seared then caramelised and cooked in a garlic and onion sauce - which was presented on a stone hot plate.  I have to tell you, there are not many pleasures in life that can match up to perfectly cooked wagyu cubes that literally just melt in your mouth.  It helped that the sauce was stunning and provided a level of sweetness that was a sublime mix with the fatty beef.  It was actually quite a generous size too and by the time I'd polished it off, even the sautéed vegetables that came along with the dish, I was feeling uncharacteristically full.  So full, we didn't even contemplate dessert.

Well, that's not quite true, I did contemplate dessert but was put off by the very long wait between finishing our meal and the plates being cleared.  It was the one blight in an otherwise excellent service from beginning to our final meal being delivered.  We've suffered the malady of not being able to get our bill and get out of a restaurant before, which is weird as you'd think a restaurant would want a table freed up to get the next customer in.  I'm not sure if you've experienced this before, but we find it a bit frustrating.  Nevertheless, apart from that one blight, the staff had been friendly and professional for the entire night.

I'd also noticed that the restaurant had been steadily filling up, which is quite amazing for such a large space, and probably contributed to the disappearance of our waitress towards the end of the meal. We were pretty impressed with the meal, so it was good to see that Nikuya had garnered such a good customer base in such a short period of time.  Given that the restaurant had only been open for a short time, it was impressive.

I don't think that Nikuya is at the same standard as a the hatted Japanese restaurants - Wasabi, Sono Portside (see post here) or a Sake (see post here), but it's definitely well above average for a Brisbane Japanese restaurant.  The quality of the food is superb and the menu quite comprehensive, with enough great looking options to keep you coming back over and over.  It might just be that it's accessibility and location will give it a slight edge over it's more awarded competitors - I can definitely see myself back to check out more of the menu.

It probably helps that I walk by the place most weekends too :)

Each table had a trio of sauces in some beautiful earthenware pots
The circular beach wood around the poles reminded me of a sci fi transport beam - yep, I went there (beam me up scotty)
The large Japanese wall mural next to the huge kitchen
The sashimi was fresh but with three pieces of each fish, we had a little debate about who would get two pieces!
The mixi of the beef and salad worked much better than I would have expected
Green gyoza - 'nuff said
The dry panko crumbs made the dish - the sweet soft shell crab helped a bit too :)
View from the stairs - there is a feeling of space in the restaurant
Happy cat and geisha - very welcoming
All part of the M&A development

Nikuya Japanese on UrbanspoonNikuya

1 comment:

  1. we went just recently and really enjoyed it. a bit too formal for us so next time we will stay downstairs and leave the BBQing to other folks:)


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