PakuPaku: Japanese shabu-shabu restaurant in Amsterdam, reviewed

Please note that since writing this blog post, PakuPaku has closed down

Taking over the former location of Georgian restaurant Batoni Khinkali, PakuPaku is a Japanese “fondue” restaurant whose name literally translates as “Eat Eat”. I put fondue in inverted comments, as I suspect this is a handy comparison used by the staff to explain shabu-shabu to Westerners who’ve never come across it. And while it does indeed involve dipping things into hot liquid, that’s about where the similarity ends. But more on that later…

Dinner at PakuPaku kicked off with a chilled, sparkling saké – not something I’ve ever drunk before but definitely something I’ll be drinking again. Refreshing and delicious after a long day in annual-report-writing land (aka my home office). The interior is colourful in every way: Japanese street art – if you can call it “street” inside a restaurant – adorns the walls; ‘80s and ‘90s tunes play on the speakers (at least, they did the night I was there); and our server was unendingly enthusiastic, patient and friendly. The wine list is relatively short but comprehensive, all designed to go well with the shabu-shabu, and the bar is stocked with all the basics. Food-wise, we started with a serving of shrimp gyoza which were excellent: moist on the inside, just crispy on the outside. We also ordered some crushed cucumbers with wasabi and sesame – while the flavours were bright, this peppy little side dish could’ve used some salt.

PakuPaku Amsterdam
The colourful interior of PakuPaku

From there, we moved swiftly onto the shabu-shabu itself, which perhaps would better be described as a Japanese hotpot with a base of soy sauce and kombu. Unlike other similar dishes, there’s not a huge quantity of the broth – and it later becomes apparent why: having dipped and/or cooked all your meat, fish and veggies in it, you’re encouraged to eat the flavourful broth spooned over rice. For our shabu-shabu, we chose the “Ribeye Royale” (a higher grade variety of beef, although we stopped short of the eye-wateringly expensive wagyu) and the tuna. While the beef was served wafer-thinly sliced and the tuna in meatier chunks, both cooked in the broth within seconds. Whatever you order, it comes with a heaped plate of fresh vegetables, including carrot, daikon, Chinese cabbage, spinach and mushrooms, most of which take a little longer to cook. Having shabu-ed your morsel of choice, you then introduce it to two dipping sauces: one soy-based, the other sesame-based. And the resulting mouthful is pretty darn delightful. Once we were all shabu-ed out, the rice arrived; I threw in the remainder of my dipping sauces for good measure along with the broth – a delicious and waste-free way to end the meal.

Shabu-shabu restaurant Amsterdam
All ready for dipping and cooking, shabu-style!

Unsurprisingly, the whole experience is a lot of fun: who doesn’t love sitting around a pot of hot broth, dipping their own food in? And in Amsterdam winter, there couldn’t be a more suitable evening activity. With that being said, it’s not a cheap experience: the shabu-shabu alone is around €24 per person, rising to €80 if you get the wagyu beef. We didn’t, but we did order a bottle of Grüner Veltliner as well as our chilled saké, plus the two starters, which meant that the bill came to €126 for two. It was a price I was happy to pay (especially given that we were offered a couple of glasses of plum wine on the house after our meal) but I recognise that it’s not an insignificant sum for a dinner that you’re partially cooking yourself. Still, I’m already looking forward to my next shabu-shabu night…

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PakuPaku (Japanese)


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