The minds behind new Box Hill diner Katori figured yakiniku – a Japanese style of eating where you grill your own meat – was the perfect way to highlight the richness of local Wagyu. Here, there are no marinades, just thinly sliced strips of beef, salt, a spice mix and lemon wedges delivered to your table for you to cook to your preference.
“There's a lot of good quality Wagyu in Australia,” owner Ada Chen tells Broadsheet. “People usually think that Japanese Wagyu is superior – and maybe it is – but Australian Wagyu can also be of a high quality, so we wanted to showcase that.”
In contrast to the casual atmosphere of many of Tokyo’s yakiniku joints, Chen and co-owner Shammi Liang have created a suave, elegant space with the help of interior designer Melissa Collison (who worked on Sake Flinders Lane and the now-closed Melbourne outpost of Fratelli Fresh). To get to the eatery, located on the ground floor of the Chen Art Series Hotel, walk past the marble-topped reception desk and heavy mulberry curtain into a muted 100-seat space of dark wood, warm stone walls and black accents, illuminated by hanging amber pendant lights.
“We wanted to create a warm and calm dining experience for our customers,” Chen says. "We thought it should be luxurious and well-presented but also blend into the background, not be the centre of attention. That should be the food.”
Katori serves Australian Wagyu with a marbling score of M7 to M9+, as well as A5-grade, full-blood Japanese Wagyu that’s flown in straight from the source.
There’s also some serious culinary pedigree in the kitchen. Executive chef Kengo Hiromatsu has been working in Japanese restaurants for more than 25 years, and was previously head sushi chef at Nobu and Sake Flinders Lane, and head chef at Akachochin izakaya in South Wharf. Head chef Yasuo Matsuike’s career spans two decades across Australia, Japan and the US, including stints at Nobu and Azuma in Sydney.
At the centre of each table is a charcoal grill imported from Japan, fitted with ventilation shafts that suck the smoke through the table to prevent it from choking up the restaurant. Choose from meat, seafood and vegetables – Hiromatsu recommends the short rib for first timers, as it’s more forgiving if overcooked than the Wagyu.
He serves sushi-grade tuna as tataki; seared and dressed with yuzu kosho (fermented yuzu peel and chilli paste) miso.
“Normally in Japan, toro [the fatty underbelly of the tuna] is reserved for sushi or sashimi and eaten raw on its own,” he says. “But here we wanted to make it more attractive and approachable.”
A dish of aburi (flame-seared) Wagyu is accompanied by sea urchin or caviar, depending on seasonal availability. Deep-fried Wagyu mince and cheddar meatballs are coated in squid ink, and a bowl of black truffle-flecked rice comes topped with seared foie gras.
Chen recommends starting with a cold dish from the a la carte menu – the toro tataki, king prawns with citrus and chilli ponzu, or a crisp daikon salad – followed by something hot to eat while your meat cooks on the barbecue, such as miso cod or steamed snapper. Mains include noodle and rice dishes, or you could opt for the nine-course tasting menu, which includes a sashimi platter with abalone, seared sashimi and smoked salmon roe; three cuts of meat for the barbeque; and a water cake (a barely set, jelly-like blob sometimes called a raindrop cake) with black syrup and ice cream for dessert.
On the drinks side, cocktails tend light and fruity to play off the richness of all that Wagyu, with the occasional punchier Japanese take on a classic, such as a Manhattan made with Nikka whisky. There's also a long list of sake and Japanese whisky, including a 17-year-old Hibiki for $151. Beers include Sapporo on tap and Kirin Ichiban by the bottle.
G01, 850 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill
0451 220 528
Tue to Sun 5.30pm–11pm