Restaurant review: Minimal waste meets wagyu decadence at Black Cow in South Beach Avenue

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One taste of wagyu transformed Sam Chua’s life. The co-founder of wagyu fine-dining haven Black Cow came to savour beef relatively late in life – on a trip to Tokyo in her 20s.

There, at the century-old Ningyocho Imahan, she had her first-ever taste of wagyu in sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. It was a ‘transcendental experience’, she says – but one that, upon her return to Singapore, she could not seem to find again.

PHOTO: City Nomads

To recreate that moment of beefy bliss herself, Sam made a bold career leap from finance to F&B – despite having no prior experience in the industry.

And there’s no doubt that Singapore’s carnivores are all the better for it. Launched in 2016, Black Cow today has carved out a name for its exquisite sukiyaki and shabu-shabu experiences, prepared tableside and showcasing the season’s produce at its best.

As the name suggests, the specialty here is kuroge wagyu – a breed of black cattle prized for its rich marbling.

Drawing on a network of Japanese producers that Sam has built over the years, Black Cow flies in the likes of Hida beef from Gifu Prefecture and Kagoshima beef from Kyushu Prefecture on a weekly basis.

Just as fresh is the sake selection, handpicked by Sam to feature small-batch, seasonal, and unpasteurized releases. That means each bottle is a sip of the season at its freshest – you can expect to be surprised from week to week.

From now till Feb 28, 2022, the menu is a glorious ode to winter – think winter truffles, Oscietra caviar, and seafood at its fatty prime.

There’re solely sukiyaki or shabu-shabu options, but it’s the Omakase Menu that brings it all together in a pilgrimage across various styles of wagyu preparation ($288++ for six courses, $388++ for eight courses). Needless to say, we opted for the tempting 4-Glass Sake Pairing ($88) as well.

Our first flavour bomb of the meal comes by way of an often-overlooked cut, rib fingers – small yet fatty strips of wagyu cut from between the rib bones. Stewed with radish for a meaty take on the winter classic of oden, the wagyu quite literally melts in the mouth.

Giving it a refreshing touch is a side of pickled greens and king oyster mushrooms, sustainably repurposed from vegetable scraps. To pair with the earthy dish, we have a pour of seasonal Ohmine 3 Grain Yamadanishiki sake brimming with lychee sweetness.

Despite the focus on luxe produce, it’s clear that Black Cow has a minimal waste ethos that shines through in the little details.

Our kushiage course draws on offcuts as well, turning a well-marbled scrap of A5 wagyu into a panko-crusted filet. Pan-seared foie gras is then laid atop, allowing the buttery juices to seep down into the beef – let’s just say it’s unspeakably luscious.

To cut through all that richness, we have a crisp, mineral-forward Foo Fighters x Tatenokawa ‘Hansho Silver’ Junmai Daiginjo – and yes, this limited-edition sake was crafted in honour of the American rock legends’ 25th anniversary.

It was a sukiyaki experience that transformed Sam’s life, so needless to say, it’s the course we’re most looking forward to at Black Cow.

For the ideal balance of marbling and chew, only A5 sirloin cuts are used; our A5 Hida beef is drool-inducing on sight with its snowy mantle of marbling.

After a simmer in a two-year-aged stock at our table and a dip into raw egg yolk, the meat melts on our tongue: Rich, smoky, and so very umami. It’s not exactly life-changing, but it makes our tastebuds very happy.

Prior to its recent rebranding, Black Cow’s claim to fame was its luxe donburis, and there’s no denying they can still steal the show.

We have a taste of the Signature Sukiyaki Don with A5 wagyu beef ($128 à la carte), which comes heaped with every decadent fixing you can dream up: Sukiyaki-style beef, Hokkaido uni from Toyosu Fish Market, glazed foie gras, Oscietra caviar, black truffles from Spain, and an oozy onsen egg to boot.

It’s a load of creamy indulgence, so we’re impressed that the rice – Hokkaido Nanatsuboshi short-grain rice – stays fluffy through it all.

Truffle lovers can opt for the equally over-the-top Hida Truffle Don ($138 à la carte), which comes blanketed in sukiyaki-style slices of A5 Hida-gyu. Its crowning glory is an array of impeccably round, large shavings of black truffle – Sam shares that only shavings of a certain size and shape are used here.

Meanwhile, the leftover truffle shavings are saved up for a sweet finish to our meal. The Truffle Monaka features a heady blend of truffle offcuts and housemade Madagascan vanilla, hand-beaten for a laborious two hours to form a luscious ice-cream.

For something more refreshing, we also get slices of exquisitely sweet Japanese muskmelon accompanied by melon sorbet.

Top it all off with a pour of Katsuyama Lei – a junmai ginjo with all the silkiness and heady sweetness of muskmelon – and we’ve pretty much transcended into a blissful food coma.

PHOTO: City Nomads

This article was first published in City Nomads.