Alongside geisha and poisonous blowfish, gourmet Kobe beef fits nicely into the stereotype of refined Japan. And like astronomically priced department-store melons, this pricey breed of cattle does much to reinforce the image of a land of big-spenders.

Yet, it seems, the opportunity to savor Kobe beef is still deemed by many to be an indulgence worth the splash-out. Why? Because everyone knows that Kobe beef cows, bred primarily in Hyogo Prefecture, are a cut above. They have a reputation for being the most-coddled cattle on earth, regularly enjoying beer and receiving massages so that their unsaturated fat is evenly distributed, producing perfectly marbled meat of global renown.

So plan on being quietly wowed when you visit Ikuta in Yoyogi, an establishment that prides itself on being one of the few places in Tokyo where you can dine on authentic Kobe beef, or more specifically, the prized black Tajima breed. One of the restaurant's walls boasts the autographs of celebrities who have dined there, but Ikuta doesn't trumpet ostentation. Like its dark wood interiors and modern washi lamps, it exudes quiet, slow-burning class.