Chef Jason Lee knows more than most about how to make the perfect tonkatsu – the flagship dish of his newly opened Newmarket restaurant, Katsu Katsu.
Lee co-founded Japanese restaurant Waku Waku in Remuera last year, and this new addition is another joint project with his good friend and fellow chef Makoto Tokuyama – who also has acclaimed Ponsonby restaurant Cocoro.
Katsu Katsu is designed to be more approachable than Waku Waku and Cocoro, serving tonkatsu, torikatsu (chicken) and ebikatsu (prawn) sets, as well as udon and other snacks such as takoyaki (deep-fried octopus pieces), karaage, and house-made gyoza.
“The concept is very authentic, very Japanese, comfort tonkatsu food,” Lee tells Broadsheet.
That they’ve set up in Newmarket is also meaningful, given both chefs came up together some 20 years ago at a restaurant called Rikka that was once less than 200 metres around the corner. “It feels very special,” says Lee. He’s taken on the role of head chef for the new opening, which he says is a tribute to his and Tokuyama’s former boss and “forever master”, Okada Rikka.
The 30-seat space is long and narrow, with several high stools for dining at the bar looking into the kitchen, as well as a few tables at the front and a couple outside. Black walls echo Waku Waku’s interior palette, and bottles of Fuji mineral water line the shelf along with Suntory highball glasses and wine tumblers.
Back to the perfect tonkatsu – first, says Lee, it’s all about using the best ingredients, which is why they use Harmony free-range pork from the South Island. Their tonkatsu is on the thicker side, and is tenderised without being too rough so it doesn’t ruin the texture. The accompanying dipping sauce has a rich miso flavour with natural sweetness, and a hint of sour flavour to cut through the katsu’s richness. “We say our miso katsu sauce is more of an adult flavour, compared to normal Bulldog katsu [ubiquitous bottled tonkatsu sauce] which has a strong fruity flavour for kids,” laughs Lee.
Every katsu – whether pork, chicken, prawn, or topped with melted cheese – comes as a set with rice, miso soup and cabbage salad that you can have replenished for free. In Japan, this is called “okawari” – essentially, “More, please!”
A soul-warming selection of udon ranges from simple kake udon (just noodles, kakejiru broth and pared-back vegetable garnishes) to kushi udon (topped with fish cake skewers) and goboten udon, which comes from Fukuoka where udon originated, and is served with tempura made from the root vegetable native to Japan, burdock.
To drink, Katsu Katsu is licensed so you can sip an Ippin sake, Asahi or Sawmill beer, or New Zealand-made wine with your meal. They also have several fruity flavours of chu-hi, the Japanese canned cocktail, and canned Suntory Highballs.
From this week, Lee says you’ll be able to order takeaway for the lunch menu – and they’re child-friendly, if your little one is a fan of katsu (basically the perfect kid’s meal).
The whole concept is transporting this writer straight to Tokyo – in spirit. According to Lee, that’s the goal. “Our intention is to introduce more facets of Japanese culture.”
485 Khyber Pass Road, Newmarket, Auckland
Tues to Sun 11am–9pm
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