The Best Beef in Manila
At 11:30 a.m., there is no one at the little restaurant on 26th Street. The servers are ready to wait on tables and there’s a flurry of activity in the kitchen, but it’s the gloomy final Thursday of the month and Miyazaki Gyu is not your everyday restaurant.
Miyazaki Gyu opened in Manila a year ago. At a time where one is presented so many excuses to settle for cheaper beef, this steak restaurant is a compelling argument why one should continue to aspire for the best—even if it’s just for this one delicious instance.
The beef at Miyazaki Gyu comes from specially raised cattle in the Miyazaki Prefecture of Japan. The Japan Meat Grading Association examines its marbling, color, the firmness and texture of the meat, and the quality of fat; only those Graded 4 and above could be considered Miyazaki beef. It’s a careful practice that allowed this pedigreed beef to dominate the quinquennial Wagyu Olympics in 2007 and 2012, among many other accolades.
Miyazaki Gyu, the restaurant, is not the type of place that wins you over with deals and promos. In truth, the only bargain here is that you get what you pay for: Wagyu of the highest quality and the services of the chef who knows how to show off great beef with an even greater skill of handling it.
Kensuke Sakai runs the restaurant kitchen. He is the proud owner of West Park Café and Nigiro and was also the youngest contender on Iron Chef Japan (Battle Pumpkin, against Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe, in 1998). Back then, Nigiro was a roving food stand—which made him the first “food cart” chef in the contest—that moved from place to place whenever he would get caught by police. Now, it has a branch in Singapore. Chef Ken may be serving the best beef in the world now, but his sensibilities are the same: he’s just honored to be cooking amazing food.
He watches us through the glass kitchen as we gingerly take photos of the beef before anything else. Food, after all, is best eaten fresh off the stove, but one can’t help it. A meal at Miyazaki Gyu turns a regular love for beef into a rich, tempestuous affair that’s as glorious as it is fleeting—not because of the price tag but because it’s the kind of decadent experience that, for your sake, you should have only once in a while. One would want to preserve that.
The menu is practically all beef, but the good chef knows all the permutations to serve it well. Some of his latest creations is a spectacular beef tartare, with garlic and baguettes, that balances the fat and flavor of the prized beef. The nigiri comes with sweet Japanese rice blanketed by a thin Wagyu piece that’s torched just enough to give that extra edge of smokiness, ideal with the soy sauce that the chef makes himself.
While one can enjoy Miyazaki beef in any way, cooking it right is what makes it worth it—not overdone and just letting the meat do the work. Chef Ken cooks the sukiyaki tableside: first, putting the fabrics of beef in the pan and creating a puff of smoke so strong one could taste it. The broth comes next, then all the accoutrements. There are no other words, just that it’s all very wonderful.
After many other meaty savories, Chef Ken rolls out the a platter full of different cuts of beef: tenderloin, sirloin, chuck, top round, and more. It’s another grand moment as he cooks each piece in front of us, a careful ritual of searing and cutting that doesn’t get less exciting up to the last piece. His beginnings on the street show in these presentations: he’s warm and wary and watchful of his customer’s reaction and, despite the cool atmosphere of the restaurant, agrees that the yakiniku does indeed demand a bowl or two of rice.
The yakiniku platter alone is a cool P10,000, but as one savors each synchronized dance of meat and fat, there is no price for an experience like this. The chef offers a small smile. His mission accomplished.
How does one close a meal like this? It almost seems obvious to finish off with something as extravagant, but the chef surprises when he comes out with dainty bowls of English trifle. It’s delicious, unexpected, and with a lightness that erases the effects after eating a ton of meat. We'd come back for the beef, of course, but we'd also come back for the trifle.