Suki-Ya has enjoyed a fairly established presence around Klang Valley, with a number of outlets conveniently located in shopping malls in and around town. People can't seem to get enough of it - during peak hours, you'll find a queue extending out the storefront waiting for their turns to get a seat. Reservations in advance are key.
A massive sign greets you at the restaurant's facade, hinting at the soupy goodness within.
The outlet at Paradigm Mall in Kelana Jaya is no exception. Calling in to book a table in advance means we were allowed to skip the usual queue. Once we were seated, the waiters were quick to get down to business. Instead of the usual Japanese green tea, they seem to serve some sort of barley tea which has a pleasant, slightly burnt flavour.
Instructions for the uninitiated.
There's a nice little guide on how it all comes together on each table. Essentially, it was a steamboat or hot pot buffet. You get 4 different soup bases to choose from - shabu-shabu, sukiyaki, miso and kimchi.
Left: Shabu-shabu; Right: Sukiyaki
Since we were allowed 2 choices in a pot, we opted for shabu-shabu and sukiyaki. Shabu-shabu is a clear, light soup - it doesn't taste very strong but that makes it ripe for flavouring with whatever you throw in it. Sukiyaki is a sweetened soy sauce-based broth that has a pleasant, hearty umami flavour. In retrospect, I wouldn't have minded going with sukiyaki for both sides of the pot because I feel its flavour is what makes this place great.
If your pot gets too hot and your soup's bubbling a little too intensely, this will save you.
Pots are placed on an induction cooker on each table - you'll get a little knob to control the power level, or to turn off the heat completely. Being able to adjust the heat means you can turn things up when you're cooking something, then turn it down later to keep things warm.
Here's the menu.
It's interesting to note that in its efforts to go green(ish), Suki-ya does not carry physical menus. Since (almost) everyone carries a smartphone, there are QR codes pasted throughout the restaurant you can scan to access the menu. We found we never really needed to do this since we found the usual buffet items enough, but you can also order other dishes prepared in their kitchen
(additional costs apply).
Paper-thin strips of lamb and beef.
You can also pick your choice(s) of meat. There's chicken, beef and lamb available that's been sliced into paper-thin strips. I recommend taking only the amount of trays you want as the waiters can be a little too generous and leave huge stacks on your table. You toss the raw meat into the boiling soup to cook - though I suggest using another pair of chopsticks for this, especially for the chicken.
Load up on your greens.
At the buffet spread, you'll find a broad selection of raw vegetables to toss into your soup. This is generally a good idea to give it a bit more flavour, especially for lighter soups like shabu-shabu.
More stuff - some frozen.
The buffet selection's pretty wide - you even get to choose from some other meats, but this is generally of the processed, instant frozen variety. Think fishballs, 'crab' claws made of filament and meatballs with stuff inside, plus a rather delectable fish cake tofu stuffed with cheese. It's not fancy quality stuff, but when cooked in hot soup, it makes for some really good comfort food.
Sauces and sushi to make your experience whole.
At the edge of the buffet spread, you'll find a selection of sauces and a free flow of sushi. You won't find much of the likes of salmon or unagi here - it's mostly an appetiser while waiting for your stuff to cook. For the sauces - you have a choice of ponzu (soy sauce with vinegar), sesame sauce and some kinda miso-based dip. Based on that little instruction sheet, they're all for different kinds of food but nobody's gonna judge if you go with whatever you like. There's some raw eggs available as well - you're supposed to dip freshly cooked meat straight out of the hot pot in this for some nice, eggy flavour while helping cool the meat down, but do this at your own risk since it's raw, after all.
The ultimate comfort food.
Once you're all set, your pot's gonna look like a huge, delicious mess. It's incredibly good comfort food, especially on rainy days.
You have three choices - matcha soft serve, chocolate soft serve, or swirl both together.
On the opposite end from the sushi and sauces, you'll find a soft serve dispenser. That's right - you can have all the soft serve you want, too. You can either choose from green tea/matcha or chocolate, with the middle lever swirling both together. There's also the option of various toppings like jelly bits, nuts or chocolate rice.
End the meal with something cold and sweet.
The chocolate soft serve was strangely icy and didn't taste strongly of chocolate, but it'll still hit the spot for that soft serve fix. The cold dessert's a great way to end this hot, steamy meal.
Overall, Suki-ya offers some really great comfort food. It's easy to see why it's so popular, even though its authenticity is a little dubious. Be warned, though - you will probably come out smelling like soup because of all that steam. With prices starting from RM34.80 per person (for lunch on a weekday - prices vary by time and day), it's not exactly a cheap meal, but it still is an all-you-can-eat affair. Kids aged 5 to 11 eat at half price. Do note, however, that their listed prices are for a time slot of 120 minutes. Every 15-minute block after that is chargeable with RM5, though I've personally never stayed that long.