As we enter Week 3 of P2HA, I’m reminiscing about the last time I dined in a restaurant.
It was at the Yen Social, the new offshoot of Michelin-recommended Yen Yakiniku. Both specialise in high-end yakiniku (grilled meats), though they differ most in price points: Yen Yakiniku spotlights on wagyu of the Japanese variety, while Yen Social focuses on prime Australian wagyu (which is no less sublime, if you ask me).
Another difference is in the way your meats are cooked. “For Yen Social, we want to offer a different experience where guests can relish in the joy of grilling thin sliced cuts themselves and enjoy having chefs grill the thicker and more difficult-to-grill cuts like the ribeye steak for them,” explains Taiwanese-born yakiniku chef Jones Chen. You might be thinking, why would I want to be cooking my own food in a restaurant when I’ve done that for a good part of this year and last?
Because, as food editor Jeff Gordinier wrote in his column, “We don’t need restaurants because we are hungry. We need restaurants because we are lonely.” That said, not everything on the menu requires self-grilling, and you don’t have to DIY if you don’t want to – just ask one of the chefs to do it for you (like we did, as first-timers).
Yen Social is a wholly convivial experience. There’s elements of yakiniku incorporated in its design of the restaurant, such as giant metal mesh as screen dividers and textured walls that recall the cracks on charcoal. Brass accents, an Alicante red marble countertop, maple-hued wooden flooring and neutral-coloured furnishings contrast the dark grey walls and brightens the otherwise somber interior.
While it’s all sexy and fun, Yen Social is also serious about its carnivorous offerings. Hanging above the sake-filled refrigerators is a large mirror with a hand drawing of a bullock detailing 13 different cuts – in case you need a refresher as you order your platters. We started light: a box-fresh farmer’s salad drizzled with yuzu-infused oil to cleanse the palate. Then it’s meat all the way – kicking off with Yukke, in which thin strips of raw wagyu beef, glazed just right in house-made BBQ sauce and topped with a single raw egg yolk, are served in the form of a pretty tart. If you dig steak tartare, this one’s a real treat.
As we picked the last red slivers of sweet, yolk-drenched wagyu off our plate, the service crew loaded the grill in front of us with a pot filled with hot, ash-coated binchotan. Bite-sized pale pieces of iberico pork jowl with snow-like marbling and a lean centre were set to cook quickly to a fatty bite. At the heart of the menu is the Yen Social Butcher Platter, which consists of chuck eye roll, karubi (boneless short rib), karubi intercostal (muscled meat between the ribs), and ribeye, as well as the whisky dry aged Australian wagyu ribeye. All of these were grilled swiftly by the piece, and we were utterly taken by their tenderness and juiciness; by the savoury, salty bite of superior beef cuts that have been cared for.
There’s white short-grained rice should you need the carbs, but consider chef Chen’s beef noodle bowl. Done Taiwanese style, it has Japanese wagyu beef chunks and beef tendon, slow-stewed for 48 hours to incredible softness, swimming in a dark and deeply flavoured broth that will warm your soul. We relished every last drop.
Same goes to the sake flights, curated by the team to pair the with food. The Nabubijin features three expressions from the Iwate brewery, from the Junmai Ginjo with a muscat and pear palate, to the Junmai Daiginjo Aiyama, made of the rare Aiyama sake rice for acidity and sweetness. The North to South offers a refreshing range of sweet to dry sake from different prefectures.
And lest you’re wondering if you’ll sleep smelling like the dinner you just ate, don’t worry. The restaurant is fitted with state-of-the-art ventilation to keep it smoke-free, ensuring that it’ll only leave a mark on your future dining plans – not on your nostrils and your hair.
Yen Social, 7 Fraser Street, #01-25/26 DUO Galleria, Singapore 189356, +65 8669 6788.