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Why this wagyu on Hong Kong plates tastes different: herd’s chocolate diet

At Hong Kong restaurant 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, the menu features a 1.2kg bone-in ribeye steak.

It’s an impressive HK$1,500 slab of beef, grilled to perfection, but it’s the taste that has many diners coming back for more.

The meat is marbled, but not to the extent that it has the distinctly oily taste of some wagyu beef, and packed with flavour.

The quality of the soil, water, pasture and grain on the cattle station in South Australia from whose herd the beef at the three-Michelin-star restaurant comes has a lot to do with it, but there’s a (hitherto) secret ingredient in the steers’ diet: sweets. To be precise, 2kg a day of (Australian) Cadbury’s milk chocolate and Canadian Allan Candy – everything from gummy worms to gummy bears.

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Scott de Bruin, managing partner of Mayura Station, puts the sweet diet in perspective: the cattle weigh 700kg, as much as a car, so it’s the equivalent of a person eating a chocolate bar a day.

He says it’s the sweets in the steers’ diet that gives their beef its unique flavour and so they’ve stuck with it.

It’s all part of ensuring the station’s beef is not only consistent but has a “wow” factor, he adds.

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De Bruin’s father set up Mayura – which, after a process of land buying begun in the 1970s, comprises 30,000 hectares – and in 1998 began imported the first of 25 purebred wagyu cattle from Japan – at a cost of US$25,000 each.

“I had worked in restaurants when I was in university and the beef that was served was inconsistent – [it] varied from tender to chewing on a shoe, and flavour-wise there were some that were good, and others that were so bland like water,” recalls de Bruin. “We wanted to build a consistent product.”

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The station grows its own feed and raises all its stock itself. The only thing they don’t do themselves, de Bruin says, is slaughter the cattle for customers who, in Hong Kong, include Ciak, VEA, Arcane, and The Lounge in the Four Seasons hotel.