Last Updated: June 13, 2017
As its name suggests, Niku Katsumata specialises in meat, or wagyu beef to be exact. While most high-end places tend to serve highly marbled wagyu for an incredibly indulgent mouthfeel, the restaurant goes against the grain by serving leaner cuts of wagyu beef in order to showcase its natural flavours as well.
Highly graded wagyu beef does not come cheap, but Niku Katsumata aims to strike a balance between quality and affordability.
The ambience of the restaurant gave off a cosy and classy vibe where diners could enjoy quiet and private conversations with each other. As always, go for counter seats to watch the chef in action while meticulously preparing your food.
Having arrived early, we managed to catch the staff getting ready for the upcoming dinner service. Placed on the table are crystal plates where the beef slices for the A4 Wagyu Beef Set will be grilled ala-minute by a staff member.
When Chef Taiki Fujikawa took out this tray featuring various cuts of intricately marbled Kagoshima wagyu, I rushed over immediately to behold them in all their glory — this got me very excited for our meal.
We started off with the A4 Wagyu Beef Set ($38), which consisted of pickles, salad, six slices of A4 wagyu beef and a bowl of Japanese rice topped with beef curry.
The first of the two pickled dishes was a small bowl of chilled marinated beansprouts. Similar to what you’d find in a certain popular ramen chain in Singapore, which I enjoyed its cool and crunchy texture.
With Niku Katsumata being a Japanese restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it serves kimchi, which was crunchy, spicy and acidic in the right amount to whet my appetite.
The formal appetiser came in the form of two small but thick slices of Japanese Prosciutto made from Kagoshima pork. Tender and smooth, each bite ended with a commendably mellow and salty aftertaste.
Next up was a salad of cabbage and nori strips sprinkled with coarsely ground black pepper and lightly mixed with Japanese Caesar dressing. A welcome respite from the common gomae (sesame dressing) that has permeated Japanese restaurants almost everywhere.
While we were enjoying our starting dishes, the beef slices for our A4 Wagyu Beef Set was prepped and ready to be cooked at our request. However, I couldn’t help but to take a few seconds to appreciate the beautiful marbling on the wagyu first.
We were told that each slice came from different parts of the cow such as the hip, thigh, belly, and filet, that are served in both fatty and lean pieces.
And in the blink of an eye, the wagyu slices were grilled piece by piece — we requested for a doneness-level of medium. With just a quick few flips, our first piece of wagyu was ready.
Tender and extremely juicy, it yielded a naturally mellow and nutty flavour from the fat, but fell just a bit short of that melt-in-your-mouth texture due to it being a leaner cut.
However, it was also able to present a more pronounced beefy flavour that is usually absent in highly marbled wagyu cuts. Higher marbling means less beefy flavour, and vice versa.
Admittedly, I still prefer the fattier cuts and the buttery mouthfeel, but I could definitely see this becoming popular with diners who do not prefer rich and heavy flavour profiles.
To complement the leaner cuts, we were advised to pair them with smoked English sea salt, which lent a layer of complexity to the wagyu. The combined flavour profile was akin to that of a good juicy steak, with hints of umami from the fat and smokiness from the salt.
As for the more marbled cuts, it was complemented with a special in-house sauce, made with a blend of shoyu, miso, onion, peach and pineapple. As a result, there was a slight acidity to it, which was great for cutting through the fat of the wagyu.
However, I felt that the sauce was a little too fruity for me, which distracted me from the natural taste of the wagyu fat. It would be better if they could introduce the same amount of acidity with a slightly lower note of sweetness.
The texture of the fatty wagyu slice was spot on though — tender, buttery with a richness that coated my palate, and dissolved quickly in my mouth that left me yearning for more.
To conclude our A4 Wagyu Beef Set, we were served a bowl of Japanese Beef Curry Rice. Looking at its smooth texture, I wondered where was the beef?
Turns out, the beef is so finely minced and well-mixed into the curry that it is barely visible, resulting in a thick and velvety curry that was slightly grainy.
The curry packed a decent punch of spices and went well with the fluffy Japanese rice, which made for a nice and hearty ending to the A4 Wagyu Beef Set.
Finally, it was time for the A4 Wagyu Donburi ($25), which comes with the option of ikura (salmon roe), caviar, foie gras and uni (sea urchin). We opted for the foie gras to get maximum flavour out of the rice bowl.
Beautifully plated with a total of 10 slices of tataki wagyu (yes, we actually counted) with a lightly seared slab of foie gras on top, I couldn’t wait to dig in.
Nicely caramelised on the outside, the foie gras was unfortunately decent at best on its own and did not quite have that ultra-luxurious melt-in-your-mouth quality. However, it still managed to complement the the wagyu slices with the richness of its fat.
The rice bowl also came with three accompanying garnishes in the form of seaweed, grated wasabi and crunchy rice pops. After trying them all, I felt that the wagyu and foie gras combination went best with just the grated wasabi.
Cutting through the fat with its sharp and clean aftertaste, it allowed me to continue eating the donburi without being overwhelmed by its rich flavours. Needless to say, the wagyu here was outstanding as well — smooth and slightly chewy (in a good way) with the textural contrast between the cooked exterior and raw interior making each bite a delightful one.
There was an accompanying pot of dashi stock for us to pour over the donburi as well. My dining partner enjoyed the addition of the stock, which made for a more comforting way to enjoy the dish.
On the other hand, I felt that it went well with the rice but not the wagyu tataki and would rather savour it separately.
Overall, I was pretty satisfied with my meal at Niku Katsumata. While the A4 Wagyu Beef Set was great, having only six slices of wagyu — which is the main attraction after all — was a little bit disappointing considering its significantly higher price point.
Conversely, the A4 Wagyu Donburi was much more value-for-money and I would definitely return for this alone.
If you’re not familiar with the marbling system for wagyu beef, here’s a simple guide:
The marbling, or level of intramuscular fat (IMF), tends to be rated from 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest possible score. The reason why IMF is important is because when fat is finely interspersed with the meat, it results in an extremely decadent and buttery mouthfeel as well as a complex nutty and mellow flavour from the fat itself that is not easily replicated in other ingredients.
A good contrast to this would be a cut of striploin, where the fat cap can easily get too tough and chewy if it is not rendered properly. And even then, the meat can still be tough and chewy due to the lack of marbling.
While the wagyu here is admittedly not of an A5 grade, it is pretty darn close and still delicious at a more-than-respectable A4 score.
Expected Damage: $25 – $38 per person