Where to Get Your Beef Where to Eat Your Beef Anyone in the local meat industry will tell you demand and appreciation for beef has evolved dramatically in recent years. For a long time, steak was just steak, pure and simple. People enjoyed it at home or in restaurants, with little if any attention to distinctions of quality or origin. “I’ve been in the business since 1987, back when people didn’t even know what marbling was,” says Peter Fransen, manager of meat importer Saison. “They were happy to have anything from the supermarket.” Chris Mark, executive chef at BLT Steak, recalls that even as recently as 1996, when he first worked in Hong Kong, “it was almost impossible to get chilled beef; there just wasn’t enough demand for it.” But over the past decade, there’s been a turnaround in education about meat quality. As they did with wine, affluent Hongkongers developed discerning attitudes toward steak quality after traveling around the world. At both middle-range and high-end restaurants in Hong Kong today, almost nobody orders a steak without at least checking its nationality. The newfound demand for quality has become so attentive as to drive importers such as Oliver Win, managing director of Olivier Pacific, to seek out only top-notch beef reared with no antibiotics, no hormones, humane treatment and assured traceability of each cow back to its farm and parentage. Win, who imports US prime through Meyer Natural Angus, says that some local hotels now use laboratories to inspect on a microbiological level the beef they buy. As for what the best beef is, every diner has his or her own personal preference—preferences that, unsurprisingly, often coincide with where said diner happens to come from. But genuine aficionados agree that nothing beats top-quality US prime. “Some Australians can be very parochial; they grew up on grass-fed beef and believe that’s how beef should be. Others like free-roaming Argentine beef. But grain-fed US prime is by far the best,” says Fransen. Compared with grass-fed beef, grain-fed is considered moister, more flavorful and more marbled, particularly when put through the delicate aging processes used by the best US companies. Of course, for a long period US beef was kept entirely out of the local market, due to fears (some might say fear-mongering) over BSE, or mad cow disease. The official ban, put in place after a Canadian cow brought into the US was found to have BSE in 2003, was lifted in December 2005—but only for boneless beef from cattle less than 30 months old. Proponents of US beef still find the existing regulations on US beef unfairly narrow. “Bones don’t contain BSE and are accepted in other countries,” says Joel Haggard, vice president of the Asia Pacific Region of the US Meat Export Federation. “The risky materials are those of the main nervous system, which are now routinely removed.” Such routine removals, together with recent scientific discoveries of ways to curb the spread of the disease, have put BSE in decline around the world. Moreover, Haggard points out, the World Organization of International Health (OIE) has done extensive assessments of the disease and ranked the US as a “controlled risk” country whose exports are safe. All the same, steak aficionados are happy to see US beef flowing back into Hong Kong, and high-end steak-houses such as Morton’s, the InterContinental’s Steak House, Lardo’s, BLT Steak and Dakota Prime are happy to see people pay the extra dollar for top-quality meat. Indeed, some might say diners are willing to fork out on more than just quality. The wagyu craze has swamped Hong Kong, and the introduction of wagyu steak has divided local carnivores, with many critics putting its following down to mere consumption. Literally meaning “Japanese beef,” wagyu refers to cows produced through selective breeding and feeding techniques. The practice originated in Japan, but some pure wagyu cows are found in Australia, while crossbreeding with Angus cows takes place in the United States. Traditionally served in thin slices, it is notoriously heavy in fat and less meaty than other beef varieties. “It’s basically modified to suit the delicate Japanese palate,” says chef Au Yiu-chung at Zenpachi. An Osaka-trained chef, Au himself balks at the idea of eating wagyu as steak. “When it’s thinly sliced and served in broth, you can taste the beef, but when it’s served thickly there’s less texture—it’s like eating a big slab of butter,” he says. Traditional steak fans agree. “I personally feel disgusting when I eat a big piece of it,” says Mark of BLT Steak, who points out an interesting paradox when it comes to local enthusiasm for wagyu: “Some Hong Kong people like it because it’s highly esteemed, but at the same time they’re inclined not to like it because it’s so fatty.” Also formerly based in Japan, Mark emphasizes that Hong Kong is a secondary market for wagyu and doesn’t get the best variety, and that many local chefs don’t know how to assess it properly. All in all, if you’re still learning your way through tough and tender in the world of steak, you’re best off familiarizing yourself with the established favorites before experimenting with the slippery stuff (see here). Meat Market There’s more to meat than ThreeSixty and CitySuper. Try these places for deluxe cuts from all over the world. Hing Lung Food Place 2/F, Hing Lung Commercial Building, 68-74 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan, 2541-5072, www.meat.com.hk . This online meat supplier stocks almost everything you can think of, including venison and offal, much of which is imported from New Zealand, Canada and Brazil. Both Asian and European cuts are available, as well as barbecue and hotpot packages. Condiments and spices are also available, including English mustard and mint sauce. TC Deli 10B Chap Fuk Rd., Hang Hau Village, Sai Kung, New Territories, 2358-0273. This is a popular, high-quality butcher in the Sai Kung area that caters mainly to large hotels. It sells Australian and US beef, Australian dairy products, vegetables and seafood, and frozen sausages. One of its specialties is pre-marinated meats, ideal for people heading up to the countryside for a weekend barbecue. Tenderloin Fine Food 2602 Universal Trade Centre, 3 Arbuthnot Rd., Central, 2877-2733, www.tenderloin.com.hk . Deluxe meats in Western-style cuts are available at this online site, which delivers to your home. As well as organic poultry, find triple-A grade beef from Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the US. Fresh and smoked fish of many varieties (including black cod and swordfish), both cooked and uncooked hams, high-quality sausages, pet food, wine and caviar are also available. Minimum order is $400 for Hong Kong Island, $600 for Kowloon and $800 for all other areas. Where's The Beef? We pick Hong Kong’s top five steakhouses and their finest steaks. BLT Steak BLT puts a French bistro twist on the traditional American steakhouse, its dishes stemming from the mind of French-trained New York chef Laurent Tourondel. Their signature steak is a giant 40-ounce American prime porterhouse for two. Shop G62, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2730-3508. Dakota Prime Billing itself as the “anti-steakhouse steakhouse,” Dakota has a brightly lit interior with shades of beige and delicate mirror fixtures. Their menu features USDA prime from the Midwest, and 100 percent full-blood Japanese wagyu such as the A-5 12-ounce rib eye from Kagoshima. 7/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham St., Central, 2526-2366. Morton’s The Steakhouse The Chicago-style, wood-paneled classic. General Manager Stephen McCrimmon recommends the 22-ounce boneless US prime rib eye—and bear in mind that they only reserve eight of these special cuts a night. 4/F Sheraton Hotel, 20 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, 2732-2343. Lawry’s The Prime Rib Established in 1938 in Beverly Hills, Lawry’s is quintessentially American, with waitresses who don 50s-era aprons and hats. Decor is plain for a pricey joint, but the bar’s intimate. As the name implies, this is the place for prime rib. And hey, they invented seasoned salt. 4/F, The Lee Garden, 33 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay, 2907-2218. Steak House Bar and Grill, InterContinental Hong Kong You can always count on the InterContinental when it comes to high-end cuisine. Its own steakhouse boasts Hong Kong’s only charcoal grill and a selection of A5 Japanese wagyu, as well as top-quality US prime. Serious steak fans should try the 32-ounce New York Strip on for size. 18 Salisbury Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, 2313-2323. Back to Meet The Meats. Remember Porky? Guess not. Get to know the other common household meat better and is red meat bad for you?