Started in 1987, family-run Izakaya Nijumaru sits in a quiet corner on the second floor of Cuppage Plaza. This humble hidden gem serves up Japanese comfort food such as Nikujaga (braised beef stew with potatoes), hearty bento sets, delectable skewers and bar snacks — a great place to pop by for lunch or after-work drinks.
We arrived around 2.30pm, after the peak lunch hour, and were surprised to find the main dining area bustling with hungry diners (a party of 10 arrived right after I took this photo).
The place reminded me of a homey Japanese restaurant in the late 80’s, with its rustic wooden furnishings and panels. Being an early 90’s kid myself, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of old-school nostalgia as I settled down at my table in the dining room adjacent to the main area.
The walls were adorned with vintage Japanese memorabilia, like this Samurai Kabuto box, flanked by Japanese winnowing baskets with miniature traditional masks on them.
Below it was strips of paper bearing the names of the restaurant’s menu items written in beautiful Japanese calligraphy.
We ordered the Nijumaru Bento ($21), which served up the best of four worlds in a pretty lacquered box, along with a large bowl of rice and miso soup. It came with buta kakuni, tender braised pork belly in a sweet sauce of mirin and soy; a fresh sashimi trio of salmon, seabass and tuna; grilled mackerel and tempura.
You can be guaranteed your money’s worth with this filling bento set. My personal favourite was the mackerel, grilled simply with a dash of salt. It had a crispy skin that crackled upon picking it up with my chopstick, and had no fishy smell that most saba fishes tend to carry.
The all-time classic Japanese comfort food, Nikujaga ($8) was served next. The friendly lady boss told us that it takes a total of three hours to prepare this dish, with the beef brisket taking two hours over the stove, and another hour for the potatoes to fully absorb the rich, savoury flavours from the meat.
Best enjoyed with a bowl of rice, this hearty stew, with its melt-in-your-mouth tender brisket, reminded me of the home-cooked stews that my grandmother used to make, and was definitely one of the favourites between both my dining partner and me.
Growing up Cantonese, I’m no stranger when it comes to the iconic siew mai dim sum, but Izakaya Nijumaru’s take on the Shumai ($7) was certainly delicious beyond words.
This handmade shumai is made from a mixture of minced pork, onions, secret seasoning (that’s probably why it tastes so addictive), steamed and served with a side of yellow Japanese mustard. The mustard enhanced the umami of the steamed dumpling, with hints of ginger lurking in the aftertaste, making it an overall extremely palatable wildcard. I’ll definitely be back for this.
These kushiyaki skewers caught my attention with its unconventional ingredients, Japanese Shishito Pepper ($5.50) and Ginnan/Ginko Nut ($4). Both skewers were lightly grilled with salt and would make perfect drinking snacks.
While you’re at it, why not try some Kinpira/Seasoned Burdock ($5) to go along with your beer too.
The Leek Flower and Pork Belly ($10) was another dish that reminded us of a cosy family meal, and was my dining partner’s favourite, in his words: “This dish is so good, I could polish the whole thing off with a big bowl of rice.”
I’m not a big fan of leek flowers, but true enough, they tasted delicious with the stir-fried pork and had a crunch similar to that of baby asparagus.
We were told that this dish was seasonal and not available on the main menu, so do ask for their daily specials when you’re there.
To finish off our meal, the lady boss recommended the Tonjiru ($5.50). Think of this as miso soup taken to the next level, made with pork belly and slices of carrots, daikon and Japanese leeks.
Tonjiru would be the epitome of comfort food for the soul on a chilly day, except that I don’t think I’ll be needing any excuse to order this rich broth on my next visit!
You wouldn’t expect to find a hidden gem when you think of Cuppage Plaza, but Izakaya Nijumaru was that diamond in the rough. Think cosy 90’s family restaurant vibes and affordable Japanese food made with love, you’ll be returning to this place more than once.
I for one, have already made plans with my family to return the next time during their dinner service. Must-tries include the Nikujaga, Shumai and Nijumaru Bento.
Expected Damage: $15 – $30 per pax