Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Newmarket’s Katsu Katsu Doubles Down On One Thing, And It’s Flawless

By Jesse Mulligan
The pork tonkatsu, gyoza and udon noodle soup at Katsu Katsu in Newmarket. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Tonkatsu

Address: 483 Khyber Pass Rd, Newmarket

Reservations: Not accepted

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Tonkatsu set menu $27, tontori set menu $27, kake udon soup $13, gyoza $12.

Rating: 18/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15

When I was in Japan last month a local foodie gave me a list of different Tokyo specialties and where he liked to eat them. His tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) recommendation was in a particularly obscure part of town — a neighbourhood that barely showed up on Google. We went there by train then walked some distance from the Metro station, following my smartphone map to a tiny alleyway with no English signage (a rare thing since the Olympics came to town).

“Tonkatsu?” I said hopefully to a local, who nodded and pointed to a doorway.

Inside was one of those Japanese restaurants people rave about. Room for just eight people, only one thing on the menu. That one thing was cooked perfectly and eaten ritualistically, and the whole operation was run by one octogenarian and his wife. This, I thought, is the sort of once-in-a-lifetime restaurant I would never have discovered without local knowledge.

“I found your tonkatsu place!” I told him later, and showed him some photos.

“That’s not my place,” he said, rechecking the address he’d given me. “I made a typo.”

All of which is to say that you can evidently find great tonkatsu in any number of places in Tokyo, though I don’t think we’ve had a single Auckland restaurant that does it exclusively, until now.

The dining room at Katsu Katsu is relaxed and sleek, purpose-built for casual dining. Photo / Babiche Martens
The dining room at Katsu Katsu is relaxed and sleek, purpose-built for casual dining. Photo / Babiche Martens

Katsu Katsu has opened near Japan Mart at the bottom of Khyber Pass. I see there’s a Japanese liquor store here too so perhaps this will become Auckland’s Little Tokyo one day — a little strip where expats and sando fanboys like me can visit when we desperately need a hit of that beautiful culture.

Though it’s considerably flasher than the old timers’ place we ate at in Tokyo, Katsu Katsu is very authentic — evidenced not just by what was on the plate but by the queue out the door and the happy Japanese people taking up most of the seats.

We slid into a couple of stools at the bar (I’ve been solo bar eating a lot lately, doing research for a bigger project, and they vary quite a lot in terms of how much fun they are — from overlit and undervibed to places like this, where the bar is in the centre of the room overlooking an exciting kitchen), and browsed the menu which does technically have a few options that aren’t tonkatsu (or torikatsu, subbing chicken for pork) but is focused around this one dish, served on a tray with a range of condiments and delights.

The bar at Katsu Katsu. Photo / Babiche Martens
The bar at Katsu Katsu. Photo / Babiche Martens

The staff are wonderful, some of them literally straight out of Japan (“So nervous each day, so excited!” reported one young woman who was here for a few months’ working holiday; we tried not to think about what part of Auckland she’d be staying in on a waitress wage and hoped the exoticness of New Zealand would make up for some of the less charming parts of city living.)

Drink orders came fast, with a range of wines on offer along with more traditional sakes, sours and highballs. I ordered the customary beer to begin, poured from what the owner says is the best draft Asahi machine in the country. It came fresh and cold and was a perfect match with the fried food to follow.

The pork katsu itself is a simple but flawless object — crumbed and oil-fried then served on a little metal grille which keeps it off the plate and ensures the bottom surface doesn’t steam the crunch away. Pre-sliced, with a golden-brown shell and bright white interior, it’s a simple expression of flavour and geometry but has a lot of pulling power — when you need it, you need it.

Here, it is served with a bowl of elite-quality rice — “The rice is the main event, everything else including the pork are just side dishes,” the owner Jason explained to me — along with miso soup and a heap of finely shredded cabbage (like the rice, this is refillable on request). There are so many sauces and flavourings it can be a little overwhelming but in a good way: a mouthful of this, a spoonful of that, a dab of wasabi and a smear of sauce. It is great eating and a nice mix of the uncomplicated and the refined (Jason’s tiny pyramids of red and green pepper pastes sound like they have their own compelling back story).

The udon noodle soup. Photo / Babiche Martens
The udon noodle soup. Photo / Babiche Martens

We ordered some gyoza because, gyoza, and also a bowl of udon noodles. The noodles were great but the broth spectacular: a duck stock, lovingly tended to and clarified over hours. The chef served it with a little jug of intense reduction in case we needed to up the concentration but though Victoria and I are both flavour hounds, neither of us felt the need to employ it.

Your sake glass arrives in a bamboo box, and they pour the liquor old-school style, until it spills over the top of the glass and into the wooden vessel. It’s a symbolic act of generosity which represents well the abundance of love and talent that has gone into this beautiful restaurant. Join the queue.

Restaurants, new openings, sensational flavours.

Inca Is Better Than Any Mall Food You’ve Ever Eaten. This Peruvian-Japanese restaurant atop the Newmarket mall plates up fresh, charred and rustic dishes (including a guacamole mashed tableside).

VT Station Is A Newmarket Jewel. This Indian restaurant has a vibrant chaat and a firey charcoal grill (for when you’re craving spice and heat).

Aigo Has Opened In Newmarket With The Same Wining Korean-Italian Formula. The Dish, our food news guide, catalogued the opening of the Ponsonby restaurant’s second outpost earlier this year.

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