Look at the Wagyu cattle in the barn and this is a simple ‘farm-to-fork’ story: a beef farmer wants a steady market and opens a steak restaurant in the nearest city. Only it’s more modern and involved than appearances suggest and involves 100 farmers around the North.
The meat those farmers produce is now being served at the Wagyu Bar and Grill in York, a new restaurant run by Adrian Hunter and Kevin Pinnington in a deal with Warrendale Farm.
Natasha Bloom is a director of Warrendale Wagyu, part of the farming business started by her father, Jim Bloom.
The business is run from a modern office high on a hill overlooking the East Yorkshire village of Warter. The wide windows of the boardroom-cum-kitchen offer an uplifting panorama of the valley below, a rural scene for a rural business. Natasha’s parents live in the main farm higher up the hill.
“Mum and dad moved to this farm 30 years ago,” she says.
The farm also has three chicken lines: Wot-A-Pullet, Wot-An-Egg and Wot-A-Hen. But the chickens can look after themselves today, because we are here to chew over the beef. Jim Bloom began to prepare the Wagyu business ten years ago and Warrendale Wagyu started operating in August 2017.
Here today with Natasha is fellow director Tom Richardson, in charge of sales. Tom is from a Beverley farming family but worked in retailing for 15 years. He used to buy beef and lamb for Waitrose, then lived in Australia for four years, where he got a taste for wagyu beef, famed in Japan for its fine taste. Wagyu was originally from the Kobe region in Japan. “It was the Emperor’s beef and it was only him who was allowed to eat it,” says Natasha. “Then the Australians went over and stole about 40-odd cattle in the 1970s.”
“The beef has marbling, they were used for working so they would store fat for work,” says Tom. “The meat is soft, the fat in the beef is higher in linoleic acid so it’s got a lower melting point and a quite different flavour.
“The Japanese beef is very, very marbled so you’d only have a small piece because it is very rich. The marbling levels we get are not as high.”
Warrendale Wagyu works with a supply chain of 100 farmers, mostly in the north, from Shropshire up to the Borders, with a strong presence in Yorkshire. The only cattle on the farm are the pure Wagyu kept in the barn and used for breeding purposes. Semen from a Wagyu bull in Australia is frozen, flown to Europe and crossed with Holstein dairy cattle.
The supply chain of growers, breeders and finishers gives the contracted farmers security, says Tom. “We’re a beef business which is trying to take control of our destiny and we have partner farms we give an open, sustainable price to.”
The firm uses software to track up to 3,000 calves. “We can log in and know how many we’ve got, where they are and where they’re going, which is invaluable,” says Tom.
Warrendale Wagyu supplies restaurants around the country, with some of the meat also being sold at the famed Rungis Market in Paris. The meat can also be ordered online.
“It’s a truly international product: it’s Japanese originally, the bull’s in Australia, the Holstein cows are European. It’s taken the best of everything into Yorkshire,” says Tom.
Getting best value from the animals entails selling as much of the meat as possible. “Anybody can sell the ribeye and the sirloins, that’s the easy bit,” says Tom. “What we’ve got to do is sell the whole carcase.”
One use for some cuts lies with the York firm Kings Jerky, which uses the farm’s meat in its wagyu jerky.
The Blooms had long fancied running a restaurant but knew nothing about the business. This is where Adrian Hunter and Kevin Pinnington come into the picture. The business partners recently opened the new Wagyu Bar and Grill in Low Petergate, York, in a collaboration with the Blooms. They will open a second branch in May in Harrogate in the space vacated by Jamie’s Italian.
Adrian and Kevin have long worked in large-scale catering, but this is their first full-on restaurant. How did they meet?
Adrian: “We’ve worked together…”
Kevin: “He was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…”
Adrian: “That much is true…”
Laughter all round, but behind the joshing this is a serious venture, a local restaurant dedicated to local produce.
“The meat is all supplied from Warrendale Wagyu and we know exactly where the meat is coming from and there is a massive local provenance with this site and with Harrogate,” says Adrian. “All the steaks and burgers, except the chicken, uses meat from the farm.”
For Kevin, provenance is the point.
“The exciting thing is that more than any other restaurant, we know where our meat has come from and where it’s produced.
“The ethics behind it all is fantastic. I don’t think many restaurants can honestly say hand on heart that they know where their beef has come from.”
Both men love the idea of serving only Wagyu beef. “It’s just a different texture and taste, renowned in the world as one of the finest steaks,” says Adrian.
“You get that flavour on the plate and the feedback has been overwhelmingly ‘wow’ – Sunday lunches, people saying it’s the best Sunday lunch they can remember having,” says Kevin.
That weekly roast is made from beef cap, from the rump. “We’re one of the few people to use that to roast, but it’s so good the quality of the beef,” he adds. “It’s served freshly carved and everything we do is cooked on site. Our menu is predominantly all freshly cooked and produced on site, with regional produce like Staal Smokehouse smoked salmon.”
For Adrian it’s all about ‘gate to plate’. “Local family, local farm opening in the local city – you know exactly where everything is being sourced and reared, and it’s served locally.”
Kevin, who likes to cook at home, says the menu was tailored around the beef. “Getting the steaks right, getting the cuts right, making it affordable, and starters to complement that. Then trying to introduce local suppliers. It wasn’t about being pretentious: it was offering good quality food that people can enjoy. It wasn’t offering pearls of this and a foam of that. Those 14 courses – you go home and have a pizza because you’re still hungry.”
Alongside steaks, they serve burgers made at the farm, wagyu sausage and mash, wagyu cottage pie, wagyu hash – and a vegan burger of chickpeas and vegetables.
Did they try everything on the menu? “Absolutely,” says Adrian. “Why wouldn’t you?”
The York and Harrogate grills are filling spaces left by national chains that pulled out. Does this worry them?
Kevin says that in chain restaurants the food can often be made centrally and heated on site. “Whereas everything we do is cooked here. There is a bit of a backlash against chains, but if it’s the right price and a good offer, people will travel.”
To find out more go to warrendale- wagyu.co.uk and wagyubarandgrill.co.uk.