The legends aren't quite true, of course. The tajima cattle from which Kobe beef comes don't actually drink beer; nor do the farms employ armies of cow masseuses. They do, however, go through a strict treatment and diet that ensures any cow certified by Japan's Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association as worthy of carrying the "Kobe Beef" brand is as marbled, as fatty, and as delicious as it possibly can be.
By now you probably know the rest of the story; Japan's Kobe Association, up until 2012, never exported any of their cattle. So any "Kobe beef" you ate outside of Japan earlier than 2012 was simply a fake. In 2012 limited quantities were exported to Hong Kong, Macau and the US. In 2013, Singapore added its name to the list, so for the past couple of years you no longer need to fly to Japan to partake of this legendary meat!
At time of writing, Meidi-Ya Supermarket (in Liang Court) stocks various cuts of Kobe Beef. If you don't really feel like cooking, though, several steakhouses in town sell Kobe steaks - one of which is the SEAR Steakhouse up on the 45th floor of the Singapore Land Tower!
Meals at this steakhouse open up with a fluffy, crispy-crusted onion-flavoured loaf. With butter. It's a gorgeous loaf of bread - and one that's light enough not to totally demolish your appetite if you touch more than a slice.
After wolfing down the bread we check out our first appetizer - the Lump Crab Cake ($38), which tastes terrific with the tomatoes, beetroot and sesame-based dressing. One slight disappointment, perhaps, was that the crab cakes were shredded crab meat, with some crab lumps heaped on top. We'd have preferred lumps throughout.
Split Bone Marrow ($18) - served with salsa and tangy vinaigrette'd salad. We've tried bone marrow several times now, but haven't quite gotten the hang of it. It's fatty but quite bland, and really needs to depend too much on the accompaniments that the chef chooses (in our opinion).
With the appetizers sitting in our tummies, we turn our attentions to the Pira-grilled Tasting of Rib Eye ($149). What you get on the plate are sampler-sized portions of grain-fed, grass-fed, and kobe rib-eyes - absolutely perfect for experiencing the very stark differences between each type of meat.
In the Grain-Fed corner: Australian Jacks Creek 450 days grain-fed rib-eye. Fatty and supremely tender, yet with a very strong beefy flavor.
Representing the Grass-Fed camp: Wakanui 21 day Dry-Aged New Zealand Hereford. This was the leanest cut of the bunch, and had a somewhat grainy/stringy-texture. Our least favorite.
And of course, Certified Kobe Beef (we forgot to ask if it's A4 or A5). As you might expect, this is by far the fattiest of the three contenders. Every single chew of the steak resulted in bursts of juices and oil from the rendered marbled fats.
So the Kobe wins hands-down, right? Well ... surprisingly enough, not really. Our favorite actually went to the Aussie grain-fed rib-eye. Even though it was less juicy / fatty, we really enjoyed its clearly stronger beefy flavours, whereas the Kobe's flavour profile skews towards "fatty." Too fatty: towards the end of the meal we suffered a bit from "fats overload" - super jelak liao in local parlance.
Oh, and the cooking method - almost flawless. The charcoal-fired Pira grills that SEAR uses is superb in imparting a terrific crust on the steaks while maintaining a perfect medium-rare center. Our only slight complaint: Seasoning was a tad bit uneven, with some parts of the steaks a little too salty.
We don't have similar accolades to heap onto the side dishes, though. The Creamed Spinach and Onion Rings with Nori Salt ($16 each) were just par for the course for steakhouses, and didn't help much in cutting through the fat from the rib-eyes.
Finally we finish off the night with a Chocolate Mud Cake (normally $15, but for our visit it was complimentary for some strange unknown reason). With the benefit of hindsight a rich, thick, slab of chocolate cake isn't the best choice after stuffing yourself with fatty steaks. It was, nevertheless, an accomplished dessert.
We ended the night extremely satisfied with our dinner! We thought the pricing wasn't too bad (considering the restaurant's prime location and quality of meats). If it's your first visit then the Tasting of Rib Eye is the way to go; otherwise you can ala carte your way from a $66 Canadian Angus Tenderloin all the way up to a $340 A4 Kobe Rib Eye.
SEAR is in the Singapore Land Tower (Raffles Place MRT) and is open for Lunch & Dinner on weekdays, and Dinner on Saturdays. Drop them a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations; Non-Halal.