The Japanese grill may proffer seafood, chicken, beef and vegetables in delicate bite sizes but at Ri-Yakitori, they make for a wonderfully satisfying meal.
I LEARNT at Ri-Yakitori at the Gardens Hotel, Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur, how the sum of the parts of a chicken is greater than the bird itself. It takes a skilful yakitori chef like Keiichi Nakahara to show you why and how, and please your palate along the way.
Nakahara is friendly and always concerned about how his food went down – he makes it a point to check on you towards the end of the meal, to get feedback.
The first item we have is the Grilled Chicken with Soft Bone that you can eat whole. You bite through the soft cartilage and consume it completely. The meat is tender and juicy, and all you need for full enjoyment is a squeeze of lemon.
Next, we move on to the Grilled Chicken Wings that our foodie friend confesses to loving. She keeps coming back for more, she says. The fleshy part of the wing is expertly trimmed and threaded on a skewer. Once grilled, the meat is smooth and succulent.
Even the Chicken Breast with Leek, the meat and veg alternating on a skewer, is done to a delicately pleasing result. You taste smooth, sweet meat. The chicken skin is grilled to a wonderfully crisp finish – as you bite into it, you can hear the crunch. I have never enjoyed chicken skin quite as much.
From the meat cuts, we move on to other parts – the gizzard and liver. The gizzards are lightly salted after grilling, and again, we find they have been done to perfection – tender to the bite. We also order the Japanese Chicken Congee, topped with leek and seaweed strips. It’s delicious, the lovely aroma of chicken wafting up as you taste it. The congee is velvety, not starchy, with coarsely chopped chicken, as well as small chunks of onion.
Then comes the Minced Chicken Rice Ball which is sticky rice with a generous topping of minced chicken that is sweet and peppery. The coarsely ground peppercorns in it give the dish a fragrant, spicy boost. The minced chicken tastes so good against the sticky rice, it reminds me of a nyonya dumpling. But it’s the Chicken Meatball on a skewer that really grabs my attention. Bite through the smooth skin, and the wonderful flavour is unleashed on your palate.
We couldn’t resist a platter of Grilled Wagyu Beef, served with soya and wasabi and tongue. The tongue turns out a little chewy.
There’s more on offer here than just chicken, of course.
Earlier, we had started dinner with a huge bowl of Chilled Shredded Cabbage and Carrot, served with two dressings – wasabi and sesame. The wasabi dressing had strong mustard hints and was slightly tart. The sesame dressing was milder, but creamy and fragrant.
For starters, we “crunched” on the Chilled Pink Fish Cake. It was springy and smooth, with the kind of light fish aroma you would expect in an excellent fishcake. We also had some boiled, salted edamame. Oh, and the roasted, salted gingko nuts here are to die for. They come with shells encrusted with salt, half opened. One bite, and you get the full flavour of the nut – sweet with a slightly bitter edge. You can just sit there and only eat these and emerge satisfied.
Grilled vegetables are an integral part of a good yakitori meal. Apart from Grilled Asparagus, we order Grilled Maitake Mushrooms topped with a cloud of bonito flakes. The mushrooms are sweet and juicy, with a touch of Japanese vinaigrette and bonito melting against them. The Grilled Eggplant, also with bonito topping, on ponzu sauce, has a lovely, smoky flavour. Add a pinch of grated ginger, and it all comes together marvellously.
We also try the Japanese Curry Rice, which comes with pickles and rice doused with curry sauce. It’s a mildly hot curry, but very aromatic. The Grilled Tiger Prawns, served with a drizzling of salt, turn out luscious and yummy.
The thing about yakitori is that it’s all about the freshest ingredients. You savour the natural flavours with just the subtlest of dips and no heavy chilli sauces. Ri-Yakitori is opened till late. The last order is at 11.30pm, which is great for late-night diners.
The restaurant has monthly specials listed on a board outside. For instance, for August, it’s Spicy Deepfried Chicken (RM15), Grilled Mackerel (RM15) and Minced Chicken Katsu (RM15). I even spotted a grilled ikan kembong with sambal belacan on the menu!
Ri-Yakitori is located on the 7th floor, The Gardens Hotel, Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur (% 03-2268 1188).