Despite its seemingly simple appearance, Japanese tonkatsu takes plenty of technique to get right. Some restaurants take years to create the perfect deep-fried pork cutlet recipe. Among the most successful contenders is Saboten – a Shinjuku-born brand that boasts more than 500 tonkatsu outlets across the globe. Arriving in Hong Kong for the first time, the chain has taken over the basement level of Henry House in a sprawling space which has been fitted out with light wood beams and leather-padded chairs in shades of matcha green and adzuki bean red.
As expected, the menu reads like a recipe for a coronary, with page after page of deep-fried offerings. The signature premium pork loin set ($188) arrives with a thick, panko-crusted cutlet cooked in top-grade vegetable oil. The breading on the pork barely holds together, the whole thing crumbling ever so delicately when taken in a bite. The crust yields to a firm, pale, pink, meaty centre that retains an even succulence. It’s no small feat for a lean loin cut that’s prone to overcooking. The katsu is impressively ungreasy – a testament to the expert timing and temperature control that Saboten has nailed down after more than 40 years of deep-frying experience.
The pork could benefit from a richer flavour, but it’s nothing a squeeze of fresh lemon can’t fix. Even better is the pink Bolivian rose salt – a miracle condiment that draws out and magnifies even the slightest of flavours. And, as with most authentic tonkatsu joints, diners at Saboten are presented with a dish of toasted black and white sesame, and a small pestle to grind the seeds. The pulverised sesame adds a soft nuttiness to the restaurant’s homespun tonkatsu sauce – a thick and tangy paste that deliciously smothers the cutlets.
All set meals come with limitless portions of miso soup, steamed Japanese rice and finely shredded, crisp, cold lettuce designed for dousing in ponzu dressing and white sesame sauce. The greens take a little guilt off the meal and the complimentary pickled radish and cucumbers are also welcome interludes between bites of breaded pork.
Other offerings are done with equal flair. The deep-fried shrimp ($158) remain pillowy inside their compact panko shells. Curry rice with pork tenderloin katsu ($138) carries a fruity sweetness that’s offset by a gentle touch of spice. Saboten pays due reverence to food that’s well-seasoned, breaded and deep-fried to a sun-kissed golden brown. If you enjoy this sort of food, you should definitely pay this new restaurant a visit. Dorothy So
LG/F, Henry House, 42 Yun Ping Rd, Causeway Bay, 2895 4111; www.saboten.hk. Mon-Fri noon-3pm, 6pm-11pm & Sat-Sun noon-3.30pm, 6pm-11.30pm. Dinner for two: around $350.