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  • Rachel Chia

Solo Jap BBQ experience at Yakiniku Like, Vivocity

“TASTY! QUICK! VALUE!” is what Japanese BBQ chain Yakiniku Like’s slogan screams at patrons as they mill outside its new 53-seater store in Vivocity. The month-old joint – alongside another in Clementi Mall – are the latest additions to this popular brand’s stable of Singapore outlets, with the first one opening to great fanfare at PLQ last year.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, here’s a rundown: the place serves raw meat, which diners then cook on individual electric grills and scarf down with rice and soup. You can, of course, go in groups, but this is one of those places offering Japanese BBQ for single diners at wallet-friendly prices – in case no one else wants to come with you. Though it gives off the same vibes as lonely Tokyo booths for slurping ramen solo, in reality most diners in Singapore bring companions.

To avoid the dinner line, we arrive at 6.15pm, are told the wait is 15 mins, watch the pool of people hovering outside the restaurant grow alarmingly with each passing minute, and get seated at 7.15pm.

The opening special (till August 15) is the A5 Miyazaki Wagyu Set ($32.80), so that’s what we get, plus the more quotidian Garlic Butter Pork and Chicken Set ($9.90). Yakiniku Like claims to serve up orders in 3 minutes - as quick as fast food – but the result ends up much like the queue time. The staff look harried. Maybe the brand’s own popularity took it by surprise.

Never mind. The food is good, at least – the plate of 120g beef that arrives comprises three cuts – zabuton, chuck and brisket. Zabuton, in particular, is said to boast the best marbling. All three are a sight to behold, and the wait is all but forgiven. The meat, from Miyazaki – a less famous but equally prestigious wagyu-producing region, aside from Kobe – have impressive fatty veins, and glisten so sensually on the fire it’s almost illegal. They’re thin, so watch the heat – it burns easily. Though the smokeless grills are much more convenient than charcoal, the fire rears up in a frightening way when the melting fat hits the coils, spattering globs of screamingly hot meat juice all over the table and your beef-flipping tonged hand.

For the most shiok experience, slap the cooked meat on a bowl of steaming hot rice, lather on one of the in-house sauces (we recommend the garlic soy), heap on the kimchi (a confusing choice – isn't it Korean? – but cuts well through the fattiness) and shovel your DIY donburi down your eager throat. The meat melts like butter, releasing waves of incredible umami, and all we want to do is keep eating and eating, until we realise there isn’t any left and feel tempted to go for round #2.

The 100g pork and chicken set is serviceable, and tastes like any respectable BBQ pork and chicken, plus comes with a luscious garlic butter dipping sauce that sits obediently warm on the grill. We hear it’s back by popular demand till September 30 or until stocks run out.

With 63 outlets in Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and now Singapore, Yakiniku Like’s crazy popularity comes at no surprise – it’s fuss free, non-smoky, service is brief and efficient, and prices are good value for the quality. It’s not efficient to wait an hour for a solo meal, but once the eager early crowd lets up, the line should be more manageable and the proposition far more appealing. Keep this one on your “to go” list.

Yakiniku Like

VivoCity, #02-60 1 Harbourfront Walk, Singapore 098588

11am – 9.30pm daily, last order at 9pm

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