As much as a country may be well known for certain dishes, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll always find regional specialities that locals are super proud of. Here in the UK we have exactly that, from Yorkshire puddings to Cornish pasties, but the legend of Kobe beef was a whole new foodie step for me. I’m a street food hunter; a dingy side-alley-restaurant-with-questionable-hygiene dweller. I’ve been known to dress up and splash out, of course, but this is the first time I’ve allocated a chunk of my holiday budget to a specific meal.
Kobe, around 30 minutes on a bullet train from Osaka, is synonymous with the highest quality steak. The way the cattle are raised involves daily massages and their diet has a good slosh of beer in there. The breeding means the level of fat in the beef is higher than the regular steaks we know here in the UK, and just looking at a cut, you can see the iconic marbling covering almost the entire surface.
Curiosity and a never-ending pit of a stomach set me researching, and I booked a table for one at Wakkoqu, thanks to the help of Japan local, Nano, who deciphered the website for me! On my way back from a day at Himeji Castle, via getting utterly lost in Shin-Kobe train station, I made my reservation just in time. But it turns out, due to my early dinner time slot, I was the sole diner in the restaurant. I took my seat at a long table, where I was greeted by the chef who proceeded to cook my entire meal in front of me.
I chose a 220g tenderloin, but the meats all came in a meal selection, so whilst I waited for my appetiser of smoked salmon and capers to arrive, I picked out the Japanese Taketsuru whisky to sip on (because if there was one other indulgence I was willing to pay up for in Japan, it was THIS). The starter was fine; but nothing more. I love capers, and eating them with chopsticks is…fun, but there was lots of raw onion in the salad and too much olive oil, so I finished up pretty quickly.
As I ate, the chef started preparing the main course. 220g looked pretty daunting, but actually it was more of a tasting menu. The entire steak was chopped up precisely and each part served in different ways. First my plate was set up with fried wafer-thin slices of garlic, pinches of black pepper and sea salt, and a teaspoon of mustard; next to that sat dipping bowls of soy sauce and black vinegar.
Cooked medium-rare, I was instructed by the chef how to eat the steak in the best way. The first was simply to have a touch of sea salt; the second was to have a small amount of black pepper and a slice of fried garlic; and the third was to mix the mustard and soy sauce together and dunk the steak in that. It blew my tiny little foodie mind. The texture was exactly what I’d been told about: soft, melting, a few chews and gone. It puts all other steak I’ve ever had firmly in the shade.
The simple ways of eating it, and the fact the experience of each bite differed so widely thanks to the basic ingredients that accompanied it, showed I was paying for the skills of the kitchen, not just a pricey steak. The vegetables alongside all that protein helped refresh my palette between each cut, and once again, silky tofu in Asia stole my heart.
Nothing is left to waste from the steak, and the fatty bits were chopped up and used in two side dishes. The first is, hands down, the best rice I’ve ever had: garlic, aubergine, and rice were fried up with the fat, finely chopped spring onion added in and then flash fried in soy sauce before serving. The second served al dente beansprouts with the chinese vinegar, and more of the fatty cuts.
Being served such small portions over a long stretch of time, I didn’t realise how completely full I was until I took a bite of the aforementioned beansprouts and almost lapsed into a food slumber. A strong coffee with a splash of cream before leaving managed to get me back to Osaka awake, full, and not regretting one yen. The meal, simply, was beautiful. Yes, the steak truly must be tasted to be believed, but with face-to-face interactions with the chef, the setting, and the quality of all the ingredients, it elevated the entire experience to the highest level.
Worth budgeting for? Abso-bloody-lutely.
PIN IT FOR LATER