I have been interested – perhaps obsessed is a better word – with Japanese food for many years now. There is something that is at once minimalist and at the same time luxurious about the cuisine. Japanese cooking emphasises simple and elegant preparations that highlight the unique flavour profiles of the ingredients – rather than the more Western technique of trying to “elevate” dishes with complex sauces. The simplicity and sheer sincerity of Japanese cooking wins for me every time. For example, the Japanese will, with unwavering confidence, put a single piece of pork on a plate with a side of plain shredded cabbage and serve it to you….just like that…because it is in itself pork perfection.
When you ask anyone who lives in Tokyo where to find the pork perfection that is Tonkatsu, Maisen inevitably comes up on the short list of the best Tonkatsu in town. So it was without hesitation that I booked a table at lunch to see for myself – could this really be the best Tonkatsu in all of Tokyo?
The restaurant itself is an old bathhouse with a seemingly endless number of levels and small dining rooms. When we entered at 12noon…all of these were full – all of them. And as we wound through the dining rooms we noticed, the majority of diners (all Japanese) had only one dish – the dish that makes Maisen famous, the Tonkatsu.
The menu is in Japanese only, but thankfully with pictures. In Tokyo, one must get used to a lot of charades and well, just plain old pointing. But I knew what I was here for, so it didn’t take long for me to decide what to order. Even though the menu was quite long, I wanted the same as all the other diners – so I ordered the Tonkatsu and a glass of Suntory Premium Malt Beer.
In short order, hot towels are brought to the table (a norm in every Japanese restaurant from street food to fine dining) with my beer. As I waited for my meal, I observed the frenetic hustle and bustle of the restaurant and mused about how many fillets of fried pork these guys must turn out every day. But my attention quickly shifted to my table as the Tonkatsu arrived. I was instructed by the waiter to drizzle a bit of the special Tonkatsu sauce over top – a mix of ketchup, worcestershire, sake, mirin, ginger, garlic and sugar. This stuff is so famous, they actually sell bottles of it at the door of the restaurant.
The pork was tender and juicy and the crust simultaneously light and dense, fluffy and crispy – yes, this was in fact pork perfection. As is traditional, the Tonkatsu was accompanied with steamed rice and shredded cabbage. These items are unlimited as waitresses parade around with baskets offering refills. The clean, fresh taste and texture of the cabbage combined with the succulent pork cutlet and sweet / sour Tonkatsu sauce made a perfect bite every time. As one comes to expect with Japanese food, this traditional pairing is really an intelligent pairing with the cabbage cutting through the fattiness of the pork and the lightly sweet and tart sauce providing the acidity to give a bit of freshness to the dish overall.
At the end of the meal I found myself collecting all the little crispy bits left on the plate, until I realized the waitress was actually trying to clear my plate.
Is this the best Tonkatsu in Tokyo? It is certainly the best Tonkatsu I ever had the pleasure to enjoy.
4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Telephone: +81 (0) 3 3470 0071