Ever wonder why some things are famous? Some others are special, and some burn a hole in your pocket?
Well, folks, Kobe beef is all three for a good reason.
Chances are, you have at least heard of Kobe beef (yes, you say it like ‘Ko-beh’ and not ‘Ko-bee’ or ‘Ko-bay’). This particular variant of red meat raised to fame for its ‘melt-in-your-tongue’ trait, thanks to an over-20% fat content, infused nicely throughout to give it a ‘marbled’ look. There are other famous Japanese beef variants too, such as Omi, Yonezawa and particularly Matsuzaka beef, which Olivia talked about in a separate post!
Now, there I was, stranded in Kobe for a day with a buddy who happened to live there.
After going around the city we went looking for the place that was rated as the best place to get a Kobe beef meal in the city: Wakkoqu. It was located rather discreetly at the 3F of Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue, just across the street from Shin-Kobe JR Station.
From a pretty simple English menu (you can find it here), both me and my friend chose the most tantalizing option available: The Sirloin 250g. It came with an appetiser, a drink and a choice of bread or rice. Being the Asian that I am, naturally I asked for the gohan; no bread for my steak please.
See, what makes eating Kobe-gyu in Kobe, particularly in here, an extraordinary experience is not just the beef alone. Everything else that are being presented to you is less of a cooking show, more of a performance. A very precise, guided and immaculate one, akin to watching a recital of a Tchaikovsky piece in Carnegie Hall.
The garlic was prepared in such a delicate manner to ensure that each slice was cooked evenly to the crisp, and yet without the tiniest burnt edge or bitter taste.
Meanwhile, we got to enjoy the appetiser. There were two choices and we opted for one each. One was simple Lox, with some grated daikon and lemon cut. The other, more extraordinary one, was shirasu (Japanese anchovy whitebait) with scallop and crabmeat in jellied dashi. This was surprisingly light yet flavourful!
Authentic Kobe beef is produced in the Hyogo prefecture (of which Kobe is the capital) in Japan, from a type of cattle called Wagyu (which roughly translates to “Japanese cow”). It is characterized by bright red meat with pure white, extensively marbled fat. Kobe beef generally comes from the Tajima strand of the Japanese Black. Wakkoqu serves the best cuts of this particular strand, inspected daily and served exquisitely, flawlessly even.
One interesting thing that I realized when dining here was actually how different the cooking method was, as compared with a typical western steak preparation. Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver tell us to cook it drenched in butter and herb, over high heat to get that fantastic charred smell outside, while making sure the inside remains pink, that’s not the case with the Japanese.
The Wakkoqu chef took his time slicing and dicing the meat, only serving it to us in small portions. The meat did not have a strong, bold char in the outside, and yet it smelled just as fantastic.
There were salt, pepper, and mustard on our plate, and we were encouraged to try our meat with each seasoning first, and then decide how we liked to enjoy it after. I liked it best with only pepper. The best part? I got all 250 grams of this thing.
My every bite was effortless, there was nothing crispy, no resistance. It was truly like eating meat in butter form. The meat held up its form in my mouth, and yet each bite came with sweet and savoury wonder. Fried garlic, edamame, tofu, konnyaku, carrot and daikon are prepared on the side, providing us a variety of side textures to go with our meat.
After serving us the last portion of the meat, the chef took all the fats he cut aside, chopped it into even tinier bits, and cooked it together with the beansprout. I couldn’t help but smile as he was doing this, ‘what a fantastic idea,‘ I thought.
Was Kobe beef as good as all the myths? Would I recommend every single person I know on earth to try it at least once in their lives? Was it the best ¥12,250 I have ever spent on a single meal? Yes, yes, and はい!
Wakkoqu (和黒) Address: 3F Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue 1, 1-Chome Kitano-cho Chuo-ku Kobe-City 神戸市中央区北野町1丁目1 新神戸オリエンタルアベニュー3F Phone:+8178-262-2838 Hours: 11:45 am – 22:00 pm