Aburi-EN, Isetan Scotts
Alternative protein is all the rage in Singapore now, with restaurants rolling out plant-based menus packed with meatless “meat” from brands like Impossible, Beyond, and OmniPork. And the newest player in the market is Tokyo-based Next Meats, which makes Japanese-style alternative meat products perfect for Japanese dishes.
Popular grilled meat chain Aburi-EN is the first place in the Republic to offer karubi (boneless short rib) “meat” from Next Meats in its dishes. The “meat” is made from soybean proteins, and Next Meats claims it contains fewer calories, double the protein, a tenth of fat and none of the cholesterol compared to its actual meat counterpart (plus, no chemical additives!).
This “meat” is offered in two dishes at Aburi-EN. It’s the Japanese chain’s first time offering plant-based dishes, and they’re only available between April and July 2021.
The Kalbi Don Set (S$13.80) we try for dinner is a hefty donburi comprising Japanese rice topped with shimeji mushrooms and grilled “karubi”, glazed with a sweet, plant-based homemade sauce. The simplicity of this dish puts the “meat” at the forefront, and it, unfortunately, gave us similar vibes to the mock char siew from the economic bee hoon stall – meaning texture-wise, it still has a ways to go. The umami sauce covered a multitude of sins, but because Aburi-EN is known for its rice bowls, we can’t help but compare the “karubi” to actual meat in their typical offerings, and found it a tad rubbery. Of the rice, however, we have no complaints. Perfectly sticky and fluffy, it paired well with the toppings.
The Stamina Teishoku (S$15.80) fared significantly better. The set includes a colourful plate of stir-fried “kalbi”, juicy shimeji mushrooms, crisp cabbage, sweet julienned carrots and spring onions, all coated in the same deletable sauce as the Kalbi Don Set, then topped off with a gloriously golden yolk (the eggs are imported from Okinawa). Here, the meatless “karubi” is well-camouflaged, and perhaps because of the range of textures from the vegetables and the added creaminess from the egg, or because Next Meats’ product simply responds better to stir-frying, the mock meat texture was much less prominent. Plus, the set comes with rice, salad, and miso soup, making it a value-for-money option that’s balanced, comforting and almost homely. It’s a good example of how meatless meat dishes don’t have to taste completely vegetarian, and we’d happily order this again.
With alternative protein featuring mainly in dishes like burgers and meatballs, we’re glad to see a Japanese firm partner a Japanese eatery to offer meatless meat dishes tailored to the cuisine. we’re happy to report that the use of tasty sauces and ingredient pairings have done wonders for Next Meats’ “karubi” in the Stamina Teishoku, and excited to see what Aburi-EN can come up with next.
Isetan Scotts, 350 Orchard Rd, #01-K1 Shaw House, S23886
Open 11am to 10pm daily