When a restaurant boldly decides to give itself a title, the connotation that it carries must live up to the hype. Such is the case of Yabu, “The House of Katsu”, located at the 2nd floor of the SM Megamall Atrium. It’s Japanese all the way, but as the name suggests, the menu is chock full of everything breaded and fried (katsudon). Katsudon derives its name from tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl).
When we arrived, the place wasn’t jam-packed so reservation or no reservation, we were seated right away. The area was still very spacious, with two main dining areas quirkily separated by a glass (or fiberglass) panel decorated with large pieces of comic book pages that detail how a “katsu master” passes on his wisdom to a naïve apprentice. So the place does invite a little bit of casual humor.
As soon as we settled in, we were given a small bowl with regular and black sesame seeds, together with a wooden pestle. The server assigned to us gamely demonstrated how the dipping sauce is made, which seemed simple enough for someone like me to understand: really grind the seeds until it resembles coarse powder and then add in the thick sauce. The sauce isn’t too sweet, with a tangy taste that reminds me of really thick Worcestershire sauce.
The menu also holds the “Yabu promise”: if we’re not happy with what we’ve eaten, they will gladly replace it/we get our money back or if the food isn’t served within 30 minutes, it’s free of charge. The confident declaration of excellence doesn’t stop there: Yabu apparently tapped Chef Kazuya Takeda of Tonkatsu Takeshin (in Tokyo) to help train their chefs. With our tummy’s grumbling, our expectations were definitely high.
Our food arrived around 20 minutes after we gave our orders. Not bad at all.
When you order a Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) Set, you can either have the ‘hire’ (flaky pork tenderloin with no fat) or ‘rosu’ (juicy pork loin with a trimming of fat). Prices vary according to the weight of the pork.
We had the 120 gram Rosu Set (355php). It comes with generous serving of unlimited thinly sliced cabbage (according to the comic strip, the cabbage blades need to be exact in thickness) with sesame dressing, unlimited Japanese rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles and a bowl of fruit (watermelon and pineapple – my favorite).
The problem with cooking pork, especially a cut that doesn’t have a lot of fat, is that it can get very tough if overcooked, and even if it’s cooked perfectly, without the pork fat it can taste bland (I’m a firm believer that pork needs to be served with a generous amount of fat!).
Surprisingly, the pork was juicy and not tough at all. The breading evenly coated the meat well, without it being too crunchy.
You can either dip every piece you skewer in the dipping sauce you made, but I think the katsu can still hold its own without it.
Of course the hire delivered. It was flaky and had no traces of it being tough, just like the rosu. But when I tried a piece of breaded cream dory, I probably had a foodgasm. My friend felt the same way. Right there I developed tunnel vision and saw only the cream dory which was incredibly soft and flaky without being fishy and slimy. There’s probably no other word to describe it except perfect. It was the perfect marriage of crunch from the breading and silky softness from the fish itself. It doesn’t need to be dipped in the sauce or paired with rice to be appreciated (and loved). But those nuances work, too.
But I didn’t forget about the other things in the set!
The tiger prawn was cooked perfectly because like the breaded pork, it wasn’t tough at all. My least favorite item on the set would have to be the scallop though just because I would prefer to have it steamed or pan-seared and not breaded. But hey it is a katsu place after all. The eggplant and the pepper were great additions to the set since it offered another “texture under another texture” option.
Both sets had the same side dishes: the cabbage with the sesame dressing duo complimented each other well. Run of the mill coleslaw this is not. But between my friend and I, she liked the cabbage more than I did. The miso soup tasted just the way miso soup should taste like, so no arguments there. I particularly like the Japanese rice, which has a deliciously inviting neutral taste that goes well with the breaded items.
I ordered shochu (an Iichiko Super, 175php) with my set, which had a great kick to it. Sake (rice wine) is an alcoholic beverage made from rice. Shochu is Japanese liquor made from other ingredients, not just rice: sweet potato, buckwheat or barley. While sake is brewed, shochu is distilled.
The servers were attentive without being smothering, which is always something I appreciate when dining out. Although this can be negligible, the chairs a little bit low relative to the height of the table. I’m 5’10” and I did notice that. My friend 5’2” and she was really the one who felt it. But we went through dinner happy and pretty full so it wasn’t that big of a deal!
All in all, Yabu, is the Japanese restaurant that could. I’ve always been partial to all things breaded and fried because that has always been on my list of comfort foods. But this little resto takes it a notch higher by translating authenticity into a casual, no frills dining experience. The prices are a bit steep but I felt that every meal was worth it. I would definitely come back again, if only for the cream dory (haha!) and maybe for more selections next time.
Disclaimer: In the spirit of marketing, I was invited by the brand manager and ordered free of charge. But all opinions are mine.
2nd floor, SM Megamall Atrium, Julia Vargas Avenue, Mandaluyong City