Wagyu-ably the Best
Wagyu beef is succulent, delicious and a must-try for foodies. Where are the best places in Singapore to get a fix?
Issue: Mar 2009
Anyone fortunate enough to have enjoyed wagyu beef – arguably the most expensive super-prime meat around – will attest to its unforgettable, velvety-smooth and aromatically delightful taste. Those who have yet to savour the delectable experience may not understand the fuss around wagyu beef, and the reason for its notoriously expensive price tag.
Wagyu beef is beef grown from the docile wagyu cattle in Japan. Initially brought into Japan in the 2nd Century to help with the cultivation of rice, wagyu, which literally means Japanese cattle, was once nearly raised exclusively in Kobe, Japan. The black strain of wagyu is the most prized. Consisting of Tottori, Tajima, Shimane, and Okayama bloodlines, each of these can be traced to the regions in Japan where the cattle originate. Wagyu cattle are known for their extensive marbling, or the high content of fat in the meat itself. It doesn’t take a meat specialist to tell wagyu apart from a normal slab of beef with a single look, as the marbling is quite unmistakable.
A Healthier Option
The most significant difference wagyu has over regular beef is that the meat in regular cattle stop marbling after prolonged feeding and start putting on more back fat thickness, whereas wagyu cattle meat continue to marble over time.
Wait a minute - Don’t we all prefer leaner meat since it’s healthier? “
Unlike regular prime meat, the fat in wagyu beef is unsaturated fat, which is the ‘good’ fat”, explains Chef Eugene Yap, head chef at Bistrot d’Orsay, a French fine dining restaurant in Melbourne, Australia.
“It is the marbling that gives wagyu most of its character in terms of look, texture and taste. Even at prime levels of marbling, wagyu beef is exceptional because the cattle have genetically finer muscle fibres and an unmatched succulent tenderness.” Health-conscious folks will not hesitate to add that wagyu beef has many times more omega-3 and omega-6 oils, making it a much healthier choice of meat.
A Justified Price Tag
So, apart from this exceptional meat marbling, what justifies the hefty price one pays for wagyu beef? Apparently Japan's rugged terrain and isolated areas meant that farmers centuries ago had to improvise different breeding and feeding techniques to keep their cattle in ship-shape. The lack of grazing area meant that the farmers gave the cattle specially prepared feeds. Beer or sake (Japanese rice wine), believed to aid in digestion and induce hunger during humid seasons, was added to their feed.
Massaging the cattle was said to prevent muscle cramping. This was especially practised on the smaller farms in Japan where the animals did not have sufficient room to utilise their muscles.
The limited farming land in Japan also meant less wagyu cattle were bred and kept. Today, although wagyu cattle are bred in several parts of the world outside Japan, such as in the United States and Australia, supply remains low and its price high. The limited supply and high-quality meat are primary contributing factors as to why wagyu is sold so exclusively and expensively, with few able to afford its luxury.
When prepared well, wagyu beef is the most succulent, tender and flavoursome prime meat you will ever taste. Chef Yap suggests that wagyu is best prepared with minimal seasoning. “At most, I’ll sprinkle some sea salt to enhance its natural flavour. Well-prepared wagyu should tingle your sweet taste buds more and have texture quite similar to tuna.”
He also recommends appreciating wagyu in thin raw slices, like carpaccio, if you don’t want to burn a hole in your pocket. “You don’t want to spoil yourself with too much of a good thing. Enjoying wagyu in thin slices allows you to savour its flavour and aroma modestly, and tease your palate before the main course arrives.”
That said, wagyu beef is popularly served as main-course steak as well. Wagyu is especially delicate when grilled over fire so it is prepared with quick-sear cooking techniques similar to that used in preparing rare tuna and foie gras.
The cooking of wagyu beef is perhaps not something you want to attempt at home in case you end up with a piece of dry, tough, expensive meat. Left to the experts, you’ll see why wagyu beef has meat lovers paying stratospheric prices to get their fix.
Restaurant Top Picks
3B River Valley Road, Clarke Quay, #01-14 Reservations:
+65 6332 1010Opening hours:
From 6:00pm daily
The Steakhouse, which specializes in prime cuts of Angus beef, is the only restaurant of its kind in Clarke Quay. Various cuts from ribeye, to fillet mignon, to New York steak and prime rib with bone-in are on the menu, as well as a signature wine-fed Wagyu, which comes with a price tag of S$36 per 100g (minimum order of 200g). The Steakhouse is probably the only restaurant in town serving wine-fed Wagyu, which is beautifully marbled and succulent.
The live cooking station in the middle of the restaurant is apparently the main attraction, where steaks are grilled to perfection a la minute. All steaks come with a choice of seven types of homemade sauces, and a wide array of sides completes the meal. Interesting salads, pork chops, lamb and seafood also make up the menu for those who may not have an appetite for beef. Those with smaller appetites can opt for the ladies' portions which are more conservatively-sized but no less delicious.
80 Bras Basah Rd, Fairmont Singapore Level 3 Reservations:
+65 6431 5305Opening hours:
12:00nn to 2:30pm (Lunch); 6:30pm to 10:30pm (Dinner)
This fine-dining Japanese restaurant is definitely one to satisfy the fussiest tastebuds. It may be one of Singapore's oldest Japanese restaurants, yet its food and presentation is very creative , and much welcomed by those bored by traditional Japanese menus.
Not to be missed is the 150g Wagyu Sirloin Steak, which is a large enough serving for two. Grilled at the counter according to your preferences, it is usually eaten as part of a meal instead of being the main course. Another item on the menu, Wagyu Ishiyaki, is served thinly sliced and seasoned lightly with sea salt and pepper to be grilled on a hot stone at your table. Top the meal off with Inagiku's fresh takes on common fare such as chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), and it will be a meal to remember.
1 HarbourFront Walk, Vivo City, #02-120/122 Reservations:
+65 6275 8766Opening hours:
11.30am - 11.00pm daily
Shin Kushiya opened its third outlet at VivoCity in 2006 to splendid views of Sentosa. Renowned for its charcoal-grilled fare and exceptionally fresh sashimi, which is delivered daily from the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, it also serves seasonal fish from Hokkaido.
A special menu features Wagyu beef, in reasonably-prized portions. Wagyu karubi (charcoal-grilled short rib on a skewer), grilled wagyu tongue and wagyu tataki (thinly-sliced beef served with sauce) make great appetizers. However, if a heftier portion is desired, the Wagyu Ribeye Steak, priced at S$48 per order, is the answer. Adhering to Japanese tradition, Shin Kushiya's selection of Japanese liquors like sake, sochu, beer and whiskey completes the meal.