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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kobe wagyu beef at Wakkoqu, Kobe

Teppanyaki chef with Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan

Kobe beef. Two words that are guaranteed to make any carnivore weak at the knees. The spidery white ribbons of fat that marble this beef break down with heat, permeating its way into every fibre so each tender bite surges with juiciness. Kobe beef is highly prized in Japan but it doesn't have to be expensive. You can feast on a two-hour meal of Kobe beef for less than AU$60, and roll out completely satiated.

Japan map of our journey from Tokyo to Kobe
Mapping our Osaka to Kobe leg of our Japan trip that started in Tokyo

The best way to eat Kobe beef is to go straight to the source. We made a day trip to Kobe from Osaka, only a 15 minute shinkansen bullet train.

Sakura 555 N700 series JR Kyushu shinkansen bullet train
Sakura 555 N700 series JR Kyushu shinkansen bullet train 

The Sakura 555 N700 shinkansen is ridiculously sleek and a little bit sexy, reaching top speeds of 330 kilometres per hour. We always love travelling by shinkansen in Japan, making full use of our JR passes wherever possible. JR Passes are pre-purchased tickets available to tourists outside of Japan, and enable unlimited travel on the Japan Rail network for either 7, 14 or 21 days. We find JR trains are always clean, quiet and ferociously on-time.

Soup of the day: cream of potato

Wakkoqu is one of Kobe's most famous Kobe beef restaurants. There are two restaurants in Kobe - one in the main city centre of Kitanozaka, the other in a shopping centre just across the road from Shin Kobe station. If you're only in Kobe for a flying visit, Shin Kobe is easier to access as it's a direct stop on the shinkansen line.

It's not entirely cheap to eat here. The Wakkoqu menu starts at 7,800 yen / AU$86 for the 180 gram sliced roast Kobe beef sirloin set and tops out at 13,800 yen / AU$150 for either the 250 gram Kobe special beef sirloin set or the 220 gram Kobe special beef tenderloin.

There is one massive budget saving trick. Go at lunchtime and you'll only pay 5,280 yen / AU$58 for a multi-course set meal that includes 150 grams of Kobe beef sirloin.

Fying garlic slices on the teppanyaki at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Frying the garlic slices on the teppanyaki

We chanced on lunch here without a booking and had to wait two hours for a table. We end up getting seated in only 90 minutes though, swept into a subdued dining room filled with teppanyaki hot plate grills clustered around with mix of well-heeled Japanese and several groups of tourists.

This is the second time I've been here, but the experience is just as mind-blowingly impressive. The show begins with our personal chef for the meal, working with quiet diligence. He slices cloves of garlic with machine gun speed and sniper accuracy and then splays them in a single layer on the teppanyaki flat top grill.

Bowls of soup materialise on our table - a lush and silky cream of potato soup - that we sip daintily while we watch the show unfold before our eyes. Our chef keeps a keen eye on the garlic, flipping them one by one at just the right moment, when the garlic has sizzled long enough in the shimmering oil to turn a golden shade of brown.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin - 150g per person

But our eyes never wander far from the star, thick slabs of Kobe wagyu beef sirloin that are visually stunning with their intricate marbling and thick casing of fat.

What's the difference between wagyu beef and Kobe beef? Wagyu beef does not describe a single breed of cattle. Wagyu beef can be full-blood Japanese black cattle, but it also can refer to a cross-breed of full-blood Wagyu with other types of cattle. Kobe beef, on the other hand, is a registered trademark that is strictly governed, sourced from Tajima Japanese black cattle that is bred, raised and slaughtered in Kyogo prefecture, the capital of which is Kobe.

Dissecting the wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Dissecting the wagyu sirloin

Our chef dissects the sirloin directly on the grill. It's not going to be cooked as a whole slab, but broken down into specific components, each of which will have different recommendations for seasoning.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat on the grill

The thickest and hardest piece of fat is something most diners would discreetly cut around and leave behind. Here it's a prized trophy, set aside to sizzle so the fat renders slowly.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin separated into different cuts at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
The Kobe wagyu sirloin being separated into different cuts

It's incredible to watch one piece of sirloin treated with alarming accuracy, portioned out into distinct groups that have a similarity only noticeable when you see them piled together.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat sizzling on the teppanyaki at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat sizzling on the teppanyaki

The pile of fat offcuts grows in size, slowly changing colour from a creamy white to a deep golden brown. If only you could smell this photo. Hiss. Sizzle. Pop.

Crispy garlic chips at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Crispy garlic chips

We're provided with a range of seasonings, including garlic chips, sansho pepper, salt, mustard and a ponzu dipping sauce. At first we're given deliberate instructions on which accompaniment should go with each cut, but after five rounds, we're given free creative rein.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin to be eaten with salt

The first pieces of meat to hit our plate have a dark crust. We're told solemnly to eat this with salt only, an addition to magnifies the buttery and caramelised flavour of the beef significantly.

Seasoning the Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Seasoning the sirloin steaks

The Kobe beef show continues. Every five minutes we're given a different part of the sirloin. Some are chewier than others, others more tender. Each piece has been seared to a medium rare, so the flesh is still bouncy with a plump softness.

Flipping the Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Flipping the seared sirloin steaks

The heat of the grill is beautifully hot and even. The sear of the surface of the meat is a consistent dapple of browns and golds.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fatty marbling at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
That fatty marbling

There are moments when everything seems to stop as you survey your next mouthful. The deep pink blush of the marbled beef is a sight worth stopping to appreciate deeply before you pop it into your mouth, close your eyes and feel its fatty succulency drench from you the inside-out.

Seasoning the tofu, konnyaku and vegetables at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Seasoning the vegetable medley

Our set meat includes a vegetable medley, an assortment of green capsicum, potato and zucchini plus tofu and konnyaku, a wobbly jelly-like cake made from elephant yam.

Searing the tofu, konnyaku and vegetables at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Golden brown potatoes, zucchini, konjac and tofu seasoned with beef fat

These are cooked on the teppan grill, seasoned with wagyu beef fat for extra flavour.

Flipping the seared Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Flipping several slices of seared Kobe wagyu beef sirloin 

I don't want this show to end, but at the same time, our stomachs are starting to struggle. We sit back and watch each deft moment with growing appreciation, the meat handled and flipped with such precision it feels like a choreographed ballet performance.

Searing the fatiest Kobe wagyu beef sirloin pieces at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Searing the fattiest and most tender pieces

Our lunch crescendoes to the fattiest and most tender pieces of the sirloin. You can see these pieces from the top of the sirloin are paler than the others, promising maximum pleasure.

Fatty and tender Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
The top of the sirloin, s tender you could cut it with a plastic spoon

It's a worthy climax. Everyone is taken aback by this final mouthful of meat. It's so incredibly tender you could cut it with a plastic spoon. Halfway between meat and pure fat, this is the most succulent and indulgent morsel of beef I've ever eaten. You don't even need to chew. It's like every protein strand is enveloped in lusciousness, slipping down your throat far too quickly.

Crispy Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Crispy beef fat 

And then there are the nuggets of beef fat, super crisp and a deep brown that taste exactly like beef crackling. There's no greasy fat remaining, just a crunch of intensely beefy deliciousness.

Preparing the Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat fried rice at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Preparing the beef fat fried rice

We go with the optional fried rice for an extra 900 yen / AU$10 per person. A huge pile of fluffy white rice is added to the grill with finely chopped shallots and vegetables.

Tapping salt over the fried rice at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Adding salt by tapping a salt dusted spatula across the top

Even watching the chef make fried rice is a spectacle. He pours salt onto the grill, divides it up into little rectangles, and then scoops up sections of it with a spatula, gently tapping it to scatter the salt evenly over the fried rice. Tossed throughout the fried rice is the rendered beef fat offcuts from before, all crunchy and golden.

Golden fried rice with Kobe beef wagyu sirloin fat at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Golden fried rice seasoned with Kobe wagyu beef fat

Everyone needs a flat top grill to cook fried rice. Our bowl is piled with fried rice grains that are uniformly golden. There's no steaming from overcrowded. Each grain is separate and chewy. Every mouthful has pops of crunchy beef fat.

Grapefruit sorbet at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Dessert: grapefruit sorbet

The included dessert is a grapefruit sorbet, exactly the kind of bitter and palate-cleansing refreshment you need after such a rich meal.

Konditorei Kobe

Vanilla fromage chiboust cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe, Japan
Vanilla fromage Japanese cotton cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe

And if you're heading back to Shin Kobe station, it would be remiss not to pick up one of Kobe's other famous highlights - the vanilla fromage cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe. Like so many lauded food souvenirs in Japan, these are presented with utmost reverence. And because the Japanese are so practical in everything they do, the cheesecakes are ready frozen for easy transport to your next destination. Defrosting will take about three hours, but if your journey is longer, they'll provide you with ice packs.

Vanilla fromage Japanese cotton cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe, Japan
Vanilla fromage chiboust

We have it as part of our hotel room dessert party that evening. The cheesecake is said to use two types of cream cheese from Australian and France, whipped into a super light and fluffy style of cheesecake that Japanese call cotton cheesecake. It's so-named because the cheesecake should melt on the tongue just like cotton candy, or fairy floss. It does. It's super airy and pillowy soft.

We weren't in you for very long, Kobe, but we think we did good.

Konditorei Kobe
JR Shin-Kobe Station, 1-3-1 Kano-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyugo


1-1 Kitanocho, Chuo-ku, Shinkobe Oriental Avenue 3F, Kobe 650-0002
Tel: +81 (078) 262 2838
Open daily 11.45am-10pm

>> Read the next Japan 2015 post: Sashimi chicken, wagyu and Kurobuta pork in Kagoshima
<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

Japan 2015: Toyama > Kanazawa > Nagano > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Kagoshima > Hakata > Hiroshima and Miyajima Island > Sapporo > Otaru > Hakodate Tokyo
17 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/19/2015 12:21:00 am


  • At 7/19/2015 3:10 am, Blogger Jessica Stubbs said…

    That looks SO good. So jealous of the prices, too.

    Where did you stay in Japan? Was it reasonably priced? Also, what's a JR pass? A metro type card for the bullet train?

  • At 7/19/2015 8:22 am, Anonymous John | heneedsfood said…

    Now that's decadence to the max. What an amazing lunch, and such good value! Those guys must work like absolute machines. I loved reading every word, Helen.

  • At 7/19/2015 10:57 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    Such a bargain for that quality of proper Kobe beef. I can actually feel my mouth watering. The cotton cheesecake looks incredible too, I wonder how they make it....would be awesome to replicate it!

  • At 7/19/2015 5:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "hotel room dessert party"... excellent!

  • At 7/19/2015 9:54 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Jessica - We stayed at a mix of accommodation styles in Japan - from traditional ryokan inns to budget and medium-priced hotels. Obviously the big cities are more expensive but as always, the earlier you book, the more easily you can find something within your price range.

    I've added a link to the JR pass site and provided a bit more detail in the post. It's a pre-paid pass available for tourists that must be purchased outside of Japan and allows unlimited travel on the Japan Rail network for either 7, 14 or 21 days. More info is available here.

    Hi John - Thanks for your very lovely words :) It really was an incredible meal on every level.

    Hi Martine - There are actually lots of recipes for cotton cheesecake if you google it. It's a much lighter cheesecake which means you can usually fit in an extra slice :)

    Hi thehedonistlife - I never travel without one. lol

  • At 7/20/2015 5:22 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Oh man! I will make sure I make a quick stop their when I go to Osaka. Marbling looks awesome!

  • At 7/20/2015 9:18 am, Anonymous Monique@The Urban Mum said…

    We are going to be in Osaka in December, so this experience looks worthy of a detour! The kids loved a Kobe cooking class we did in Kyoto last tear...they would love this too. I need to try some of the cotton cheesecake. Delish x

  • At 7/20/2015 1:26 pm, Anonymous Brian Tam Food said…

    Looks terrific Helen! We couldn't get a reservation at Wakkoqu earlier this year (we were only in Kobe for a night) but found a place that served 250g Kuroge Wagyu steaks and they were amazing. Will have to go back to Kobe for the proper Kobe beef though, and the hike up Mt Rokko!

  • At 7/20/2015 1:43 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    You certainly managed to see and experience a lot while in Japan. I don't think I've ever had Kobe beef but I have had wagyu. Interesting how that bit of fat I'd normally discard is considered the best bit! xx

  • At 7/20/2015 11:10 pm, Blogger Clement said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 7/20/2015 11:12 pm, Blogger Clement said…

    Hi just wondering how do you make a booking at the restaurant? I will be going to kobe for a day trip in november. Do they speak english and is that A5 kobe beef? Thanks

  • At 7/21/2015 12:14 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Ramen Raff - You definitely need to go! It's so good.

    Hi Monique - I bet you'll have a blast. It's an amazing experience here - a meal and a show in one!

    Hi Brian Tam Food - Oh no such a shame you couldn't get into Wakkoqu. Ha the only hiking in Japan we did was around shopping malls. lol

    Hi Hotly Spiced - I'm barely halfway through our trip. We definitely made use of every day in Japan.

    Hi Clement - You can make a booking on their website here. Staff do speak limited English. There's no specification on their menu about whether it's A5 but the kobe beef is incredible regardless.

  • At 7/21/2015 9:43 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    holy crap im dying, all that beef looks so freaking amazing!

  • At 7/22/2015 3:48 pm, Anonymous Racy_staci said…

    I am drooling looking at this delicious beef. Great pictures and words as always!

  • At 7/22/2015 6:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Super jelly you have a wagyu time of your life! Looking at that medium rare sirloin steak being flipped is every meat eater's dream... :D

  • At 7/26/2015 12:17 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    So jealous! That beef! Those potatoes cooked in the beef fat! Those cheesecakes!!!!!!


  • At 7/30/2015 8:52 pm, Blogger irene said…

    I want everything in this post so bad my heart hurts.


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