Peppaa Ranchi ("Pepper Lunch" in Japanese)
Whoa. This was a suprise. This had all the markings of another disappointing Japanese chain arriving in Singapore, like Mos Burger and Ajisen Ramen, boasting about the 130 outlets across Japan and having spread to Korea and Taiwan too, etc. But given that it was new here, I had to try it to be sure.
And boy, am I glad that I did. It was both fun and tasty at the same time - a sizzling platter with steak cooking right before your eyes, and lobs of butter on top, a bit akin to Ruths Chris or A Hereford Beefstouw, but with a practical purpose too: for cooking the other side of your steak when you flip it over (the servants eagerly encourage you to do so while the platter is still hot). A honey brown sauce is available for dousing on top of your veggies, as is a garlic soy sauce (with a neat dispenser for stirring up the garlic sitting at the bottom). The meat (from Australia and New Zealand, probably since the US mad cow beef ban is still in effect here) certainly wasn't Morton's-quality, but it was good enough considering that it's basically fast food at around S$13 (US$8). Apparenty the hot plates use "a patented electromagnetic cooker patented in Japan" and "heats to 260 degrees Celsius quickly & keeps food hot for long."
I got the cut hitokuchi and hamburger steak platter, but next time I want to try the beef pepper rice, which seems to be the house specialty, seeing how it is prominently displayed as the first item on the menu, as well as on the advertisements. LCD monitors in the restaurant even play Japanese instructional videos on how to mix the beef and rice together when it's cooking. (On that note, there is even a cylindrical paper wrapper surrounding the platter that give you instructions on your specific dish...mine read, "Hurry!! Turn it over!" in big headlines preceding the four step detailed process.) There appeared to be some other ones that I wanted to try too, like the shimofuri marbled fat steak, tokusen rib eye, and yawaraka loin varieties.
Now, admittedly my affinity for this place may largely be driven by the sheer novelty right now (cue Bill Murray in Lost in Translation again: "what kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food??"), as well as my love for fat juicy hamburger steaks from American diner counters. And the pepper taste did evoke bad memories of some atrocious steaks-on-a-platter that I've had in Taipei. But it wasn't that bad - I thought it was quite tasty with all those sauces too. In fact, I like this place so much that I'm still salivating right now. I'm gonna try to come back tomorrow for lunch.
If you come here, don't come with expectations of a normal steak - this is definitely localized. If you don't like Angus House at Ngee Ann City (a Japanese steak house with somewhat similarly localized tastes), then you may not like this place. But I do.