The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Kobe Beef @ Wakkoqu, Kobe

Surely most of you would have heard of Kobe beef? Meat from the Wagyu cow breed is world-famous, highly sought after and considered high-grade (hence very expensive) for the fact that it is intensely marbled with fat, lending a rich taste and smooth texture. I'm not a big red meat person, but I once tasted a small piece of a wagyu beef steak at one of my school's enkai (party) and it was done so beautifully that I raved about it to Rob - something that I never do for red meat.

Anyway, we thought that since there were many opportunities for my parents (seafood-lovers) to enjoy seafood during their stay here, we ought to be considerate of Rob's mum who is very much a red meat-lover (and fish-hater). So we thought, why not try Kobe beef since we were going to visit Kobe? Wakkoqu (Shin-Kobe branch) is a posh place that came recommended by the writers of the Japan Lonely Planet Guide. It was also conveniently located nearby the Nunobiki Herb Hill Garden that we wanted to bring our parents to. And they served a very affordable Kobe beef lunch set meal (more so than their dinners). So upon arrival in Kobe, after stopping by the Tourists' Info Centre in Sannomiya and dropping off our baggages in a coin locker, we trekked off to Wakkoqu. We arrived around 13:00 on that Tuesday, and were told that without prior reservations, we'd have to wait for about 1 hour. A well-patroned diner is usually a good sign that it's a good place to eat, and our parents were pretty eager to try Kobe beef so we hung around the area for that hour.

The interior of the restaurant is very posh indeed. There were teppans (iron hot plate) set up inside the restaurant similar to a teppanyaki restaurant, which I can verify remains something that is popular only in the western world as we have yet to encounter a teppanyaki restaurant in Japan. Funny thing is that the appearance of this restaurant is quite foreign and western, and is located in an area of Kobe (which is itself a cosmopolitan city full of foreigners) near the residential area for foreigners. It's always interesting to watch your food being prepared and cooked, but it was not as entertaining as it was at our visit to a teppanyaki restaurant in Perth, where you no doubt pay for a show.

Anyway, I was saying that this was a posh-looking place, with service (and prices) to match. Although it was only a meal for lunch, I felt we were a bit under-dressed. We were seated around a large teppan with large plates for each of us arranged within reach of both the chef and us. There was the normal menu to choose from, with mains ranging in price from 7500 yen to 13,700 yen (~AU$75 to AU$137), and choices including sirloin, tenderloin and 'special selected Kobe beef'. There was also a lunch menu with a choice of three types of set courses. The cheapest was 2500 yen which included 130g of the famed beef, some vegetables and the standard miso, rice, tsukemono (pickled vegs) set. The more expensive lunch sets included additional courses like soup, dessert and coffee. Most of us went for the 2500 yen course, my mum went for one of the more expensive ones so that she could have the coffee at the end (she is a real coffee addict and has been since young).

Enough talking - I'll let the following pictorial do all the talking.

While teaching his mum how to use chopsticks, Rob decided to show off his skill of using two pairs at once. The chef began by frying up some sliced garlic which took a good 5 or 10 minutes. He then placed the crisp garlic slices on one part of our plate along with a pile of salt, pepper and mustard sauce.:

The raw wagyu beef steak. Chef started preparing the steak, and our eyes were fixated on his show of knife + spatula handling skills. He then cut the meat into smaller pieces and separated them into two or three piles, which I guess are the different parts of the meat

The ingredients are finally being cooked!

More raw vegetables in preparation for frying; and the salad served to us at some point during the meal:

My plate soon after the chef started placing food on it; and the rice/miso/tsukemono set which was served towards the end of the meal:

The chef finished up his job by frying some vegetables with the beef fat, and dished them out to our plates:

Verdict? Well, the wagyu beef tasted like... beef. Perhaps more tender and more moist than the usual ones I've had, but I think maybe the experience was a bit lost on me since I'm not really a red meat steak person. I'm sure there are many steak-lovers who would appreciate an experience like this a lot more than I did. Overall, it was a good experience - my parents enjoyed themselves, and Rob's mum said that the beef was good.

My main gripe about this place is that the price listed on the menu does NOT include tax. So when you pay, the cost is 5% more than what you thought it would be. And like most expensive establishments, they don't inform you about the additional 5% surcharge for using credit cards. I guess they figure that if you can afford to dine at a place like this, you can afford to just throw away just that little bit more money.

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