Wakanui: Return of the Steakhouses
Singapore’s meat-centric dining boom keeps on growing. Following the somewhat outrageous uprising of steakhouses in the later part of 2017 with Wolfgang and 665 Degrees Fahrenheit, newcomer Wakanui brings a new steak experience to downtown Singapore. Kudos must be given to Wakanui for shining the spotlight on New Zealand exports—Spring Lamb and dry aged Ocean Beef—a hard sell given that nothing other than wagyu escapes the lips of diners seeking out a carnivorous experience.
Don’t be fooled by its name, Wakanui has zero Nippon origins. After all, it is a place in New Zealand’s South Canterbury and is also where the meat company ANZCO Foods sources its meat from. Taking these lesser-known prized cuts, the company rose to great heights in Tokyo with its current flagship premises housed in the grandeur of Tokyo Tower. Wakanui Grill Dining Singapore is where ANZCO takes refuge overseas, an outreach made possible only with the collaboration of 1855 F&B. A seamless bilateral relationship which ensures a well-stocked pantry in all sense.
Unlike most hotel steakhouses, holed up in mega malls and tucked away in secretive corners of hotels, Wakanui is a different beast altogether. Positioned on the fourth floor of the West Tower of Marina One, I am greeted by futuristic open spaces and odd pod-like structures that serve as automated umbrellas when the natural showers are too overbearing. Push past the glass doors to a standalone glass structure and you’ll be awestruck by the sight of the dryaging cabinet as you are led to your table. Huge ribs and bone-in ribeye that have been wet-aged prior to its current dry-aged state are anything but pallid. The deep, resonating sweet vibrancy one tastes in the mouth when greeted with a sight like that may just be a figment of the imagination, but this is further enhanced with smells wafting off the Japan-sourced binchōtan. Shit just got real.
The ability to conjure the right atmosphere is key, and Wakanui feels warm, zen-like albeit posh all at the same time, hitting that smart/casual sweet spot. Families and friends tackle meat platters and share a bottle of wine against a backdrop of lush green oasis that is the garden city concept put forth by Ingenhoven Architects who designed Marina One. The refined Japanese features, light wood panelling and bamboo-shaped lighting fixtures fit right in. From the open kitchen, the energy is palpable and the smell of lamb and beef sizzling on the binchōtan is a siren song.
No one is reinventing the wheel here: the menu not deviating far from any regular steakhouse. There are breakouts of pure classicism; Caesar salad to kick off the meal—notwithstanding the New Zealand influences in the form of Kikorangi Blue cheese dressing. The lettuce and apple marrying parmesan and walnuts with the salty flavour of Italian anchovies blended well with New Zealand Blue Cheese. It’s not stellar, but a delicious way to incorporate greens into your diet.
Service is brisk at the restaurant, you’ll barely get your order in for a glass of Craggy Range Bordeaux before (bam!) your Spring Lamb Chop starter arrives. The glistening meat lollipop is sweet and succulent, fragrant with coriander powder and local white and black pepper. Christmas Island salt is the only seasoning that this chop needs, seeing that its inherent flavours from a plush life of feeding off freshly sprouted grass on spring pastures are optimised from an exercise which entails four weeks of aging, followed by quick freezing to ensure a year-long supply chain. I devoured this with enthusiasm and yearned for another.
Like the Lamb Chop, the next course sees similar success. Hot Smoked Salmon are small cubes of perfection—the kind that takes a day’s worth of prep, but just a mere second after it touches your lips to process. Fresh New Zealand Ora King Salmon is marinated with sugar, salt, juniper berries and bay leaves for 24 hours before being smoked over cherrywood chips. Mildly crisp-crusted from the last burst of fire in the oven, the insides maintain a suppleness that whispers pine and citrus flavours.
But what you’re really here for is the steak. Can’t decide on a particular cut? You can have it all with the Wakanui Selection Board: Ocean Bone-in-Ribeye, 250g Canterbury Grass-fed Fillet and a quarter rack of Wakanui Spring Lamb; duly served with a selection of condiments ranging from salt to wasabi and their house blended sauce. With meats of this provenance, all else are mere distractions. Simplicity speaks volumes in the binchōtan seared Canterbury Grass-fed Fillet, it is lean, delectable, herbaceous even. The kitchen successfully coaxes the Ocean Beef Rib eye cut to a flavourful succulence far superior to other cuts, in my books. It’s radical and trying to space out that precious piece between sips of that fruit pinot noir is a character-defining challenge—and I’m failing miserably.
Wakanui flirts with its New Zealand roots with desserts. The Pavlova is silky, the meringue just firm enough that it submits to the plunging spoon, then springs back. Served with passionfruit sauce and mixed fruits, the results are felicitous to the meat-heavy meal. Order the Hokey Pokey Ice Cream, laced with the likes of caramel and homemade honeycomb, it’s unexpectedly good.
The secret to Wakanui is that its a place with higher aspirations trying hard not to scare people off as a once-a-year special occasion dining destination. The cuisine is not as high-minded as it’s glassy facade and lunch prices dip low enough to persuade you to step in for half a rack of lamb. It’s familiar, serving as a reminder that sometimes the only thing better than novelty is the thrill of receiving a well-executed steak.
5 Straits View #04-02 Marina One The Heart Singapore, 018935, Tel: 65 6384 2665