It’s easy to fall in love with wagyu. The meat is deliciously buttery. The steak yields to your knife with the lightest touch. And then there’s shimofuri, the mesmerising web of frosted snow ‘marbling’ spread across the slab of red meat.
You’ll find ‘wagyu’ quite easily these days in casual offshoots boasting hand-chopped wagyu patties or tartare. But connoisseurs will know that when it comes to this prized beef, provenance is key.
The term ‘wagyu’ itself translates to ‘Japanese cow’, but not all beef from Japan are qualifiers for this lofty label. Only four native breeds — Kuroge (Japanese Black), Akage (Japanese brown), Nihon Tankaku (Japanese Shorthorn), and Mukaku (Japanese Polled) — have this distinction, and they are raised with just one goal in mind: superior flavour.
“Wagyu from other countries like Australia or the US is not of the same quality and purity as true Japanese wagyu,” says Isaac Tan, head chef of Fat Cow. “Technically, the Australian and American varieties are the result of wagyu cattle brought over from Japan and bred with the Australian and American Angus respectively.”
And while there is not much truth to the fantastical tales of cows being given red wine spa massages, these vaunted ‘true wagyu breeds’ are raised in relative luxury.
“Miyazaki and Saga wagyu, for instance, are bred in very similar ways. But each ranch and prefecture has their own special feed and unique climate,” says Joshua Brown, executive chef of CUT at Marina Bay Sands. “More importantly, the flavour of the meat varies from sweet to grassy, depending on the cattle’s diet,” he adds.
Cue thoughts of lush greenery, pristine waters and quality feed that all work together to fatten the calf.
Keyyes takes you through the different types of wagyu from various prefectures, and lists five Singapore restaurants with top-grade wagyu on their menus.
Ushidoki Wagyu Kaiseki
This discreet Japanese restaurant tucked along Tras Street is the sole purveyor of Ozaki wagyu here. Like seeking out a Hattori Hanzō sword, Osaka-born executive chef Hirohashi Nobuaki journeyed to Miyazaki Prefecture to court rogue farmer Manuharu Ozaki. Ozaki’s obsession with producing top-grade wagyu has led to over 30 years of research, and he only produces one cow per day for the wagyu market. Ozaki’s cows are slaughtered at 36 months (instead of the usual 28) as Ozaki believes the flavour of the beef deepens with the extra maturation time. Ozaki also adds charcoal and seaweed mash to his feed. This, says the master, keeps his cattle in prime health and produces leaner – though still well-marbled – beef. Enjoy it at Ushidoki in the form of a wagyu kaiseki, where Ozaki wagyu is showcased through courses like a beef tongue consommé and wagyu sashimi.
57 Tras Street
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There’s a lot of beef on Origin Grill’s menu, but the star of Shangri-La Hotel’s swanky steakhouse is the full-blood wagyu A4 from Niigata, the only place in Japan where snow-aging and storage is done. You’ve heard of the usual dry or wet-ageing, but snow-aging is something quite different. It takes place in a snow-covered wooden hut, at a consistent temperature of 1 to 2 deg C, for 30 days. The snow-aged beef, by now infused with deep umami flavour, is then packed in a sealed bag before being air-flown directly to Singapore. Exclusive to Origin Grill.
Lobby Level, Tower Wing, Shangri-La Hotel Singapore
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Since it opened its doors in 2010, CUT has built close relationships with its beef suppliers. This means you can expect to see rare, heritage beef and up to six different types of wagyu on the menu. CUT is one of the few places in town to serve the prized Kobe, as well as Saga wagyu, both bred under strict conditions. Saga beef, for instance, must be from a black-haired Japanese cow, bred in an agricultural association-designated farm, and must meet a mark of above 7 out of 12 in the Beef Marbling Standard set by the Japan Meat Grading Association. Raised under these uncompromising conditions in a peaceful climate, the fine-grained marbled meat is grilled to desired doneness and seasoned simply with salt and pepper.
#B1-71, Galleria Level The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
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Opened by the same good people behind Sushi Kimura, Gyu Bar is one of the few places that serves premium Wa-OH beef from Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu island. Wa-OH is prized for its rarity – only 17% of beef from Kumamoto is classified as such. Kumamoto’s crisp fresh air and pristine waters make for a serene environment for the cows, and the animals are given a special blend of feed so the beef is extra-tender, but less fatty than usual wagyu. Gyu Bar takes pains to fly in the whole cow (deboned), instead of just neatly-filleted cuts, so you get to try surprising or unfamiliar parts. The tomo-sankaku (a cut near the bottom round), for instance, isn’t on the a la carte menu. Why? Because there’s just too little of the pure, creamy melt-in-the-mouth cut to go around. Get the omakase menu to sample this hard-to-find pleasure.
#01-08, 30 Stevens Road
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Hidden in a corner of Camden Medical Centre, this classy Japanese restaurant brings in some of the best wagyu from Japan. The beef from Ohmi and Miyazaki are grilled on white charcoal (following the traditional Japanese fashion), and are paired with crispy garlic chips and soy sauce. For something a little out of the norm, try the Mayura Station full-blood Australian wagyu. The cattle are fed grain for 600 days, and chocolate (lucky cows) for the last 120 days, to produce beef that is sweet, buttery and robust in flavour.
#01-01/02, Camden Medical Centre