We splurge on luxury noodles with a luxury price tag.
When you’re looking for a cheap meal to fill you up in Japan, you can’t go past a steaming hot bowl of ramen. However, if you’re looking to pay through the nose for noodles, there are a few places where you can do that too, and Matsusakagyuu Ramen Hitori Shabu Shabu Matsutora in Tokyo’s Akasaka district is one such place.
▼ The restaurant’s mouthful of a name translates to “Matsusaka Beef Ramen Solo Shabu Shabu Pine Tree Tiger”, with “shabu shabu” referring to Japanese hotpot.
Matsusaka beef hails from Mie Prefecture and is famous for being one of Japan’s “Sandai Wagyu” (“big three wagyu“), along with Kobe beef from Hyogo Prefecture and Omi beef from Shiga Prefecture. Known for its high fat-to-meat ratio, Matsusaka beef is incredibly expensive, so naturally Matsusaka Beef Ramen also comes with a high price tag.
▼ When we visited Matsutora, we were ushered to a counter seat, where condiments and a hot pot for shabu shabu had been placed on the table in advance.
Having only opened in May, the restaurant was beautifully appointed, with counter seating set up against the wall in a hori-gotatsu (literally “dug-out kotatsu”) style, with a low table and a hollowed-out area beneath it for your legs. Diners use high-backed chairs on tatami floors here, providing the ultimate comfort for the high-class experience, and looking at the menu, we saw prices were equally plush.
The prized beef ramen starts at 1,980 yen (US$17.87) for a bowl of A5 Matsusaka Beef Ramen, and 2,500 yen for A5 Sirloin Matsusaka beef ramen, with each option containing a single slice of meat.
We were looking to splurge on the most expensive item we could find on the menu, which was the “Inishie no Taiseki Gyu Sirloin Ramen A5 Rank Saikoho (BMS 12)” (“Ancient Times Boulder Beef Sirloin Ramen Peak A5 Rank BMS 12”), priced at a whopping 11,000 yen ($99.28).
“Ancient Times Boulder Beef” is also known as “phantom beef” due to its rarity, as it’s sourced from only around ten cows per year, and only from Japanese black breed heifers that have been fattened for over 1,200 days (3.2 years).
Moreover, “BMS 12” is classed as the highest quality of beef (the beef has at least 56.3 percent intramuscular fat, which leads to exquisite marbling) in the already top A5 rank (A5 Rank can include BMS levels from 8-12), making this the most supreme of supreme wagyu money can buy.
▼ Just as we were wondering if it would be a shame to spoil such high-quality wagyu by placing it in a bowl of ramen, this arrived.
We’d never seen a bowl of ramen this stunning, and we were so dazzled by the shine on the nori seaweed and the scattering of extravagant flakes of gold leaf that we weren’t sure if there were any noodles here at all, as we couldn’t see them for all the meat that was covering them.
▼ Gold leaf on BMS 12 A5 rank Inishie Matsusaka beef in noodle broth is a rare sight indeed.
Once we managed to tear our eyes away from the beauty of the dish, we dipped our spoon in to assess the quality of the broth. It was clear and had an elegant, refined taste, and when we asked staff about it, they told us it contained smoked bonito soup stock and was made according to a recipe that had been handed down from the very first chef of Osaka Nadaman, an exclusive Japanese-style restaurant founded in 1830.
Impressed by the broth, it was time to move on to the meat, and lifting the marbled slice from the bowl revealed it to be so thin that it had been cooked by the heat of the broth, as if it were in a hotpot. Placing one end of it on the tongue, the meat was so delicately soft that it broke away and melted in the mouth without any pressure from the jaws whatsoever.
▼ The beef had a texture like butter.
Beneath the sublime slice of beef lay some more familiar ramen ingredients – noodles, a boiled egg, and some sliced mushrooms. The broth was so refined you could see right to the bottom of the bowl.
The noodles were another hidden gem, with a deliciously chewy texture and delicate flavour that allowed the meat and broth to shine through.
For avid lovers of wagyu, this is a meal that’s well worth the price tag, not only for its refined flavour but for the chance to taste some of the country’s rarest and finest beef. The restaurant aims to cater to all budgets, though, with the cheapest dish on the menu being a 500-yen Ryotei Dashi Ramen (with “ryotei” being the word for a luxurious traditional Japanese restaurant) and the most expensive dish being the Kaiun Hissho Kinpaku Sanno Ramen (“Better Fortune Certain Victory Gold Leaf Saano Ramen”), priced at…
▼ 110,000 yen ($992.82)!
While we thought we’d eaten the most expensive dish on the menu, it turns out there was an even more exclusive dish to be had, and it was so secret it wasn’t even listed on the menu inside the restaurant. We only found out about the super expensive dish after looking at the menu on the restaurant’s listing at the Tabelog dining website.
Curious to find out how popular the $1,000 ramen was, we asked staff at the restaurant about it, and they told us they were yet to receive an order for it. Understandable, given that it would take a lot of courage for someone to order such an expensive dish — and we would know, as we’d fretted over spending $100 on our meal.
We can’t deny we’re now curious to step up our game and explore the wonders of $1,000 ramen. Because although our budgets are more suited to vending machine ramen, now that our taste buds have gotten a taste of luxury noodles, they’re tempting us to splurge on expensive options more often!
Matsusakagyuu Ramen Hitori Shabu Shabu Matsutora / 松阪牛ラーメン 一人しゃぶしゃぶ 松虎
Address: Tokyo-to, Minato-ku, Akasaka 3-9-16 Fukutora Building 1F
東京都港区赤坂3-9-16 福虎ビル 1F
Open 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. (closed Saturdays and Sundays)