Pros: Well Designed. Well Balanced. Good Looks. Comfortable Handle. Lots of Value.
Cons: Mediocre Steel. Not as Good as Forschner.
A friend of mine asked me to sharpen her mother's Mundial Olivier Santoku. While it was here I had the chance to fool around with it, and did.
Mundial makes knives of a peculiarly German type in Brazil. They are thoughtfully, computer designed, forged from a "quality" German "high carbon" alloy. The boys in Brazil do alright. While the workmanship may not be top-end Henckels or Wusthof, neither are the prices.
I don't like santokus, but that sure as heck doesn't mean you shouldn't.
A santoku is hardly a German design, but they have become very popular worldwide and all the German makers are producing them. Santokus are "intuitive," non-intimidating knives. That is, compared to a full size chef's knife they neither punish poor skills, nor reward good ones. In fact, it's something of the reverse. They aren't as versatile as a chef's in skilled hands, but do more, more easily, with "naive" skills.
The handle is high enough to not demand a pinch grip, the blade is short enough that it doesn't take thought or technique to place the point, the profile is flat enough to not require a complicated action, but curved enough to "rock" mince, the point is rounded over and safe. A santoku works for those forced to work on a small board and for those who make theirs seem smaller than they are with clutter.
Feel and Ergonomics Part I:
What sets Mundial knives apart from so many others is its German characteristics of weight and balance. Good balance is never a bad thing, but the better the grip the less important it is. It's very seldom a big deal with knives this short, as they all tend to be back heavy anyway.
But unless you crave "heft," the knife is too heavy. Especially for a santoku; it's very heavy for a santoku. Did I mention that as santokus go this one is heavy? Well it is. It's also thick, and has an unfortunate tendency to wedge. For instance, when I used the knife before sharpening I could see (and feel) a crack running through the carrot ahead of the edge.
Weight is not always negative. A little heft can sometimes help a knife "power through" work by wedging and crushing when the edge isn't good enough to for clean cuts.
Good thing, because the Mundial won't take a great edge to begin with, and won't hold what edge it takes for very long.
Mundial advertises it as being made from "high carbon German steel," and it is, barely. Well, it's not barely German... but it is X45CrMoV15, which is just barely high carbon -- and of the German high carbon series X45... X50... and X55... X45 is the lowest quality of the bunch. As to be expected with this steel, hardening is not great. Although it's reasonably "fine grained," the low scratch hardness prevents it from taking a truly fine edge.
I was able to get the knife very sharp on oilstones, but the best edge I could manage was somewhat toothy and won't last as long as a "professional" sharpening should. By comparison, the knife sharpens better than a Farberware or KitchenAid, a little better than a Henckels International, but not nearly as good as a high-end Henckels, Wusthof, F. Dick or Messermeister. Nor as good as a Forschner, for that matter.
If you're the sort of cook who sharpens with carbide wheel type sharpeners, a "roll-sharp" or any similar system that leaves some "tooth" on the edge, the sharpening limitations aren't really important. However, the steel is quite soft, will roll easily. Anything more acute than fairly obtuse (say 20* or more) will collapse easily. The knife will need frequent, regular "steeling" under any circumstances.
Styling, Handle, Feel and Ergonomics Part II, Fit and Finish:
This is one good looking knife. Most of its visual appeal comes from the handle, bolster, and the blade's finish.
The handle may be the best part of the knife. It's beautifully designed, comfortable and attractive. Comfort is especially important, since most people who will be using this knife will probably grasp rather than pinch. And, since the knife will most likely be used less than sharp, the handle will be used to gain leverage.
Too bad its fit and finish is only so-so. Is it fair to judge fit and finish on a used knife? The knife I sharpened wasn't particularly old and had been well taken care of. It was easy to see that fit and finish on the blade itself were good, but the handle's level of F&F was a bit less so.
This review was critical of the knife's edge characteristics, but that should be viewed in light of how the prospective purchaser will actually take care of her or his knife.
Extremely well designed' made with barely better than mediocre materials and just adequate workmanship; overweight; sold at an attractive price. If you care at all about styling, heft, and quality feel, it's a better knife than a Forschner. If all you care about is a knife that works, get the Forschner.
If looks matter, you want a bolster, like a little weight, and haven't reached the point of consistently maintaining a fine edge, it would be a shame to spend more. A half-dull Mundial will cut every bit as well as a half-dull Wusthof. Call it a C+.