Tonkatsu is not just crumbed pork - it's a religious experience.
With a national cuisine celebrated for its low-fat sashimi, sushi and reviving miso soup, I love that when it comes to deep-fried food, the Japanese really know how to party. Whether it's light and aerated puffs of tempura, or the crunchy satisfaction of a panko crumb coating, there's always a deep appreciation of the elegance that a deep-fryer can bring.
This is why, on my second visit to Miso, I cannot go past ordering the pork tonkatsu again off the menu. The latest addition to the Masuya Group that owns Masuya, Musashi and sushi bar Makoto, Miso is a small modern diner decked out in white and lime green, and always buzzing with patrons.
On a menu that's helpfully accompanied by photos, sashimi sets, udon noodle soups and bento boxes vie for my attention, but really, the pork tonkatsu is the only thing I'm lusting after.
Yaki sakana set $15.80
Grilled mackerel with a touch of mineral salt
The lunch companion for today, Fouad from The Food Blog, has much more self-control. I'm impressed when he orders the yaki sakana or grilled fish set, a serving of mackerel grilled with mineral salt.
We can smell the mackerel as soon as it exits the kitchen, a pungent fishy oiliness that intensifies as soon as it is deposited on our table. The tray holds a multitude of small dishes, a popular dining style known as teishoku, where a main dish is complemented by rice, miso soup and complementary pickles and salads.
The mackerel has quite a strong flavour, its oiliness permeating every mouthful. There's plenty of distraction to be found in the side dishes though, a mound of raw shredded cabbage topped with a splodge of mayonnaise, or two flat sweet slices of tamago, a soft wet rolled omelette made from free-range eggs and dashi stock.
Strips of speckled konyaku, a high-fibre jelly made from the root of a Japanese yam, have a satisfying gelatinous chewiness. A shallow bowl of cooked kiriboshi daikon shreds is sweet with soy and sake.
Tonkatsu pork set $16.80
Free range pork (180g)
The arrival of the tonkatsu pork never fails to set my heart aflutter. Golden in hue and intoxifying in aroma, it sits elevated on a metal rack for optimal crispness, although in my mind, it also acts as an altar as testament to its divinity.
Inside the pork tonkatsu
The pork fillet comes already sliced - ready for your chopsticks to briefly dip it into the saucer of fruity brown tonkatsu sauce before transfer to your anticipating tastebuds. The shards of panko crumbs are what you notice first, a bristling crunch that gives way to the tender pork generously ribboned with the succulence of pork fat. The pork is Otway Pork from Victoria, a free-range breed that is fed a natural grain-based diet.
The richness of the pork is best balanced with mouthfuls of the raw shredded cabbage, cool and palate-cleansing. The teishoku set allows you to hop, skip and jump around your dishes, a bit of rice, a sip of soup, a few nibbles of sweet daikon or the simplicity of mayonnaise-dressed macaroni that is somehow endearing.
Grab your pork I say. It'll always love you back.
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Miso Japanese Restaurant
Shop 20, World Square Shopping Centre
123 Liverpool St, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 9686
Lunch Monday to Friday 11.45am - 2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Saturday 5.30pm - 9.30pm
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4/12/2010 04:14:00 a.m.