Established in 1993 and conveniently located on Miller Street across from North Sydney train station, Rengaya is known to be Australia's first and finest yakiniku restaurant serving premium Wagyu with a beef marble score of 9+ and quality fresh seafood. Yakiniku (which translates to 'grilled meat') is a style of cooking fresh, seasoned ingredients on a mesh and grilled over direct flame. Each table at the restaurant has a built-in grill where diners cook their chosen ingredients at their own pace. Besides Waygu beef and seafood, there are also other meats such as pork and chicken as well as vegetable options for the grill, plus plenty of popular Japanese dishes e.g. sashimi, udon, shabu-shabu, salads and sides to compliment your yakiniku.
Rengaya Japanese BBQ restaurant in North Sydney
Samurai warrior on display at the main entrance
Through the entrance glass doors, the sizzling sounds and aroma of delicious grilled meat permeates the air luring you straight in - one can't help but feel famished! At 6.30pm, the restaurant was beginning to fill up, groups of diners seen happily socialising over drinks and grilling food at their tables. I had the pleasure of dining with Yuri (SD Marketing Global) and Vanny (Nessy Eater) this evening - over the course of our shared meal, we got to know more about one another, sharing plenty of laughs and of course, our foodie and blogging adventures :)
Patrons enjoying Japanese cuisine at Rengaya
As part of my Washoku Lovers membership, I was entitled to a free drink at Rengaya of either a glass of Japanese draft beer (choice of Asahi Super Dry on tap or Suntory - The Premium Malt's value up to $9.50) or a soft drink from the drinks menu. All I had to do was present my membership card on order. If you love Japanese food, I highly recommend signing up for a Washoku Lovers membership. It's free to join and you get to score some freebies at participating Japanese restaurants. Each restaurant offers a different free food or drink deal to members - see website for more details.
The Kinako Milk from the soft drink options caught my eye so we ordered one for me to sample. Kinako (literally translates to 'yellow flour') aka roasted soy flour, is a common ingredient used in Japanese desserts due to its mild sweet taste and powdery texture. Mixed with milk or soy milk, this drink can be consumed hot or cold and is said to help maintain cholesterol levels making it a popular health beverage in Asia. The Kinako Milk at Rengaya is served chilled - a refreshing drink with a nutty flavour that leaves the distinct grainy feel on the tongue.
Kinako Milk ($5.90)
Namuru ($8.90) - 5 kinds of Korean flavoured vegetables
Feeling a little adventurous? Then try the Wagyu "Yukke", a tender Wagyu beef tartare that is served with finely chopped shallots, sesame oil, garlic and topped with a raw egg yolk. The quality and freshness of the raw beef is key in this dish (reduces the risk of bacteria contamination) so only order the yukke from reputable Japanese restaurants. To eat, break the egg yolk and mix it in with the beef.
Wagyu "Yukke" ($13.90) - Wagyu beef tartare served with finely chopped shallots, sesame oil, garlic & egg yolk on top
To eat, break the egg yolk and mix it in with the beef
Though the menu comes with a helpful anatomically correct drawing of the various cuts of beef, it is still quite a daunting task to narrow down a select few cuts especially if you don't know your beef cuts well. We opted for the Premium Wagyu Amusement which showcases a selection of the chef recommended Wagyu beef cuts - rib, loin, oyster, rib finger and ox tongue. The cuts were generously thick and lusciously marbled, glistening as it cooks on the mesh with any excess fat dripping off into the catch tray below. Like any good meat, you only need to turn it once during cooking. Cook the beef to your liking, then remove it from the grill using the tongs provided. Dip it in your choice of yakiniku sauce and enjoy. The meat is lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and tastes great on its own or with the sauce. A squeeze of lemon juice makes it all the more delectable.
Built-in grill at the table to cook your chosen ingredients
Wedge of lemon and yakiniku sauce
Premium Wagyu Amusement ($49.90) - chef's recommendation of premium Wagyu beef cuts: Wagyu Rib, Wagyu Loin, Wagyu Oyster, Wagyu Rib Finger and Wagyu Ox Tongue
I've had ox tongue at Korean BBQ restaurants in the past but they usually come thinly sliced unlike the thick cuts served in the Premium Wagyu Amusement. The chunky meat oozes in fat and beefy juices, melting in the mouth with each bite. Deliciously satisfying though personally I would prefer it in small quantities (no more than two pieces for me) as it is too fatty for my liking.
Wagyu Ox Tongue in thick cut cooking on the grill
Seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, the grilled Wagyu Ox Tongue is juicy and tender
To help balance out our meat consumption, we also ordered a plate of Wrap-Up Lettuce Leaves which was eaten together with the meat. To make a lettuce wrap, first spread the homemade miso sauce thinly on the lettuce leaf. Dip your cooked meat in the yakiniku sauce then place it on the prepared leaf, topping it up with some sliced carrots, garlic and green chillies, then wrap and eat!
Wrap-Up Lettuce Leaves ($8.90) - lettuce, green chilli, carrot and garlic served with homemade miso dip
Making up a lettuce wrap with a bit of everything
The Stone Pot Mentaiko Bibimbap (with soup) is beautifully presented with namuru, egg, chilli cod roe and squid served on top a bed of rice in a hot stone pot, and comes with a bowl of piping hot miso soup and a sweet and spicy miso paste on the side. Loved the combination of textures and flavours - chewy squid, cooked egg and seasoned vegetables stirred in with fluffy short grain rice and bits of crunchy cooked rice in the mix with spicy paste to give it a bit of a kick.
Stone Pot Mentaiko Bibimbap (with soup) ($15.90) - vegetable, egg, chilli cod roe, and squid on rice in a hot stone pot
To finish, we ordered two desserts to share: the "WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate and Shiratama Cream Anmitsu. The wonderful waitstaff gave us small dessert forks and individual plates which are chilled to help keep our desserts cool for longer. If you only have room for one dessert, then you can't go wrong with the "WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate made up of a variety of Japanese desserts - warabimochi (a jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and coated in kinako) served with sweet black syrup on the side, shiratama zenzai (sweet red bean soup with mochi) and green tea creme brulee accompanied with a cup of warm Japanese tea. For something a little more refreshing, opt for the Shiratama Cream Anmitsu, kanten (aka agar) with shiratama (mochi) and sweet red beans topped with vanilla and green tea ice cream, served with sweet black syrup on the side and seasonal fruits. Both desserts were lovely and not overly sweet.
"WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate ($18.90) - warabimochi with sweet black syrup, shiratama zenzai and green tea creme brulee served with tea
Shiratama Cream Anmitsu ($15.90) - Kanten with shiratama and sweet red beans topped with vanilla and green tea ice cream served with sweet black syrup and seasonal fruits
Drenching the dessert with sweet black syrup
Complimentary Japanese tea was served whilst us girls enjoyed our desserts and continued chit-chatting. Overall, the quality and selection of food at Rengaya was excellent, and service was friendly and prompt. Surprisingly, I didn't walk away smelling like yakiniku at the end of the night!
No doubt good quality food and service comes with a cost; Rengaya is not your everyday dining venue but one you would visit for special occasions or if you want to impress. Perhaps a more bang for your buck option is their all-you-can-eat buffet menu at $69 per head but be prepared to eat your money's worth within a 2-hour service window (last orders taken at 90-minutes and there is a $10-$30 charge for leftovers if you ordered more food than you can consume).