Some of my most indelible food memories from Japan include my visits to a yakitori joint. Whether in a more posh establishment where the meat is cooked and seasoned to perfection, or more dingy places with good value skewers, most izakaya feel like places where real food is made: the smoke wafting from the grills and the cigarettes, shoulders bumping with friends and noisy strangers in a cramped space as you down mugs of chilled Japanese beer. I had been craving to relive the authentic izakaya experience since my trip to Japan a few months ago, so I was delighted to be invited to the new second branch of Q-WA Izakaya along Beach Road to try their yakitori.
Unlike the cramped bars in Japan, Q-WA Izakaya was spacious in comparison, with a small bar for solo diners but plenty of square tables for groups. They have a good selection of Japanese alcoholic beverages, such as Asahi draft beer, and sake that was smooth and light.
A good pairing with the beer to snack on would be the crispy baby crabs, called sawagani. They were not just crunchy, but surprisingly had a bit of soft flesh inside that provided a nice salty crab flavour.
The main attractions, of course, would be the wide variety of classic yakitori such as negima (chicken and leek), tsukune (meatballs), and tebasaki (chicken wings). The negima, a yakitori staple, had a wondrously creamy leek between the chunks of chicken. The tebasaki was well-salted with crispy skin and soft meat that falls off the bone. And the tsukune, in its homemade goodness, was sweet and dark with teriyaki sauce and even had a bit of chunky cartilage inside.
There are also tasty pork options, such as the butabara shio and butabara miso. These two skewers are pork cuts either seasoned with special salt or miso marinade. Any dish labelled shio lives or dies by the quality of the salt used, and the butabara shio lives. The butabara miso, in addition to the umami-rich marinade, has a nice layer of fat and a slice of onion between the pieces to add some sharpness.
There’s also the opportunity to get all kinds of grilled food wrapped in either bacon or beef strips. One of my favourites was the uzura maki, or quail egg wrapped in bacon. The yolk was just nice — just solid, but still soft, bursting against the salty, fatty bacon. The other winner in my book is the enoki gyu — crunchy browned enoki mushroom wrapped in beef. There are also vegetable skewers available, with or without the pork and beef wrapping, such as the tomato gushi, which is cherry tomato wrapped in bacon with some Japanese mayonnaise on top.
Each stick will set you back by at least $2.80, the price creeping up based on how premium your skewers of choice are. But whether I got the skewers made with humble ingredients or more special parts, they were all delightful to the senses in their own ways.
The host was also eager to showcase a couple of her non-yakitori offerings. She was especially proud of her shimesaba: seared mackerel marinated with vinegar. it was remarkable how soft it was even though it was cooked mackerel, not sashimi. It hadn’t begun flaking like the well-done mackerel on a hotplate you often get at food court Japanese or Korean stalls. The slices of saba here dislodge from the cut in one whole, juicy piece.
She also let us try her pork katsu cutlet, served with a salty and sweet dipping sauce. I have to admit, after trying the best katsu cutlets in Japan while, I had to try to forget that experience in order to appreciate that this was definitely a decent and well-made pork cutlet: crispy tempura-battered skin with flesh that was cooked just right; still moist and lightly pink.
There was one crucial thing missing from this izakaya experience that I missed from my times in Japan: this second outlet at Bugis was quite empty when I visited it. This is of course, because it has just been newly established. But after trying the fantastic food and alcohol that this place has to offer, I look forward to seeing Q-WA Izakaya become like the best izakaya places in Japan: crowded with salarymen at the end of the long day.
Thank you Q-WA Izakaya at Bugis for the invitation.
103 Beach Road
Reservations: 8336 7728
Opening Hours: 1130am – 230pm; 5pm – 11pm