Tokyo is home to some of the most expensive restaurants in the world, especially when it comes to Wagyu beef. At Aragawa and Kawamura the bill quickly adds up to $1000 but is it really worth paying so much for a steak? Unless you’re a billionaire and don’t care about money we recommend trying places such as Shima and Dons de la Nature.
These are still expensive restaurants, but for around $250 you can get a serious piece of meat. Shima is a real crowd-pleaser, appealing to serious foodies as well as first timers, as the beef is approachable and the atmosphere lively and very welcoming. Dons de la Nature has a more distinct character. The relatively large dining room tucked away in a Ginza basement is almost kitschy and the enthusiasm of chef-patron Yoshiji Otsuka and his wife certainly ensures sure this won’t be a boring meal. The passion for their products here is akin to that we have previously experienced in the Basque Country, where restaurateurs dedicate their lives to perfecting simple cooking techniques with high quality produce.
The cooking here is most interesting, a few tasty starters and desserts are offered, but the main reason to come here undoubtedly is the wagyu beef. Cooked over a kiln, which reaches temperatures of around 1000 degrees, the beef is grilled over Kishu Binchotan, Japan’s rarest and most expensive type of charcoal. At Dons de la Nature not only the cooking process is unique; this is also one of the few restaurants that ages some of its meat. The pieces selected are dry and wet-aged for one month before being presented to the guests and the result is quite spectacular.
Chef Yoshiji Otsuka has a preference for Matsusaka or Oki Island beef. The former is some of the most famous in Japan, whilst the latter is not nearly as famous due to its low production. As you order your cut, the chef’s wife proudly presents the ‘passport’ of the cow, showing its lineage and photos of what arguably were happier days for the beast.
So how does this compare to other beef in Japan and around the world? The first thing you notice is the crusty char on the outside. This creates a fascinating textural contrast with the meltingly tender meat and crispy crust. The flavour complexity is mind-boggling: the charcoal left a sublte hint of smoke, whilst the aged floral, blue-cheesy aromas emphasise the beefiness of the meat. In some ways this is a combination of the best of both worlds: the unbelievably tender and richly marbled wagyu and the added complexity that comes from the dry-ageing.
A meal here is an experience. Few restaurants in the world push their craft to such levels and allow you to recalibrate your impression of a given product. That makes it very much worth the relatively high price of admission.