Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King
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The House of Katsu

posted by in Japanese, Restaurants

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
SM Megamall
Mandaluyong City
02 576 3900 / 398 7962
yabuphilippines@gmail.com

14 Responses to “The House of Katsu”

  • Oh, Lori, you get me to shiver with delight from reading your post and looking at your pictures. That kurobota pork will be the first thing I will have when I go to Yabu.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

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  • You know I don’t eat rice right? I ate here last week and got the chicken curry. I think you can figure out by now what happened next. :P

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    Lori Reply:

    Let me guess – you ate rice? Good on you! Rice isn’t really the enemy you know.

    –lori

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  • You neglected to mention that they also serve the BEST FREAKING KATSU CURRY IN MANILA. I’ve gone there 6 times and that’s all I order.

    Damn, now I want curry.

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    Lori Reply:

    Ian-
    I briefly mentioned it in the beginning. I’ve never tried the Katsu Curry — I always get waylaid by the oysters and the tonkatsu.

    –lori

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  • You must. You musssssssssssssssssst. Tara, I will eat there with you. :D

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  • AHMAHFREAKINGGAWD!!!! Best tonkatsu in the country — I’d eat Kurobota everyday if I could!!!

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  • Ok, this weekend I plan to have the Katsu Curry, then walk over to the Podium for Ian’s ice cream :D

    I love you Sabadoooo…(heck, isang tulog na lang, Friday na!)

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  • i should try this. i’ve never been a fan of katsu, but im always hoping for something to change my mind.

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  • I’m not a fan of fried food either…but I have strong feeling this place might change my mind. The husband adores fried food, will have to check this out very soon! Thanks Lori!

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  • i love their seaweed appetizer! must try the scallop and oyster selection next time!

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  • My best friend and I had dinner at Yabu last Friday, and I ordered the Hire + Seafood Set. When I bit into a scallop, I swear I had a Lori moment: I rolled my eyes in ecstasy. It was so freakin’ good!! I also ordered an oyster a la carte because of your rave review– it did not disappoint. I think I might have nothing but scallops and oysters next time!

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    Lori Reply:

    A “Lori moment.” Very nice description, Ailee. You made me chuckle. Glad you liked it! I do think that an eye-rollingly good meal at Yabu can be had with just the scallops and oysters.

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  • OMG! I’ve been here 2x already and each experience was simply divine!! I always either Rosu or Hire cause that’s what I see people ordering. And now I see the seafood selection!!! OMG again!! I’m gonna go back to Yabu to have this for sure!

    I super duper love their sesame dressing, I can let go of the rice for the unlimited serving of the cabbage :)

    [Reply]

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