If you’re used to knowing your wagyu by its marbling or type of cut, there’s now a better way for you learn more about your beef before you eat it. Wagyu Jin – the Les Amis Group’s newest eatery in Shaw Centre – is an intimate 16-seater that serves A5-only wagyu by prefecture, so if you want to expand your vocabulary and palate beyond Kagoshima, this is one place to do it.
Incidentally, there’s no Kagoshima wagyu served here. Instead, you’ll get to taste the intrinsic differences in beef from prefectures such as Shiga, where the acclaimed Omi gyu comes from; Gifu, the home of Hida beef; and Miyazaki, Iwate and Yamagata.
While beef from each prefecture has its own unique characteristics based on the weather, breeding regulations and what the animals are fed (and maybe how they’re massaged), quality also differs from farm to farm. For example, you may get a chef in Singapore waxing lyrical about serving Omi beef but it doesn’t mean it’s the same quality as what you might get in a niche restaurant in Tokyo.
Neither does paying top dollar for a piece of Matsuzaka from Mitsukoshi supermarket in Tokyo guarantee it’s really premium quality because you don’t know which farm that cow came from, nor its authenticity.
You get a little closer to the source of your meal at Wagyu Jin because “we source our beef from artisanal and less accessible breeders”, says executive chef Saito Makoto, who also manages the kitchen of sister restaurant Jinjo, located across from Wagyu Jin. The latter takes over the space vacated by the pastry shop Tarte, which has moved to bigger premises on the same floor at Shaw Centre.
The omakase-only restaurant serves multi-course kaiseki-style meals at S$118 for lunch and S$238 to S$318 for dinner, featuring the different wagyu varieties prepared in a variety of methods from yakiniku to sushi and sukiyaki, interspersed with seafood courses.
But the real coup for Wagyu Jin is that it’s the only restaurant in Singapore to get its hands on Yonezawa beef from Yamagata prefecture, which is hard to find outside of Yamagata, much less here.
In Japan, “sandai wagyu” refers to the “three big wagyu” – of which the first two are Kobe and Matsusaka. But the third wagyu depends on which part of the country you’re referring to.
In the Kansai region in western Honshu, it would be Omi from Shiga prefecture. But in the Tohoku region in the north, Yonezawa rounds up the top three. Much harder to find than Omi, and for us much more satisfying, Yonezawa gyu has a delicate but distinct beefiness that sets it apart from the more-fat-than-flavour of most A5 wagyu.
(Related: Why Jeremmy Chiam believes in change)
The meat comes only from heifers which are 32 months old instead of the usual 28 to 30 months, and are raised in the mountainous southern Yamagata where temperatures can vary by more than 20 deg C in the same day.
The extremes of temperature allow the fat to permeate the meat for beautiful shimofuri or marbling, and of course, the flavour. Only beef that meets rigorous standards is awarded a Yonezawa Gyu certificate with the Japan Geographical Indication (GI) mark, which is similar to the DOC label for wine.
“Our Yonezawa beef comes from one specific breeder in Okitama in Yamagata, who is certified by the Yonezawa Brand Promotion Council with a registered barn,” says chef Makoto, who is planning a special Yonezawa-only omakase as well.
The beef from the other prefectures also have their merits, with Miyazaki known for giving Kobe and Matsusaka a run for their money, and Iwate beef being from Japanese shorthorn cattle which is leaner, with a good beefiness yet still super tender. But for wagyu geeks looking for something new, Yonezawa sets the bar a little higher.
Wagyu Jin, #02-12 Shaw Centre,1 Scotts Road. Tel: 8940-0741
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
(Related: How to cook restaurant-quality steak at home)