I had hoped to get more out of my day trip to Kobe, but it’s raining, it’s that annoying kind of rain that never completely stops. The kind of rain that makes you feel less guilty for turning off the alarm in the morning, slamming your head to the pillow and returning to the dream you had about your friend’s giant chocolate Labrador.
It’s Wednesday so the museums in Kobe are all closed, the other draw cards for Kobe don’t entice me to get out of bed, I really don’t want to schlep around a fairly functional city in the rain looking at stuff I don’t have interest in for the sake of it. Although I felt bad for not being intrepid, for letting the rain dampen my resolve, I feel great for spending a morning in bed drinking tea. And I still leave Kobe with one awesome experience, and it’s the one that I had gone there to get! Kobe beef Yakiniku! Yakiniku being the Japanese name for Korean style table top barbecue, the Japanese have copied it, developed it and the deliver an excellent meal very much true to its origins.
I knew Kobe beef Korean barbecue was a thing, long before I knew what the name for it is in Japanese. I knew a barbecue experience is how I wanted to eat beef in Kobe, having experienced Yakiniku for the first time a few days ago in Kawaguchiko, I knew this style of dining would deliver justice to the beautifully marbled wagyu.
Finding a restaurant is the easy part, there are at least 30 yakiniku joints within a mile of Kobe station, finding a great restaurant to deliver my dream meal will be trickier. I fully expected the Michelin bib gourmand venue to be fully booked, I was understandably turned away at the door when I tried for a cheeky, last minute in person booking. It’s not cold but the rain falls steadily, luckily there are some more excellent options nearby and I don’t have to face the rain for too long. I lucked out with the next venue, 1st floor up a few stairs and tucked away off the street it wasn’t the easiest to find. Light jazz greets me as I open the door, the dark walls, limited English and nice smiles beacon me towards the illuminated table top setup.
After ordering the already lit coals get added to the barbecue sand on the tables centre, the heat grows exponentially as the coals settle, my whisky drops at a corresponding rate, barely giving the ice time to melt. I think I ordered a variety of beef cuts, some salad, rice and kimchi vegetables and am intrigued to see what arrives. As my glass drains the beef has arrived and the coals have calmed down, once I have a refill I will be ready to cook the thin pieces of beef over the red hot coals.
I ordered some sirloin and chuck along with some wafer thin slices of Kobe wagyu, while I admire the beautiful cuts of beef, I enjoy the small stew offered as an amuse bouche. The stew is delicious, the liquor is thin, sweet and savoury, a bit like a tender poached beef w/ radish, garlic and ginger.
The beef, although thin, picks up a wonderful smokiness, the heavily marbled meat causing the flames to dance on the under surface of the meat, the smoke marking the unturned meat. The char smell I experience is limited by the excellent extraction, I blow on the plumes rising from the beef before the extraction gets it and enjoy the full aroma. As I stare at the flames and the charring meat the constant hum of the fan reminds me of so many kitchens, lucky for me the setting does not.
What amazing meat! So damn good! A little salt and a dunk in soy and I’m in beef heaven. The rice, salad, kimchi vegetables along with the charred vegetables do a great job at providing substance and variance to the meal, clearing the palate before the next few pieces of beef go onto the grill. The chuck is full of flavour I gave it a bit more cooking in an attempt to really ramp up the flavour, it has a little chew to it but that is to be expected with chuck steak. The Kobe beef cooks in moments, it’s sliced so thin I don’t turn the slices over the succulent meat filling my mouth with divinity. The sirloin is tender, stupidly tender, I am struck by the softness and delicacy of the meat.
After a meal like this I’m ready to sleep, and to reconnect with the dream about my friend dog Kobe, or to die happy.