This isn’t just a breaded pork chop.
“I’m not really a fan of fried food,” Peachy Concepcion tells me.
“You’re not?!” My eyes widen in disbelief.
She chuckles at my reaction. “At least not until John [her husband] took me to try this katsu restaurant at a train station in Osaka.” She smiles at the recollection. “I realized that until that point, I’d been eating badly fried food.”
It was that fateful meal and certainly the succeeding ones thereafter that inspired John and Peachy, together with partners Gerry and Jojo Santos to open Yabu: House of Katsu. It’s a restaurant with a special distinction: it’s Manila’s first and – for now – only katsu establishment. Since they opened last November, customers’ appetites for Yabu’s breaded pork cutlets, seafood katsu, and katsu curry have proven insatiable. I meet people who’ve eaten there once a week since it opened and others who – out of embarrassment – simply refuse to quote their exact number of visits. Another fan enthuses by email, “Lori! I just tried Yabu’s katsu curry. I want to live there and have it everyday.”
Closer inspection reveals that these square slats are actually hundreds of wooden sake cups. Ingenious interior design idea. The manga on the walls depict the story of how Yabu came to be. Yabu’s servers wear the coolest shirts like this one. My favorite ones read: “Curry in a hurry” and “Drink more sake.”
Choose any 2 appetizers (P175) and start – or end – your meal with them: soybeans, seaweed, potato salad. Not shown: silken tofu.
Katsu is Japanese for “cutlet,” most commonly pork but also beef, chicken, or seafood that’s dipped in batter, dredged in panko (breadcrumbs) and deep-fried. At the helm of Yabu’s kitchen is Japanese consultant, Kazuya Takeda, a head chef at Tonkatsu Takeshin, one of Tokyo’s most popular tonkatsu restaurants. As a master of all things katsu, he’s responsible for the special house-made panko that envelops almost all their dishes. Superlatively light and so texturally satisfying that with every bite, the panko flits on the tongue then fades away.
At Yabu, its rightful star is the Kurobota Pork Set (120 grams; P515). Culled from the Berkshire Black Pig, its heavy marbling ensures an indulgence of tenderness and flavor.
The Rosu (pork loin; see cover photo) is equally good. Three quarters of an inch thick, it possesses a rim of glistening fat encircling its pink and succulent center hidden beneath a tumble of panko. (90/120/180grams; P280/P320/P365). A leaner alternative though no less tasty is Hire (HEE-reh), the tenderloin cut that’s so soft it can be sliced with chopsticks. (100/150grams; P295/P365). Every set consists of Japanese rice, miso soup, tsukemono (pickles), unlimited cabbage with sesame dressing, and a fruit bowl for dessert.
Select your sauce.
Inherent to my enjoyment of eating katsu is the ritual that precedes it. It begins when the server presents a portion of white sesame seeds in a rather unusual bowl. Called a suribachi, its unglazed and grooved surface prove most effective at grinding the sesame seeds with the accompanying surikogi (grinding stick). Round and round, this way and that, the friction soon releases an aroma redolent of nuts and heat; my stomach rumbles its reply. Ready now, I ladle in long and languid spoonfuls of the tonkatsu sauce atop the now-ground sesame seeds. Rich and heady and dark as tar, the sauce’s main ingredient is pureed apples hit with vinegar, dark soy sauce, mustard, and ponzu (Japanese citrus). Familiar to Filipinos as “Bulldog sauce,” a typical katsu meal involves ingesting this exquisite sauce by the bottleful. I’d drink it if I could, it’s that good.
Jumbles of shredded cabbage bathed in the addictive sesame dressing cut the cloy of oil and keep the appetite revved.
Aside from the aforementioned pork katsu, consider the other katsu sets: chicken, seafood (begins at P275), or the mixed katsu sets, a captivating, I-want-it-all combination of pork and seafood, chicken and seafood, or all seafood (P425).
Yabu’s katsudon comes in chicken or pork. (P260/P265) Oysters without compare. Scallops of seduction.
I must give special mention to two items on the seafood menu. Yabu’s jumbo oysters (P100/piece) are outstanding. Imported from Hiroshima, Japan and as big as a baby’s fist, each bite begins with a crunch and cascade of crumbs followed by flashes of brine and sea. The US scallops – “Never seen ‘em that big before!” whispers my companion – are tender, like nibbling on a lover’s lip, but decidedly more delicious.
Seafood selection. Below, Jumbo Prawn Set (P425)
At Yabu, every meal is punctuated by participation and pleasure. The clack of chopsticks, the measuring and mixing of one’s sauce, and eating food that’s unerring in technique and artful in its simplicity. It’s no wonder that people want to live here.
Yabu: House of Katsu
2/F Mega Atrium
02 576 3900 / 398 7962