If you’ve eaten Wagyu beef in the UK – or America for that matter – at any point in the past three years, then sorry to say it, but you didn’t have the real thing.
The Japanese beef, renowned as the finest cut in the world, was banned here and across the Atlantic in 2009 following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth. The disease, of course, had already ravaged Britain, in 2001 and 2007, so we weren’t taking any chances.
Not that that was enough to satisfy demand for the delicacy among the capital’s fine dining crowd. Instead, people in pursuit of the perfect steak were sold Wagyu beef from animals raised in Australia, New Zealand or America that had actually been cross-bred with another cattle called Holstein. Delicious, yes. Expensive – certainly. But 100% authentic? No. And for food snobs, there is nothing more important.
After successfully applying for negligible BSE risk status in 2012, the ban on true Wagyu (literally 'cow' in Japanese) was finally lifted last month, and the first restaurant in Britain to emerge with a supply is CUT at 45 Park Lane, a three-year-old restaurant located opposite the Dorchester Hotel (and part of the Dorchester collection).
Led by Wolfgang Puck, the celebrated Austrian chef who made his name cooking for the Hollywood elite at Spago before launching the chain in 2006, CUT secured the prized beef and will be selling it as of Monday as a fillet, New York sirloin or rib eye, with prices starting at £125.
So what is all the fuss about?
Many myths have attached themselves to Wagyu, most commonly that the cows bodies are ‘massaged’ by farmers and even fed sake to ensure its famous marbling and tender taste. This, sadly, is nonsense.
The reason for the butter-like texture (true Wagyu actually begins to melt at room temperature) is that Japanese beef contains a higher amount of a fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid – around 30% more than other beef breeds – which accounts for its heavily marbled appearance.
Not only is it better for you, but it tastes unlike any beef you’ve had before (on Park Lane or otherwise). All the hallmarks of a good steak – the tenderness, the flavour, the unmistakable sense you are operating somewhere near the pinnacle of food – are heightened to a quite remarkable degree. CUT, wisely, has opted to keep it simple, serving the meat with its low key in-house seasoning and allowing it to speak for itself. It’s a somewhat rare example of a delicacy that lives up to its billing.
The greatest steak in London? A bold claim, but by no means an outrageous one. It surely won’t be long before other establishments in the capital get their hands on this rare treat from the East, but for now, anyone willing to splash out on a sirloin should only really be looking at one place.