IN summer 2014, the UK lifted its 13-year import ban on Japanese wagyu steaks. Rich, tender and melt-in-your mouth thanks to its trademark high-fat marbling, the ‘caviar cut’ of meat was suddenly back on the menu at London’s fine dining scene.
At the time British chef Michael Reid was Down Under, working alongside top name chefs in the mercifully wagyu-wealthy kitchens of Melbourne’s best restaurants. He returned to London to find the menus were, if not saturated, then at the very least well-stocked with his favourite type of beef. But something tasted off.
“A lot of restaurants say their wagyu is the real deal but it’s not 100% pure,” Michael says.
“If you quiz them on it they might be able to tell you the country it’s from but not the region, which tells me straight away that it’s a purebreed.”
Fullblood means the cattle is bred 100% wagyu, while a purebreed has been mixed with other bloodlines, or in Michael’s words: “It’s like calling sparkling wine Champagne”.
So when he took the reigns as head chef of M Threadneedle Street, a City playground for fine dining carnivores from former Gaucho supremo Martin Williams, there were a few ‘musts’ for the menu.
M became among the first to bring the prized Japanese Kobe beef back to the UK, as well as the award-winning Australian Blackmore 9++ grade wagyu beef.
“I was working with [Australian celebrity chef] Shannon Bennett at Vue de Monde and he introduced me to David Blackmore who, in my opinion, has the best beef in the world,” Michael says. “I knew straight away I wanted to be part of bringing it over here.”
And while Michael remains one of two chefs in London serving Blackmore – the other is a little-known guy by the name of Heston Blumenthal – he says the exclusivity of 100% pure wagyu has been somewhat diluted by the proliferation of cross-bred cattle.
“I’ve got nothing against a cross; if it’s done the right way it can be great, but full blood is the difference between having a mind blowing experience and one that it just OK.”
Clearly City carnivores agree, with M Threadneedle carving a reputation as one of the top spots for a steak in the Square Mile and Michael and his kitchen now shifting around 50 to 60kgs of Blackmore beef per month.
“We have regulars come in and order it three or four times per week with a bottle of wine and a couple of sides – they won’t settle for anything less,” he says.
Eye-watering price tag aside (a 200g sirloin will set you back £75) it’s difficult for a seldom steak eater to imagine chowing down on such a rich meal every other evening. Until the first mouthful.
This is one of the best steaks you will ever come across; so buttery soft that you could cut it with a fork, with a rich, smokey flavour that lingers.
The starters – a meaty cobia sashimi dusted with peanut ‘snow’ and a 24-hour braised octopus – melt away, swiftly followed by our sides: fat roasted carrots, triple-cooked chips, garlic mushrooms and a punchy red wine jus.
Even the live band playing far too loudly at the other end of the restaurant fades into oblivion as the sirloin takes centre stage over a perfectly enjoyable but comparably unremarkable chateaubriand.
You almost have to feel sorry for it, really; this wasn’t a fair fight.