If there was an award for the best carnivorous blogger in the world, I’d probably win it. I love me some good hefty protein every day, so indulging in succulent wagyu beef, one of Japan’s most iconic edible luxury items, has been a highlight of local food scene. We have a few trusted and tested restaurants in Tokyo, although we couldn’t wait to try wagyu while visiting Kyoto. Mr. did some research and booked a table for a family dinner at Hafuu Honten, ranked as one of the top local restaurants specializing in wagyu beef. Like many other spectacular restaurants, Hafuu Honten is tucked away from hustle and bustle of the city in a residential area, close to the Imperial Palace. The restaurant is a mixture of traditional and contemporary, with wooden walls, beautiful art and light fixtures. You have an option to either watch the chefs cook up a storm at the counter, or be seated in the back dining room by the tables. As a group of four, we got the table.
Hafuu Honten has been in business for over a century, and the chef owns a meat shop. This grants him access to an incredible quality meat at a great value. Hafuu Honten also has a sister restaurant – Hafuu Gogyo – nearby, with identical menu and prices to accommodate large number of diners.
As expected the menu primarily features a variety of beef dishes, with just a few seafood and salad options. The server informed us that the beef that day was from Kyushu prefecture. You have an option to order a la carte or choose one of the three tasting menus. The beauty of dining out with family is that we all order something different and thus taste more things off the menu. This night was not an exception as we decided to go for all three of the tasting menus: Hafuu Honten 17th Anniversary (8,200 yen) for Mr. B Junior and Mrs. B, Original Dinner Course for Mr. B (10,000 yen) and Special Dinner Course (13,000 yen) for yours truly, because I was literally famished after a long day of exploring Kyoto. As a starter we whetted our appetite over a light salad of mushrooms and eggplants doctored up with olive oil and pesto sauce. It packed ton of flavor and was a delicious savory bite.
We were served four condiments to go with out beef courses: soy sauce with garlic; soy sauce with vinegar (so pungent, my absolute favorite!), creamy miso sauce, and a dash of wasabi, sault and radish.
For our appetizer we indulged in a lightly roasted beef which was cooked perfectly rare and had that appetizing smoky flavor. It was out of this world tasty and a real stand-out dish. I also got to try Mr. B Senior’s thinly sliced brisket with salt-based sauce. O.M.G.! It was an absolutely scrumptious bite with that potent smoky flavor which always goes so well with glazed onions. The savoriness of the sauce added such a profound depth of flavor to the entire plate and brought it all together. If you decide to order a la carte, make sure to try the brisket! Meanwhile, Mr. B enjoyed smoked scallop mousse with beautifully cooked shrimp and bamboo shoots, all expertly paired with a tomato and pesto sauces. Even though I was initially very skeptical about him choosing seafood, I must say this dish did not disappoint with many interesting textures and a diverse flavor profile. For my second course I devoured a thinly sliced beef paired with glazed onions and cooked in a delectable sukiyaki broth, a flavorful mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin (sweet sake used as seasoning). I would certainly order it again on my second visit.On the other hand, Mr. B was served a lighter option – sautéed snapper garnished with vegetables and carrot and orange puree seasoned with curry. Fish was moist and flaked apart nicely, and the hint of curry in the puree added tons of depth of flavor. We all continued on with a bowl of light cauliflower cream soup seasoned with basil paste. The latter added a very interesting twist to otherwise mundane soup. Before moving to the main course we also enjoyed a simple salad, which served more as a palate cleanser.
After that it was time for the piece de resistance – sirloin steak and fillet steak arrived at the table still sizzling, with tiny bubbles of fat glistening on their perfectly seared surfaces, accompanied by garlic chips, vegetables, salt and coarse ground mustard, and a miso soup. The first bite of the sirloin steak delivered the tongue-coating richness that can only come from a premium grade wagyu beef. The steak was done medium per chef’s recommendation due to high level of marbling. I chewed it slowly, dwelling on the sweetness of the fat and the density of the meat. It was rich and decadent, albeit a tad too heavy for my palate (here is the close-up difference between the two cuts). Fillet was beautifully cooked medium rare. The crispy seared surface gave way to a juicy and buttery texture that melted in my mouth and sent a wave of savoriness across my palate. It was a perfection, one which made my taste buds go into an exciting dance. With a little helping of the condiments for dipping, I couldn’t stop proclaiming my love for the steak with every bite. We finished off the night with beautiful desserts, somehow all four of us got a different one and all of them were equally delightful.
At the end of the dinner, the chef stopped by our table to personally inquire about our thoughts. We also learned that he has been working in the restaurant for 18 years! I was genuinely impressed by chef’s cooking technique and the versatility with which he approached a single ingredient. He managed to showcase beef in so many ways without compromising its flavor at any point. Every course was decadent and memorable. I couldn’t recommend Hafuu Honten enough if you happen to visit Kyoto.
Address: Hafuu Honten, 303 Tawaraya-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours: Thu – Tue: 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm