This tonkatsu place is more than worthy of a visit with one glaring exception.
There’s an open agreement that Manila’s best tonkatsu is found at Yabu. There are more than a few worthy contenders for runner-up of course, other places capable of satiating a tonkatsu fix when Yabu is geographically undesirable (too far!) and congested (too full!). Shinjuku serves a superb tonkatsu -believe it or not- as does this new place I heard about through the underground foodie grapevine.
Tonkatsuya is located in the basement of a rather dubious looking condominium building, the signage of which is hidden. It’s situated in the core of San Antonio Village, one of those areas in Makati where pedicabs still exist and internet cafés do business side by side with nail designs and panaderias.
Delving into the belly of the building, past a sari-sari store and a nail spa (like I said, this is San Antonio Village), Tonkatsuya shines as the lone eating spot. Minimally decorated, it doesn’t possess outwardly Japanese interiors and it can’t afford to. The space is sparse and small and utilized to the hilt.
According to the grapevine, Tonkatsuya is owned by a Japanese man who ran a similar operation in his native land. He’s here now, a rather stern, flinty-eyed fellow but appearances aside, he has a way with fried food and that’s what matters.
The menu is rather large for a small operation consisting of Tonkatsu sets that use the pork fillet, and Hirekatsu sets where pork loin is the star. A set includes rice, miso soup, shredded cabbage, and bean sprouts. I want to do something slightly different so I order the Cheese Hirekatsu set (P245) which has strips of melted processed cheese languidly lying atop the pork. Cheap cheese this is but its characteristic saltiness and melty nature go well with the pork. Ah, this pork loin! As the inevitable comparisons go, it’s immediately evident that it’s not as tender as that at Yabu but it’s soft enough and fried perfectly. Not oily either, its breading is just light enough so as to be seen, and its crispy exterior bumped and touched by the tongue. Kick things into overdrive by dabbing each bite of pork with the yellow mustard – some say radish – and feel your taste buds flare and fire up. Douse the flame with the cold glassfuls of complimentary rice tea.
Of course all condiments that make up a proper tonkatsu meal are in attendance. There’s the tonkatsu sauce familiar to Filipinos as “Bulldog sauce,” heady as it is with overtones of vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, pureed apples, and ponzu (Japanese citrus). There’s also a bottle of light soy sauce which is wonderful when let flown freely over the shredded cabbage. As with both condiments, crank the volume a bit (or a lot) with the accompanying bottles of shichimi togarashi (zesty Japanese chili seasoning) and the Japanese sesame oil.
The Donburi dishes are well-represented by the Katsudon (P210), a dish that’s easy to love since it combines rice and egg. Tonkatsuya’s version isn’t overly wet as some others tend to be and since this is a tonkatsu place, the pork fillet strips sit like the stars they are on lightly moistened rice, bellies emblazoned with cooked egg.
The staff goes beyond friendly and efficient, and because this place is so obscure, they have an exceptional sense of direction when patiently navigating hopelessly lost, would-be customers over the phone.
We keep our meal lively by taking breaks from the katsu (pork cutlet) and further indulging our fanaticism for the fried. I like the Ebi Fry (prawn; P210) very much. Like long, fat fingers, they’re huge prawns whose meaty interiors are revealed only when the teeth tug gently at the crisp coating. The Kaki Fry (P250/4 pieces) oozes briny goodness with every bite, and my Bin inhales the portion of Gyoza (P170). With a pork-bacon filling, the dumplings’ well-fried edges remind him of the ones we had in an izakaya in Tokyo. There are better Chashue (pork) ramens (P190) to be had elsewhere in Manila so pass on that.
Now for the BUT…
All this makes for a tonkatsu meal that’s guaranteed to be one of the best in Manila. The caveat however is that there’s NO PARKING to be had in the vicinity, absolutely none. The guard that the building employs wouldn’t last five minutes as a traffic aide, he’s so useless it’s not funny. We’re lucky when we come over because it’s a weekend and we’re ballsy enough to park our car up on the adjoining sidewalk kitty-corner to the building that Tonkatsuya is in. (Thank god for good suspension). To save you from on-the-edge aggravation, I fervently suggest that you come here with a driver, someone who can wait for you. Barring that, take a cab, a pedicab, or some other form of public transportation. The meal is more than worth it but parking problems never are.
Palm Tower B, St. Paul Rd., San Antonio Village, Makati. (One block away from Bagtikan St.)
(02) 896 1990