Barbecuing goes upmarket as Wagyu beef hits the menu

Tossing supermarket chops on to the barbecue is the limit of culinary ambition for most people firing up the grill this summer.

Connoisseurs, though, are about to discover the stakes - and prices - have risen dramatically on the bangers and burgers front.

For £72, barbecue lovers can now invest in 12 bangers and a dozen burgers made from prized Wagyu beef. With its exotic name and exalted reputation, Wagyu (originally from Japan but now farmed from Chile to Australia) is the most expensive meat on the market, costing up to £500 a kilogramme.

Its exquisite tenderness is reputed to stem from the relaxing conditions in which the cows are kept before slaughter. Wagyu are arguably the world's most pampered cattle.

They are massaged to relieve tired muscles, fed beer to stimulate their appetites and played classical music to soothe their nerves.

Wagyu has been appearing at a price on the menus of top London restaurants but until now has been largely unavailable to the general public.

A little thicker than the usual barbecue fare, Wagyu meat costs £22 for a dozen sausages and £50 for a dozen burgers.

They are handmade in London by the former chefs Leon and Sarah Aarts, a couple who run Discerning Foods, an online meat ordering service. Their customers include the chef Gordon Ramsay and some of the country's most expensive restaurants including Nobu and Hakkasan.

Wagyu beef is high in saturated fat, leading to its distinctive marbled appearance and a sensation described as "melting" in the mouth. Only seasoning and herbs are added to the burgers and bangers made from Chilean Wagyu.

Mr Aarts said: "There's nothing worse than a tasteless burger or a boring banger, but our sausages and burgers are the tastiest in the world. Everyone should taste Wagyu beef at least once in their lifetime.

"Customers can place orders online and receive them within two days, which means with careful planning not having to brave the supermarkets at the weekend - a luxury in itself."

The provision of Wagyu to homes threatens to turn the meat into something of a carnivorous craze. The meat hit the headlines earlier this year when the department store Selfridge's launched the most expensive sandwich in the world - priced at £85 - made from Wagyu beef on sour-dough bread, smeared with mayonnaise flavoured with foie gras and black truffle.

For a limited period, the Japanese restaurant Zuma in London sold a Wagyu burger for £55. Its owner Rainer Becker introduced it after a special request from the actor Pierce Brosnan, who ordered the delicacy twice while dining with him in Japan.

"It had such an impact that Rainer decided to introduce it to the Zuma menu," a spokeswoman for the restaurant in Knightsbridge said.

"It rivals pâté de foie gras for richness, tenderness, calorific content - and cost."

Zuma now serves Wagyu sirloin at £58.30 and Wagyu fillet at £65, both with soy and wasabi on hoba leaf.

Selfridge's said yesterday it has sold "approaching 200" of its £85 sandwiches, which were first thought of as a publicity stunt.

Proof of Wagyu's status as a foodie must-have came in a recent BBC online poll which named the meat as one of the top 50 foods you should eat before you die.

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