Tokyo, Ningyocho: Niku Gatou にくがとう

I confess, I’ve been dragging my feet on putting up this post because it makes me terribly sad to look at all these photos and realise that I can’t eat this again till I next visit Tokyo. And who knows what THAT may be.

“Yakiniku” is Japanese for “grilled meat”. It’s a deceptively simple way to enjoy meat: you cook bite-sized portions over a little stove at the table, then you eat it. Like grilling a steak on a barbecue, writ very small. But unlike eating an entire steak, having a yakiniku meal allows you to sample different cuts of meat, from different cows, seasoned different ways.

I really enjoy eating yakiniku meals, and this was my first-ever yakiniku meal in Japan. Special credit goes to Jialiang (of Demochoco fame) who found Niku Gatou and made the reservations. It’s a tiny restaurant that’s very well-known among Tokyo locals, and you need to call at least three weeks ahead of time to get a table. They’re known for specialising in the leaner cuts of wagyu beef, which sounds a bit odd given that wagyu beef is all about the fat marbling, but in reality was a brilliant way to enjoy the flavour of wagyu without the persistent feeling that liquified fat has been infused into every mouthful.

When we got there, it became apparent that it would be very hard to eat at this restaurant if you weren’t fluent in Japanese – the English menu is 100% Google Translate, and the staff don’t speak English – so once again, I am very indebted to Jialiang and his anime-acquired conversational Japanese for making this meal happen.

The first dish: raw beef slices. Very delicately sliced, and with a meaty and slightly salty flavour that reminded us of ham. I don’t think the meat had been cured, though.

Tongue! I must say it initially felt a bit odd to be faced with that that raw, tongue-shaped slab.

These are slices of cow stomach. Specifically, the first stomach. You have to specify which stomach you want when you place your order. Normally I’m a bit of a wuss where offal is considered, but as it turned out I was very glad we ordered this.

And here we are on the grill. The tongue was entirely unlike our previous experience with gyutan; the quality of the meat was discernibly tastier and better than we’d had at the Sendai ox tongue restaurant, with a richer flavour and a different kind of chewy texture. (Apparently the Japanese have a word that means “chewy, but in a nice way”.) The stomach meat, meanwhile, was entirely unlike beef whatsoever. I felt its consistency and texture had more in common with pork or even poultry than with red meat. It positively dripped with fat, too.

JIaliang did all the grilling. He was too invested in the quality of the meal to cede grill control to us novices. (Yay :) )

My captions could be entirely wrong from this point in the meal onwards, since my attention to detail goes south when I’m very full and happy, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. I believe this one was a skirt cut. I don’t think you often get this cut of a wagyu cow in restaurants because it’s fairly lean, but I really enjoyed it because it was really rich in not-too-fatty flavour.

Mid-section tongue. It was tasty though not discernably different from the first tongue cut we had.

Thin slices of karubi aka short rib. This is where the Korean influence felt the strongest. Seasoned lightly, these cooked lickety-split on the grill. And will you look at how prettily they arranged the slices.

Just a close-up of more lovely beef on the grill. Just because. (I think this was skirt.)

The restaurant does this thing where they lightly cook pieces of wagyu in a butter soy sauce, then finish it on the grill. (The disembodied hand belongs to the nice waiter who, upon realising I was one of those customers who lets the camera eat first, held that bit of beef just so for a picture.)

The broiled + grilled beef is then served on a tiny portion of rice, with an egg yolk in sauce that you beat and pour over the beef and rice.

Aaaaand here we go. I could eat this all day.

We thought we were done, but then more tongue showed up. This is a different section of tongue from the previous ones – the fleshy underside, I think.

Here we are with Jialiang, who’s probably going to tell me I captioned everything wrong …

This menu was brought to you entirely by Google Translate.

Edited to add that the entire meal was of such blowout proportions, that the nice waiter tried to gently discourage us from over-ordering. (Oh ye of little faith…) The truly amazing part was that the bill came up to only SGD60 for each of us, and that included a couple of beers and some sake.

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5 Comments

  1. The Honey Marquise - June 9, 2015

    i popped over from your IG. This restaurant looks fab.. gg to bookmark this for my next visit. :)

    • Germaine - June 9, 2015

      It was very tasty. Do note though that you need to make reservations before going down, as it’s very popular :)

      • The Honey Marquise - June 9, 2015

        Thanks for the heads up.. Is the seating bar table like or normal tables? The kiddos are coming along too.

        • Germaine - June 9, 2015

          Normal tables, with the yakiniku grill placed on the table and an exhaust vent just overhead. The photo of my friend Jialiang grilling is the best illustration of the setup. It’s a good thing your kids are a little older and can be taught not to touch the hot grill!

  2. all the world just stopped now » Katy Takes Japan! Part Two: Kyoto - May 29, 2016

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