Where do you go for nice but reasonably-priced Kobe beef teppanyaki?
First, you take the train to Kobe. Second, you opt for lunch and third, you choose a butcher’s shop that also happens to runs a restaurant upstairs.
Kobe Kikusui has been selling beef since 1953 and started expanding into the restaurant business in 1968. If you stop at Kobe Sannomiya station and take the East 8 exit, you’ll pop-up at street level and find yourself just beside their butcher’s shop.
I hope you remembered to make online reservations at least three days in advance and printed out a hardcopy of the confirmation to show the shopkeeper. If you didn’t, tough luck; but at least you get to take photos of some very nice looking beef.
Otherwise, they will lead you up to the second floor and seat you at the counter facing shiny teppans helmed by chefs wielding sharp knives.
When you’re presented with the menu, you can of course go nuts and choose the most expensive course meal that will set you back ¥20,000 per person. Or you can choose the more affordable set lunches that offer better cost-performance, say one each of the Kobe Beef Loin Steak Lunch and the Kikusui Tenderloin Steak Lunch.
Then you order a bottle of Junmai Ginjyo that “Bonds well with beef” and get in the mood by munching on some grass. Well, maybe not grass grass, but close enough. When you’re done with the greens, you’re served with a small bowl of brown stuff that turns out to be a yummy mixture of gobo and dried beef simmered in sweet shoyu.
The chef then starts slicing up garlic, fries them on the teppan and places the chips in front of you, slightly to the right. You know they’re for pairing with the meat later and you know you’re not supposed to eat them on their own, but you can’t help yourself and the stockpile drops by a sizable amount.
And then they present you with the ingredients for the main course, and you can immediately see why you paid double for Kobe Beef. Because fat is flavour, and one of these things is not like the other.
The magic starts as the chef alternates between his prongs, palette and knife; and the sizzling of meat on metal increases your appetite and raises your anticipation.
Because you ordered two different sets, they kindly split the meat evenly without you having to ask.
After the main course is done, the chef fries up some beansprouts and uses beef previously set aside to make possibly the best fried rice you’ll ever have.
The teppanyaki experience in Japan is much more subdued than what you’d get, for example, in the US. No flying utensils, no volcanoes made from onion rings and definitely no catching of food with your mouth.
Everything that the chef does is focused on maximising the flavour of the food. There is no wasted motion and no drama. Just good beef cooked well in a quiet environment, as it should be.
And since you’re in Kobe, why not make a trip to the nearby Nunobiki Herb Gardens & Ropeway for a relaxing afternoon stroll with nice views of the harbour.
Take the ropeway all the way to the summit building and spend some time in the herb garden and nursery.
Then walk down the winding path to the Glass House below and beyond, or simply stop halfway and take the ropeway back down.
There are many more things you can do in Kobe, but for a relaxing day trip, a nice teppanyaki lunch followed by a scenic stroll is definitely a good option. And when you’re done, simply take the slow train back to Osaka and continue on your journey through the Kansai region.
Eleven days in Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto
The world has changed forever due to that-which-must-not-be-named and international travel is on an indefinite pause. There are many countries we want to visit again and Japan is definitely among the top choices.
In the meantime, as we remain grounded in Singapore, we can look back and remember the wonderful time we had in our eleven days in Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto during the autumn of 2018, two years and a lifetime ago.