Wagyu prices have gone up in Singapore, but that hasn’t dented demand
Widely travelled, social media-savvy, and now stuck in Singapore, foodies are splashing out on the prized Japanese beef as restaurants provide more varieties and options.
When Singaporeans can’t travel to Japan to get their wagyu fix, they’ll go all out to savour it here in as many forms as they can. And buoyed by the demand, especially in the past year, restaurants have been rolling out new wagyu omakase menus and introducing new varieties of the marbled Japanese beef coveted for its divinely tender and umami flavour.
The Gyu Bar recently added a nine-course, wagyu-focused omakase menu (S$238++ per person) featuring breeds from seven different Japanese prefectures including Furano and Kagoshima, eaten in different ways such as shabu shabu (hotpot), yakiniku (grilled) and as a steak katsu with homemade curry.
At Bedrock Bar and Grill's first edition of its annual World Meat Series early this year, it featured Yamaguchi wagyu from Jukuho Farm. While beef is usually aged hung or placed on a rack to dry for several weeks, Yamaguchi’s “ageing” process refers to the cattle rearing period of 100 months instead of the usual 26 to 28 months. This increases the wagyu’s unsaturated fatty acids and amino acid, which render it much richer in flavour.
Chef Isaac Tan, head of culinary and product innovations at Commonwealth Concepts, which owns and operates Bedrock, said: “Over the years, consumers have become more well-travelled, and their palate and spending power have also changed. They now seek to experience the rarest and the best. Wagyu is considered the most superior beef variety, so we have definitely seen a significant increase in wagyu consumption compared to the past.”
Vadim Korob, managing director of Zafferano Italian Restaurant & Lounge shared that the restaurant introduced Japanese A4 Kagoshima wagyu and Australian Jac and Sher wagyu earlier this year.
“Ever since we changed the a la carte beef option from Black Angus to wagyu, we have noticed significantly more guests selecting beef as their main course,” he explained, adding that due to the increase in demand, the restaurant has started to purchase wagyu in larger quantities, “hence our suppliers are offering better prices at more competitive rates”.
Other popular wagyu dishes include the Wagyu Beef Tenderloin Tartare (S$28++) and the grilled A4 Kagoshima wagyu beef striploin (S$148++ for 160g).
During the Circuit Breaker, eight out of the top ten bestsellers at Fat Cow were wagyu-focused items, such as The Fat Cow Donburi (S$48++), the Fat Foa-Gura Don (S$48++), and the 21 Days Dry-Aged Nagasaki A5 Wagyu Premium Donburi (S$138++).
To cater to customers who are becoming more educated in the different types of wagyu and who are interested in trying out variations, it launched a new wagyu omakase menu last August.
The restaurant’s spokesperson said: “The number of guests dining on the wagyu omakase have steadily increased each month. Based on the current trajectory, we expect this to continue.” It currently has wagyu from more than seven Japanese prefectures such as Hyogo (Kobe beef) and Hida.
“Over the years, consumers have become more well-travelled, and their palate and spending power have also changed. They now seek to experience the rarest and the best.” – Isaac Tan
Karen Cheng, co-founder of The Gyu Bar, shared that while wagyu prices have increased, the difference varies depending on the brand and prefecture, as well as the “limited supply and growing demand, and external circumstances like currency fluctuation and the recent pandemic”. Other restaurants have also cited rising labour and freight costs as factors in the increased prices.
Cheng shared: “Since The Gyu Bar opened in 2018, we have noticed an up to 20 per cent increase in price in the last two to three years for some brands, and up to 5 per cent for others within the same period. We have adjusted and increased the variety of our menu offerings instead of increasing prices. This lets diners appreciate a wider selection of wagyu across different preparation methods.”
Across the industry, Cheng has observed more Japanese wagyu-focused restaurants popping up to cater to increasing consumer demand. “Traditionally, Japanese wagyu was featured more often in Japanese restaurants. Now, more premium and fine dining restaurants are offering quality Japanese wagyu across both Western and Asian cuisines such as Italian and Chinese.”
At The Gyu Bar, “newcomers” such as the Kumamoto and olive-fed Sanuki wagyu from Kagawa (Japan’s smallest prefecture, which only started producing wagyu in the 2000s and is renowned for its olive groves) strut alongside household names such as Kobe, Miyazaki and the Oh Mi wagyu from Shiba, the production of which dates back to over four centuries ago.
“We have noticed an up to 20 per cent increase in price in the last two to three years for some brands, and up to 5 per cent for others within the same period.” – Karen Cheng
Cheng said: “Over the past two to three years, Kumamoto wagyu has been gaining popularity for its buttery milky flavours, as well as its affordability. Our customers also enjoy the olive beef for its marbling, texture, and balanced flavours that stem from its special diet that includes pressed olives. We serve Sanuki olive beef sirloin as yaki-shabu, a signature at the restaurant that pairs sliced beef grilled yakiniku-style with egg yolk, sukiyaki sauce, and truffle shavings.”
Shangri-La Hotel’s Origin Grill also recently introduced an olive-fed wagyu from Hata Farm in Kagawa (S$218++ for a 250g A4 ribeye). Cows munching on the olives produce beef with exceptionally high levels of oleic acid and a rich and buttery mouthfeel. The restaurant also has rare and exclusive cuts such as a 500-day, Japanese diet-fed Shiro Kin Wagyu and snow-aged wagyu from Niigata (S$168++ for a 200g striploin).
A spokesperson from Origin Grill said that demand for wagyu has increased by 20 to 30 per cent over the years. The restaurant serves grass-, corn- and grain-fed pure, crossbred and full-blooded Angus and wagyu cattle from Australia and Japan. Its Origin Beef Platter for two is especially popular with guests as they can enjoy four different types of beef and wagyu.
“While the prices of wagyu have not decreased, the price range has certainly widened to include more accessible products. As the number of wagyu producers increase, there are more affordable types of wagyu sourced from crossbred cattle farms. These are not pure-bred wagyu, but cattle mixed with other bloodlines. Full-blood wagyu usually come with a higher price point.”