Hisato Hamada of Wagyumafia is a man on a mission to bring wagyu to the world. In fact, his company actually exports wagyu to many places overseas. While most people think about wagyu as a steak and a fancy meal, Hamada wants to challenge that perception of wagyu and make it fun. This is how the idea of a wagyu katsu sando came to him. A simple sandwich of breaded and deep-fried wagyu steak is a cool and delicious way to experience marbled beef.
“Katsu” refers to breaded and deep-fried meat cutlets, usually made from pork, like tonkatsu. The “ton” in “tonkatsu” refers to pork. Gyukatsu, made from beef, went through its first big boom a few years ago. It is not uncommon to see lines outside of gyukatsu shops like Gyukatsu Motomura. Although gyukatsu has been around for a while, it has only recently become trendy. Gyukatsu Okuda in the basement of the New Shinbashi Building has been around for almost 20 years, and has long been popular with locals. Gyukatsu, like tonkatsu, is served with julienned cabbage and rice. A sweet sauce is used to season the cutlet.
The cutlet sandwich is a popular menu item from tonkatsu chain restaurants like Maisen. They are ever-present at train stations— cutlet sandwiches squeezed into a small box are the perfect meal for a shinkansen ride.
Wagyumafia Katsu Sando near Nakameguro Station is a restaurant that specializes in cutlet sandwiches made from wagyu beef. The menu, which ranges from ¥1,000 to ¥20,000, is based on different cuts of the cow. The ¥1,000 sandwich is made with ground beef, a menchi katsu. The ¥20,000 comes from chateaubriand, which is only 1/100th of each cow.
When approaching the Atlas Tower from Nakameguro Station, the restaurant is on the back side of the building, along the river. The space is simple with a tachigui (standing only) communal table and a narrow open kitchen. For those needing to sit, there are two small tables and chairs in front of the shop. I enjoy being inside to chat with the friendly store manager, Yasuhiro Inoue, who answers my many questions on beef, beverages and the popularity of the shop. He says that about half of the customers are tourists, many coming to document their meal on Instagram.
Wagyumafia appears to be an empire in the making
On my first visit I splurge for the ¥5,000 zabuton, which is from the shoulder. The sandwiches are made to order, which is unlike most pre-made katsu sando you’ll find around the city. This makes a big difference since the sandwich is hot, as it should be. The sauce is a soy sauce base with just the right amount of seasoning. The cutlet sandwich is luxurious, especially at this price. The meat is tender even though it is thick. The bread is toasted, which gives a nice texture-contrast to the meat. The bread comes from a neighboring shop, Meat & Bakery Tavern.
On my return visit I tried the menchi katsu sandwich (¥1,000) and truffle salt fries (¥750). It’s a fine sandwich, but the steak cuts are the way to go. Inoue says that the mid-priced sandwiches are most popular, but that the chateaubriand cut is also selling well, especially on weekends. Takeaway is also an option, and it appears that it is popular with locals.
Wagyumafia hot sauce can stand up to the wagyu without distracting from it. Based on kanzuri, a fermented red chili paste from Niigata, the Wagyumafia-branded bottle is for sale at the shop for ¥1,000. It packs a punch without being too hot.
The wine list is constantly changing, but includes a solid selection of champagne, red and white wines, including a 2013 Opus One by the glass for ¥7,000. Charles Heidesieck Brut Reserve is ¥1,500 by the glass. The Opus One is served from a Fun Vino Wine Server, guaranteeing freshness. There is also a great selection of craft beer all for ¥800, including a Heiwa Craft, Hitachino Nest, Vedett, and Duvel.
In Japan, Wagyumafia has recently opened the world’s first members-only wagyu butcher in Nishi-Azabu. There are also two restaurants for a full course of wagyu, but these shops are also members-only. To become a member, one must be introduced by a member.
Wagyumafia appears to be an empire in the making. Nakameguro is filled with great eats and Wagyumafia Katsu Sando has joined its ranks.
Nakamegruo Atlas Tower 1F, 1-26-101 Kami-Meguro, Meguro-ku. Nearest Station: Nakameguro. Tel: 03-6303-2029. Thursday-Tuesday 11am-9pm. Closed Wednesday. www.wagyumafia.com