Last Updated: December 26, 2019
Lo and behold, the only Food Showdown article where the “steaks” actually matter: beef donburis.
Beef donburis are one of the best comfort foods of all time. Tender and smoky slices of beef placed on top of a bed of warm and fluffy white rice, and often accompanied by silky slices of foie gras, truffle oil, and an onsen egg… Mmm. I don’t think I can say ‘itadakimasu‘ fast enough.
For the ulti-meat test, we pitched two popular beef donburi places, Fat Cow and Tanuki Raw, against each other to see which would come out on top.
More interestingly, both beef donburi bowls are priced differently—one costs S$30 while the other costs a whopping S$158.
Fat Cow is a luxurious Japanese restaurant specialising in premium wagyu and omakase dining experiences.
Located at Tanglin, minutes away from the far end of Orchard Road where Hard Rock Cafe is, Fat Cow first opened in Oct 2011 and serves a handpicked selection of the most exclusive and finest wagyu reputable farms around the world.
Tanuki Raw has always been one of my favourite places to dine at because of its central location and its wallet-friendly beef donburis.
Nestled on the fourth floor of Orchard Central, Tanuki Raw is a raw bar that dishes out fresh sashimi (with amazing weekly deals, mind you), freshly shucked oysters, rice bowls, and creative fusion food like spam and marshmallow fries.
Fat Cow’s 3,500 sq ft restaurant is quaint and elegant, with an open-kitchen concept where you can view the chefs at work. The clean and homey space, which was decorated with gorgeous contemporary wooden and bronze elements, instantly caught my eye.
The design at Fat Cow follows a Japanese concept called wabi-sabi, which is essentially the art of finding beauty in things that are modest, simple, and humble.
When I dropped by to try Tanuki Raw’s beef donburi, the eager and friendly staff were hanging Christmas decorations all over the bright and open space.
What I loved most about Tanuki Raw’s dining area was its brick wall feature, which lined a good portion of the restaurants’ walls. Not only did it act as a great backdrop for pictures, it also added industrial-chic vibes to the space.
I got Tanuki Raw’s signature Foie Gras Truffle Yakiniku (S$23) with Fresh Truffle (S$7), which came with a thick slab of pan-seared foie gras, sliced U.S. black Angus short rib, an onsen egg, truffle soy, and black garlic brown butter over Tanuki Raw’s signature mixed rice.
My first impression was that for just S$30, I had been given a generous amount of freshly shaved truffle, which was a huuuge plus. I’d go so far as to say that there was so much truffle that I had problems spotting the beef!
As for Fat Cow, I went for its most premium and expensive donburi—the Nagasaki A5 Striploin (S$158).
Immediately, I could see why Fat Cow’s premium donburi costs a whopping S$158. It came with uni, caviar, foie gras, truffle oil, an onsen egg, and thin slices of Nagasaki A5 striploin that had been cooked till medium-rare.
Just looking at the glistening layers of striploin made my mouth water.
Tanuki Raw’s rice is pretty special. It uses fluffy Japanese short-grain rice and mixes it together with a secret blend of nuts and ingredients, such as furikake, sliced mushrooms, and ginger.
The rice was so delicious, fragrant, and satisfying that I wanted to eat it on its own. I loved how the furikake and seaweed flakes added a touch of saltiness to each mouthful, while the ginger was a little spicy but whetted my appetite and made me want to go back for more.
Fat Cow’s donburi uses Japanese short-grain rice as well, but unlike Tanuki Raw, Fat Cow only seasons its rice with its signature wagyu fat shoyu and premium truffle oil.
After I broke open the onsen egg, the silky yolk added a rich creaminess to the rice, which reminded me of curry rice that was similarly rich, thick, and indulgent.
While some might say it’s a tad too plain in comparison to Tanuki Raw, which used ginger and furikake in its rice, I’d say it’s just nice. After all, you don’t want any strong flavours overpowering the delicate sweetness from the foie gras, as well as the buttery silkiness from the beef.
For an exquisite bowl of beef like this, you’d need something simple to gel the entire dish together—and fragrant fluffy sticky rice did just that.
Now, onto the most important component of the dish—the beef.
While Fat Cow used Nagasaki A5 striploin, Tanuki Raw used U.S. black Angus short rib instead. That already told me which would score more points in this showdown: Fat Cow’s Nagasaki A5 striploin, which is well-known for its exquisite balance of red meat to fat. This precise ratio is what gives it its melt-in-your-mouth texture.
However, what did they taste like? Did they live up to the expectations?
Fat Cow’s Nagasaki A5 striploin had just the right amount of fat to meat, so it was tender and soft while having a nice springy bite to it. While it didn’t melt in my mouth, it was still deliciously creamy and smoky, as if it had just been blowtorched before being served.
For S$158, I got around nine to 10 slices of thinly sliced beef. It was just enough so that I could pair one slice of beef with one spoonful of rice, which I counted as a plus. Nobody wants to run out of toppings and have too much rice left!
Meanwhile, Tanuki Raw’s U.S. black Angus short rib was thicker, fattier, and reminded me of a good ‘ol slab of steak.
This was due to its cut—short rib is taken from the cow’s chuck, brisket, plate, or rib area, and they often have parts of the rib bone in it. Because of that, it tends to hold its shape better, and it has plenty of flavour from the bone and fat. At the same time, short rib tends to be more stringy because it has tons of connective tissues in the meat. That’s why most people use it for braising, stews, or sous vide, so there’s a longer time for the meat to fully cook and break down.
In Tanuki Raw’s case, the beef was definitely much more springy than Fat Cow’s beef. The beef slices, though thick, were still tender and I had no problems biting through each piece. While I polished off all the beef slices, I couldn’t help but wish that the beef slices were thinner and more tender, like Fat Cow’s striploin, which was buttery and creamy.
If you’re wondering why Fat Cow’s beef donburi is so expensive, here you go. It’s due to the luxurious ingredients, like uni, caviar, foie gras, and ikura.
You’d expect each spoonful of rice to be too decadent and rich because of all these additional components, but each element contributed a different taste or texture to the entire bowl. The uni was deliciously creamy and delicate, just like melted butter and an onsen egg, while the foie gras was so buttery and smoky that it melted in instantly, leaving a distinctively popcorn-like sweetness lingering on my tongue.
Meanwhile, the caviar and ikura were like little nuggets of gold. Whenever I stumbled upon them, I eagerly popped them into my mouth and I loved how they burst into little balls of umami flavour.
A huge plus about Tanuki Raw’s additional ingredients is the foie gras. I had already been eyeing the large slab of foie gras when the donburi was served to my table, but it was only when I bit into a piece that I realised how delicious it was.
The foie gras was superbly rich and had a smoky aftertaste that reminded me of caramelised burnt butter. I loved how delicate and indulgent each bite was, and not to mention, it had come in a large slab, so I could take my time and enjoy a little piece of decadence with each spoonful of rice or beef.
I literally spent two weeks thinking about who to pick as the winner, because both beef donburis were delicious in its own way. Fat Cow served up a decadent and luxurious bowl of thinly sliced, beautifully pink, and tender Nagasaki A5 striploin, paired with the most exquisite of ingredients—caviar, uni, and foie gras. Meanwhile, Tanuki Raw’s version was not as extravagant, but its price tag was also definitely lower without compromising on the quality of its beef.
Alas, there can only be one winner, and after a long period of deliberation, I picked Fat Cow as the winner of this showdown.
What you’re paying for at Fat Cow is definitely quality, and all the elements of the dish worked hand-in-hand together to produce a beef donburi that was undeniably stunning and unforgettable. To be fair, it does cost a whopping S$158 and while I wouldn’t be eating this expensive bowl of beef every month or so, I’d say it’s something you should try at least once in your lifetime.