Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hajime Tonkatsu - My Favourite Meal of 2016

There is a misconception that favourite meals of the year must exist in an exclusive vacuum of michelin starred establishments, or a table bill of a couple hundred bucks per head.

The simple truth is the best food is usually the most comforting, and the ones that you will likely go back for, again and again.

And hence, 2016 has been a roller coaster gastronomic journey of elegant fine dining mixed with tasty and rustic hawker fare. And somewhere in between, a horde of gimmicky cafe food which I'd rather never mention again. Ever.

Hajime Tonkatsu is special. Housed in MyVillage right in the heart of Serangoon Gardens, it is almost inconspicuous. Peering in, it looks much like a homely, humble eating place, and not the fancy, posh Japanese restaurants in town.

Chef Tan is a local boy, that would have retired by most accounts. He used to helm Tonkichi and Tampopo when they were at their culinary heights, but these days together with an amiable manager, he runs Hajime with a dedicated passion and a laser precision that only the Japanese are capable of.

Gyoza

The food does not deviate from most tonkatsu eateries, and prices are kept friendly by the more laid back and family styled decor and furnishings. The gyoza is nicely done, well crisped on the outside and an equally well executed seasoned filling on the inside.  Not greasy as well, which is a recurring theme here too.

Fried Ebi

The deep fried goods are what we are here for and we are first enchanted with their joyful fried prawn with housemade tartar sauce. The panko crust is the star here, all freshly made everyday. Beautifully golden crispy and flaky, it is perfectly seasoned.

The crustacean is also cooked to the right temperature, thus it is adequately moist and juicy within. It is a sign of greater things to come.

Katsu Don

Chef Tan takes great care to point out that the components on his Katsu Don dish are cooked separately as opposed to other places. Hence, the fried pork retains its crispness and the well chosen rice is also carefully doused with the oozy egg and sauce to give it much flavor and taste.

The crunch and sweetness of the caramelised onions makes the perfect accompaniment and balance to this classic Japanese dish and indeed, it is probably the best rendition that I have had.

Pork Loin Tonkatsu

As with most classic tonkatsu establishments, you have to grind your own sesame seeds before adding in the housemade sweet sauce. The set is served with a superb miso soup that tastes as good as a Japanese grandma making it.

On the side are some pickled vegetables and icy cold shredded cabbage which you can drizzle some refreshing yuzu sauce over it. It is also the ideal counter to the fat, deep fried crunchiness of the main star on the set.

The same gorgeous panko breaded crust coats each piece of the prized loin pieces. Perfectly judged in terms of the deep frying process, that fat is still obediently encased within each piece and incredibly juicy and delicious.

Lastly, there is absolutely little or no grease or oil at all. Chef Tan takes great pains to elaborate the crucial step of draining the oil properly and fully and it is evident on the plate. You can enjoy each crispy deep fried goodness without a worry.

Miso Tonkatsu

There is also a Miso Tonkatsu which I highly recommend. It is still the same panko crusted, no greasy pork greatness here. But it is heightened with another housemade concoction of miso, wine and other stuff which I will not devulge.

The resultant condiment is nothing short of brilliant. Sweet, slightly savoury and zesty, it helps to cut through the rich fat and panko crust with an eager decisiveness that gives the traditional tonkatsu a whole new dimension.

Eating here is simple and joyful, as all good food should be. Chef Tan is such a joy to talk to as his fondness for all things cooking is infectious as it is educational.

There might be more fancy places I been to this year, and likely, far more prestigious cooking and chefs that I have experienced.

But for sheer gastronomic delight and comfort, nothing can displace Hajime Tonkatsu. It is simply, my favorite dish of 2016. And then some.

Hajime Tonkatsu and Ramen
1 Maju Avenue
MyVillage, Serangoon Gardens
#02-07/08

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