TOKYO, Japan – What if we treated beef the same way we treat fish? A Wagyu beef restaurant in Tokyo, Japan, does exactly that.
A restaurant in Tokyo, Japan, specializes in the preparation and presentation of the world’s best beef, Wagyu beef. It’s considered a race of beef; in addition, these animals are treated with kid gloves: in the case of the Wagyu of the region of Hayama, the beasts bred for consumption are fed cooked rice.
The restaurant that bears the name of the region, Hayama, in Tokyo, continues to treat these animals with a sensational respect. Indeed, the restaurant owner, Mr. Yuji Ikeda and his team, buy whole animals and make use of the whole beast, from head to tail, including offal.
“The Wagyu beef that comes from Kobe is the most recognized, says Mr Ikeda. We sometimes hear the expression “Kobe beef”. Breeders of these regions produce more and more animals, 14000, 16000 heads per year. The farmer who supplies my meat only breeds 200 heads per year. This is why it’s so exceptional.” It’s probably also the reason for the exorbitant cost: an entire beast sells for about $200 a kilo!
The Hayama restaurant in the upscale Ginza neighborhood is located in the basement of a large building. And the place, like many others in Tokyo, is very small: only 10 tables! So it’s obviously necessary to make a reservation before heading to the restaurant.
Hayama – Wagyu Beef Restaurant, Tokyo: A meal … what a meal!
The meal served at the restaurant is a kaiseki, a type of traditional Japanese cuisine: several services of small portions of dishes prepared with the utmost care. However kaiseki is traditionally made almost entirely of fish. No at Hayama restaurant!
“Our chef is from the region of Kyoto, the “classic” city, which means that the treatment he gives to the ingredients is more refined”, underscores Mr Ikeda.
The first service is an excellent indication of the dishes to follow: exceptional, unique, exotic, confusing. In a small bowl are small bites of konjac and braised beef intestine in a concentrated broth. The flavor of beef is inevitable, the dish is not too seasoned, and the guts are so incredibly soft – especially when one knows how it can be utterly impossible to chew, such as when grilled, as it’s done in Mexico. What a dish: two ingredients rarely primed in the West, and served in such an exotic way…
For the second service, we are offered several small bites beautifully presented and carefully prepared: a roll of smoked cream cheese and white radish; a tiny block of soufflé omelette; a kumquat preserved in sugar; Kuwai chips (a native root vegetable); a mackerel nigri; a small piece of cheese cheese fermented in miso; a croquette of potatoes and beef; and the main course of the whole symphony, a small bowl of thin slices of beef stomach, seaweed, pickled cucumbers, orange peel, tomato.
Of course, some alcohols are served periodically between services. A honey wine of the Hayama region; a glass of white wine; a quality glass of sake; one of the best shochu from all of Japan; a glass of thick and sweet plum sake…
We get to the third service, and it’s the first plate that’s easily recognizable: a bowl of loin beef soup, treated as a pot-au-feu. Some vegetables accompany it. The marbling of the beef is evident even after being boiled. The taste is perfectly balanced and subtle, and the textures are exceptional.
Then, steak! Six small pieces of beef tataki are served with a little salt, a slice of lemon, some pickled vegetables and a tiny dab of wasabi.
Since it’s customary to take a break in the middle of the meal, we are served, as a fifth service, an assortment of French cheeses. A blue, a mimolette, a camembert, an aged brie… Everything is served with tangerine blossom honey of the Hayama region. And this honey frankly tastes of tangerines!
Hardly did we have time to finish the cheese that a sixth dish is presented to us: an elegant plate combining a mackerel broth and stir-fried thin slices of beef. The plate is decorated with two kinds of carrots and two kinds of radishes. The combination of jellied fish broth and thin slices of beef is amazing and seems wonderfully natural, although it combines two frankly alien worlds.
Then, another soup. Here, the broth is a combination of fish and beef, with a good portion of rice, a little nori, Rice Krispies (surprise!) and an umeboshi paste (re-surprise!).
Finally, a dish that seems impossible in the eyes of the Westerner: beef nigris. These are served with a small dab of mashed horseradish mixed with soy sauce. Frankly, honestly, the inevitable of this restaurant.
A small dessert is then served: a scoop of daidai sorbet and some fruit slices conclude the meal.
Hayama – Wagyu Beef Restaurant, Tokyo: Past, future…
It is well known, Japan is the place of origin of certain culinary practices that are the trendiest in the world right now. In addition to their famous obsession with fish of the highest quality – the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is the largest in the world, and serves as the point of purchase and resale of an incredible amount of fish consumed everywhere on the planet – Japan is the birthplace of Wagyu beef, this breed of animal known for its fat marbling and exceptional tenderness.
If sushi allowed the general public to understand the importance of treating fish of the highest quality with the greatest respect, in addition to encourage Westerners to eat more raw meat, it has also led some consumers to respect the life of the animals they eat, even after death.
It is also noteworthy to underscore that Wagyu beef is no longer just a Japanese business, since several breeders, even in Quebec, sell beef from this exceptional breed, such as Boeuf Nature, in the Eastern Townships.
Hayama restaurant should be on top of the list of priorities of people who visit Tokyo and are true carnivores, real foodies, culinary explorers. The experience is unique and worth the effort.
Neopine Ginza 410, B1F, 4-10-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
(In the basement underneath the steak restaurant)