Tonkatsu in Tokyo
Tokyo has been award more Michelin stars than any other city in the world. With this in mind, we wanted to check out a Michelin star establishment while we were in Tokyo. Even though we are typically budget travelers, food is something we don’t mind splurging on, and we happened to find an option that was within our budget but still offered a fine dining experience.
Katsuzen is Tokyo’s only Michelin star tonkatsu restaurant. Tonkatsu is a breaded deep-fried pork cutlet that is often served with rice and cabbage or as an added protein on top of curry or noodles such as ramen or udon. Katsuzen is family run business that has spent the past 50 years perfecting the art of deep frying, so if you’re a fan of tonkatsu or all things fried, this place is a must. Read on to find out more about our dining experience at Katsuzen to see if it’s a good fit for you to visit while in Tokyo!
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Michelin Star Dining in Tokyo: Katsuzen
Katsuzen is located in Ginza, an upscale shopping district in central Tokyo. It is located on the fourth floor of a shopping complex that houses Barney’s New York on the ground level. The entrance is very simple with just a slit curtain and minimal signage, making it easy to miss if you aren’t paying close attention.
Katsuzen is fairly small, offering only a communal bar that seats eight and a private tatami room big enough for a small group. If you plan on visiting, try to make a reservation ahead of time to ensure that they’ll be able to accommodate you. Fortunately even without a reservation, we went for an early lunch on a weekday and managed to grab a seat right away.
Imagine our horror when we walked in wearing an oversized funfetti looking sweater and all the other customers were all salary men in business suits out for lunch. Despite our fail regarding the dress code, we were still well received by the staff.
There were three staff members, a server/runner and two chefs in the kitchen. We only interacted with the server/runner but she was very friendly and attentive. The moment we were done looking at the menu she was ready to take our order and everything about the meal flowed seamlessly.
The lunch set starts off with an amuse-bouche of seasonal vegetables that was beautifully presented and refreshing to eat, the perfect start to our meal. The tonkatsu followed accompanied by miso soup, rice, and a cabbage salad.
FYI: you “drink” miso soup in Japan, so you are not given a spoon.
The tonkatsu is made fresh to order, so allow for 15-20 minutes before receiving your piping hot cutlet fresh out the fryer. The batter on the tonkatsu was light and crispy, and the pork itself was juicy and tender. The tonkatsu is served with a dollop of mustard and Worcestershire bbq sauce.
Katsuzen has certainly perfected tonkatsu. Even though tonkatsu is far from our favorite Japanese dish, this was the best tonkatsu we’ve ever had. Legends (aka the internet) say the pork for Katsuzen’s tonkatsu comes from happy pigs that graze on mountains in the countryside, true or not, the pork is top notch.
The lunch set was 3,800yen, which is less than $40 USD. If you plan on going, go for lunch, as the prices are cheaper. Otherwise you’ll end up paying more during dinner for the same set.
FYI: tipping is not required or encouraged in Japan.
*tipping is actually considered rude*
Katsuzen was definitely worth the visit. Even though this was the most expensive meal of our trip, we have no regrets. Would we go back? Honestly, probably not but only because it’s out of our typical budget for one meal and tonkatsu isn’t something we crave when dining out.
For us, Katsuzen was a once in a lifetime experience. The tonkatsu was a cutlet above the rest. If you are a tonkatsu fanatic or would like to try a fine dining experience that won’t break the bank, Katsuzen is perfect for you.
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