More restaurants are offering the high-end product and urban areas in particular are seeing a surge in dry-aged meat speciality eateries. Many are taking advantage of consumers’ interest by incorporating a display case into their restaurant design.
In Tokyo’s popular dining district, Roppongi, the display for the restaurant chain Kanzaki Aging Beef’s latest restaurant also acts as a maturation chamber, showing visitors and passers-by the ageing process first-hand.
“Two or three years ago customers were put off by seeing aged meat in our restaurants’ windows, and some even asked us if it was off,” said Junshi Oikawa, food director of the Roppongi store. “Now diners love to see it: 90% of their meat of choice at our restaurant is our 50-day or 100-day dry-aged cuts.”
Lean meat desire
Despite having two restaurants in other parts of Roppongi as well as in Iwate Prefecture, where the beef is sourced, the company couldn’t keep up with demand.
Daisuke Ogawa, representative of meat supplier Ogawa Group, says Japan’s interest in dry-aged meat began about four years ago but is being fuelled now by a desire for healthy living. “Lean meat has become desirable among Japanese people who want to eat less fat but they are not used to eating lean meat, which is tougher. Dry-aged meat is a suitable alternative because the process produces tender meat, while also releasing umami.”
Dry-aged meat, however, remains a luxury item for many consumers. According to a staff member from the Japanese Black Beef Fujiya speciality restaurant in Osaka, which serves 45-day dry-aged beef from Tajima Wagyu of Level 5 (excellent) quality, most of its customers are celebrating a special occasion.
“We see a lot of families and older people but the common denominator is that they have never eaten dry-aged meat before and want to try it,” said the spokesperson.
Meanwhile, other speciality restaurants are targeting the high-end market with set menus whereby diners can choose their desired cut of dry-aged meat. One such restaurant, Shunjukusei Ginza Grill, opened in April in Tokyo’s newest luxury shopping complex, Ginza Six. Its Tajima Wagyu is fermented using a special bacterium over a long period to produce what Ryuji Umeki, a company spokesperson, describes as “very high-quality meat”.
“Dry-aged meat is not currently a major food in Japan but it will continue to grow in popularity,” Umeki added. “We have welcomed more customers than we ever expected and are thinking about opportunities for our brand abroad.”