Living in Hyogo you canâ€™t get away from the big, fat, drunken cow in the room: Kobe beef. Locals boast about its Hyogo roots; and many travel far to taste the real deal. Of course it comes with a hefty price tag, so itâ€™s almost essential you pick the right spot among the bright mooing lights of the kenâ€™s capital.
A good excuse to splurge on this cuisine is when impressing visitors, so when my aunt and mum were over I took advantage. A little background check first; both guests are restaurateurs who have eaten and/or sold Kobe beef, and each owns a teppan-yaki (hot plate) restaurant. They can be a tough crowd, but I was quietly confident as a Japanese friend recommended the Kobe beef specialist (and you canâ€™t beat a good recommendation). This was not the first time Iâ€™d tasted the hops-filled animal either, so I had a few memories as a baseline
Iâ€™ll walk you through the experience. The restaurant is Kagura (ç¥žæ¥½), its Kobe branch is Â a mere 5 minutes stroll from Sannomiya JR and on the 7th floor of the Progress Kobe building, overlooking (some of) the great city. We were taken through to the teppan-yaki tables by some over-genki waitresses. There were two hotplates in the main room with a few punters (of the gaikokujin variety) sat round chatting and drinking as the chef on the other side of the hot plate entertained. The staff was very attentive, but I felt an air of Westernization (not just from the dining gaijin) as they pulled out our seats and began their memorized English script.
We sat in a row of three with the waiters and chefs looking over us from the other side of the teppan yaki, as they gave their explanations of the meat sets. After some thought we opted for the â€˜domestic beefâ€™ set (Miyabi fillet), â€˜Japanese beefâ€™ set (Kagura sirloin) and the sumo of all sets, the â€˜Gyuâ€™ set – Kobe beef. Happy with our choices we proceeded to drink sake and catch up.
In Japan, the few teppan-yaki restaurants that Iâ€™ve been to have never had a â€˜showâ€™; seeming to follow a no-theatricsâ€“at-the-table sort of policy. Hence why, as the first chef began, the feeling of westernization grew stronger. Our vegetable chef was a happy-go-lucky type with, what Iâ€™d call, lots of personality. Bless his chef-in-training heart, he tried. A few dropped pepper shakers and some bad puns about a prawn later and our vegetables were cooked. They were (credit to him) delicious, a medley of seasonal Japanese yasai.
The grand entrance of the beef came, presented on a wooden block baring all its marbled glory. It was set down next to us for full admiration, and then oops Genki Waitress 1 drops it on the unlit hotplate. Five second rule?
In all honesty we would have felt a little cheated if the geeky trainee chef were to cook our steaks, but low and behold the big dog stepped out and blew him out of the water with his juggling skills alone. The chef cooked our steaks medium and to perfection, with a big showy fire to start. We each tried all three. The Kobe beef itself was rich in fat which created the melting sensation. It oozed with flavour and required minimal chewing. After two mouthfuls I felt saturated with my daily allowance of fat. Yes it is tantalizing and yes, it does taste like meat-flavoured butter but, is it worth ichi-man per 100g? Honestly? Not really. I thought the good old â€˜domestic beefâ€™ was a fine piece of fillet and at almost a third of the price, you canâ€™t complain. The middle one (Japanese beef) was well, a bit in the middle really.
After the steak, I couldnâ€™t move from the sheer richness of the beef, but alas the set must go on: garlic rice, lobster (average), tea, green tea ice cream then green tea itself. It was a modern day banquet. We were thoroughly satisfied with the amount we indulged in.
On leaving the premises Genki Waitress 2 chased us down with the staff camera and a box of dress up head gear demanding a photo. In my best Japanese and numerous bows, I politely refused several times, she was unconventionally forward yet I wore her down. The used head wear, dinner-theatre and English â€˜jokesâ€™ made the place feel incredibly gimmicky. Although the food was good, not ohmygodIwanttodienowbecauseIwillneverbethishappyagain-good, but still above average, the atmosphere of the place was just not â€˜Japaneseâ€™. Do note, however, that back in England we use these gimmicky fire tricks and juggling acts to lure customers for a teppan yaki experience, and it does work. My party, however, had seen it all before and wanted to experience some authentic Japanese cooking, and a bit of modesty (Iâ€™m looking at you cow-shaped trophy, staring at us from behind the hot plate).
Despite this, I would recommend Kagura for a party! It is a great venue; they have a large semi-private area with about 3 hotplates sat side by side. As we were leaving a joshikai was starting, around ten glamorous girls marched to the sunken seats of the back room where three chefs were waiting to serve them. I would describe the place as a bit of (expensive) fun, but for a more authentic experience look for somewhere low on foreigners, and if there’s no English simply ask for the osusume – just make sure you take plenty of cash!
7-1-19 Isogamidori, Chuo-ku | Progress Kobe Building 7F, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 651-0086, Japan
(ç¥žæˆ¸å¸‚ä¸å¤®åŒºç£¯ä¸Šé€š7-1-19 PROGRESS KOBE 7F)
Phone: +81 78-221-2983
Lunch: 11:00-14:30 (L.O) (2000-15000 Yen)
Dinner : 17:00-21:30 (L.O) (5000~15000 Yen)
What I ate:
Gyu course (120g)- 14,091 Yen
Kagura course- (120g) â€“ 7,508 Yen
Miyabi course (160g)- 7,350 Yen