Restaurant Review: Wakkoqu

Japan in spring is a veritable treasure trove for locals and visitors alike.

My family therefore decided that it would be the perfect time to visit for a good dose of culture and travel. However, as the years go by, the parents do tend to prefer a relaxing holiday and avoid city breaks. So this, coupled with my father’s dodgy leg, made me rather nervous about what the heck they would do in the unremitting urban sprawl I currently call home. In the weeks running up to their arrival I planned.


A lot.


The itinerary started in Okinawa. It was going to be the perfect place to ease them into Japan, eating sushi on the beach. Or at least it would have been had it not rained almost incessantly: strike one. From the islands we plunged into the modern melee of Tokyo where we were turned away from the Tsukiji tuna auction at 4am and then shivered together for a day at the Tokyo Sevens (reminding us very much of cold, damp Blighty): strike two. Finally we returned to Kansai and I breathed a sigh of relief to be back on home turf; here I would not fail.


Returning in prime sakura season may not have been pre-arranged, but the fam gave me credit for it anyway. A significant improvement, but not the homerun I wanted. No, that came on my father’s 60th Birthday when I knew I had to pull out all the stops. Fortunately Hyogo came to the rescue with its most famous product…


IMG_1786Kobe Beef.


I love steak. Sirloin, fillet, T-bone, rib-eye, rump – I love them all. To the horror of many I like my meat blue. In America I am refused this pleasure, in England waiters look baffled and in France they ask snootily if I know what I have asked for. This partiality stems from the birthday boy himself who charmingly jokes that when it comes to steak he wants the chef to (imagine a terrible Texan accent) “just cut off its horns and wipe its ass”. The whole family are carnivores, and so it was with high expectations that three gingers and a bearded bloke arrived at Wakkoqu. It may sound like the start of a bad joke, but it was the beginning of one of the best dining experiences of my life…


IMG_1785The Kitano restaurant came recommended by a friend and the bible (Lonely Planet) and has become the highlight of my Japanese culinary journey thus far. The restaurant itself has a simple charm; wood panelling and mood lighting create a relaxed but decadent atmosphere. Instead of a traditional table set up you are seated at a bar, whose surface is pristine steel, the stage for the night’s performance. And what a performance it is. Once you have chosen which cut of beef to devour you can sit back, relax and enjoy the show.


IMG_1787It begins with the garlic; never say no to the garlic. Slivers of the flavoursome stuff are placed methodically on the heated surface before being turned and turned and turned until they are crisp and a beautiful golden brown. By this point the aromas will have your mouth watering so it is the perfect time for an appetizer to appear; ours was smoked salmon on a bed of sliced radish. It was truly delicious and whet our appetite for more just as our chef began to shave fragments of fat from the slabs of marbled beef.


Post appetizer, a light soup and a salad with Kobe tomatoes precede the main event. As you nibble on the warm up dishes you can admire a true master at work. With understated ceremony your personal chef caresses the hunk of meat with his knife and spatula. Whilst the fat melts, he gently warms the main block through before cutting the slab as if it were butter. Each piece of meat is cooked to your preference, swiftly sliced and delivered to your plate as a perfect bite-sized morsel. IMG_1788There is a selection of condiments to choose from: the crisped garlic from earlier, Japanese rock salt, black pepper, mustard, soy sauce and special vinegar. As each steaming mouthful is delivered to your plate your chef will recommend a condiment (or combination) to accompany it, according to the texture of that particular soupçon. My personal favourite was mixing salt and garlic, but mustard with soy was also a delicious new discovery. The Kobe steak experience is most definitely a far cry from the usual rushed Japanese dining.


And how was the meat itself? I suppose it would be a cop-out to say indescribable; but how to properly express the feeling of meat melting on your tongue? The delicate nuances of flavour as the beef becomes increasingly fatty…the desire to chew a mouthful for another blast of taste only to discover that it has already dissolved away…your taste buds seeming to sigh in ecstasy when the chef presents a new titbit for their delectation…Needless to say it was a very quiet meal, interspersed only with synchronized sighs of contentment reminiscent of the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally (fortunately the restaurant was empty).


IMG_1789Although the meat is the main event, the chef pays no little attention to its companions; vegetables, tofu and konnyaku all get the same loving treatment, and cooked in steak juices I have come to see konnyaku in a whole new light. Nothing goes to waste at Wakkoqu, and the smallest pieces of meat and fat are crisped up with garlic to make a delicious rice dish and bean sprout mess to truly get your money’s worth of all that succulent meat.

This exquisite meal is rounded off with a good strong coffee before you dance out the door, drunk on beef.


A midweek visit gave us the place to ourselves, and you can’t get much better than having four trained Kobe steak chefs looking after you! The staff are incredibly welcoming and will humour poor Japanese, making you look very good to visitors from afar (before the next customers come in and it transpires the chef has worked in California).


So long as you are not a vegetarian you will delight in dinner at Wakkoqu; find any excuse you can to visit; a guest from back home, a birthday, even a birthday back home… or simply the fact that we live here and it would be darned rude not to try the local produce.



Address: 1F Hillside Terrace 1-22-13 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo, Kobe

Tel: 078-222-0678

Website: http://www.wakkoqu.com/english/food.html

Opening Times: 12:00-22:30

Lunch sets from 2940円

Dinner sets from 7500円

Recommended: Kitano course 10500円 (220g steak, glass of wine, appetizer, soup, rice/bread, coffee)

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