Narikura Tonkatsu

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17/20 What does it all mean?

 Food Icon 9.5 | Service Icon 3 | Ambience Icon 2.5 | Value Icon 2


Thumbs up

  • The best Tonkatsu in Tokyo, likely the world
  • Watching the Chef was a performance in itself, like a highly trained Sushi Itamae at work

Thumbs down

  • The wait. But then again, pork prepared and cooked to order takes time
  • Cash only

Recommended dish(es)

  • Kiramugi or Aguu Breed Pork Tonkatsu (if you’re willing to splash out)
  • Signature 3cm Thick Cut Tonkatsu

TL;DR – Skip Tonki Tonkatsuthe best Tonkatsu in Tokyo, and possibly the world is at Narikura. The batter may be better at Tonta Tonkatsu, but the pork is better at Narikura. Be prepared to wait (in line and for food) and you’ll be rewarded with a highly skilled chef making Tonkatsu with some of the finest pork in the world.


“Ton-fkn-katsu.”

The 3 words that blurt out of my mouth upon my first bite, my mind too absorbed in processing how this mere piece of pork could taste so great to provide coherent sentences. But why was I here, having mindblowingly good Tonkatsu? To answer that, we must go back a step.

I didn’t always like Tonkatsu. After all, what was there to like? A deep fried thin piece of chewy pork that made cardboard seem juicy by comparison. How wrong I was.

You like pork belly right? And you like fried chicken right (don’t lie, we all do)? Well, good Tonkatsu tastes like the combination of both; tender and juicy pork, perfectly deep fried with a light crispy crust to seal in all the juices.

So when I went on my food pilgrimage of 2014, I decided to seek out the best Tonkatsu in Japan, one where the family had been perfecting their craft over several generations. I discovered that Katsuzen is the only Tonkatsu restaurant in the world to have a Michelin star, but to my surprise, it was not that well regarded by locals or critics, ranking only 10th in Tokyo by the trusted Tabelog. What’s 1st? You guessed it, Narikura.

The Tonkatsu at Narikura surpassed my wildest expectations, yet I felt an incredible sense of sadness. Sadness that Tonkatsu is misrepresented to so many people around the world, sadness that, as a result, Tonkatsu is not more popular, and sadness that many may never have the privilege of having Tonkatsu as it should be.

But all is not lost. If you are ever in Tokyo, eat at Narikura, even if you hate Tonkatsu with a passion. Because I’m willing to bet that after one bite of Narikura Tonkatsu, you’ll only be able to say 3 words – “Ton-fkn-katsu”.

Narikura (成蔵)
1-32-11 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku, Tokyo (map)
+81 3 6380 3823
http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1305/A130503/13114695/

Narikura Chef

Chef at Narikura. Photo credit – @yewwooi

It was almost surreal, like something from an anime. To see this lone chef, whose skill had been honed over generations, brow furrowed from concentration on this single cut of pork. Contrast this to the rest of the world, where Japanese restaurants treat Tonkatsu as an after thought, one of the many items on the menu.

Each cut was individually sliced, breaded and fried to order. The way the chef treated the meat was as if he was preparing the finest cut of Matsusaka Wagyu. But no, it was “just” a cut of pork, a damn good one at that.

The world seems to be inspired by Sukiyabashi Jiro (Jiro Dreams of Sushi); his dedication, his skill, his relentless pursuit of perfection. But the thing I love about Japan is that this philosophy is ingrained in their culture, that the story of Jiro is just one of many stories across Japan. This is the story of Narikura.

Narikura Preparation

This isn’t even my final form

The menu is all in Japanese, so here’s a bit of guidance on what and how to order.

Kiramugi (煌麦豚)

  • My favourite
  • The fattiest out of the 3 specialty breeds
  • Raised in Niigata
  • Pigs were fattened with wheat which results in pork that is characterised by a rich oleic acid flavour component

Aguu (豚あぐ)

  • The leanest out of the 3 specialty breeds, but with the most flavour
  • Raised in Okinawa
  • Both delicious and rich in nutrients and is lower in cholesterol while containing 3.5 times more glutamic acid (a type of amino acid that gives it a rich flavour) and twice as much essential amino acid than regular pork.

Nikko Kirifuri-Kogen

  • In between Kiramugi and Aguu in terms of fattiness and flavour
  • Raised in Nagano
  • Because the pigs are bred on the rich soil of Nikko, quality of the meat is maintained at a high level. This specialty pork is tender, has no smell, and has appropriate amount of fat in the lean.

3 cm Signature Cut (Regular Pork)

  • The cheaper option at ¥2060 ($21 AUD), compared to the specialty breeds at ¥2890 ($29 AUD)
  • Marginally less flavour and marginally less fatty. Nevertheless, still one of the best Tonkatsus I’ve ever had
  • Despite an “inferior” cut, you still get the same care and skill from the chef, and the panko crust is just as good

TL;DR – This is some legit pork.

Note, specialty breeds are subject to availability. The three times I went, they never had all three specialty cuts available at the same time.

Loin (ロース)

  • My preferred cut
  • Fattier
  • Similar to a pork chop, but without a bone

Fillet (ヒレ)

  • Tenderer
  • Leaner

Narikura Tonkatsu 1Narikura Tonkatsu 2

Kuramagi Tonkatsu Loin, my favourite cut – ¥2890/$29 AUD (9.5/10)

Eating Kuramagi Pork was like eating Wagyu for the first time. It was so much juicier and tenderer that I could not believe it was actually pork. Like Wagyu has ruined me for all other beef, this may well have ruined me for all other pork.

And the perfect panko crust, crispy enough to provide crunch but soft enough to melt away, once in your mouth, to give way to the flavours of the pork. A touch of Tonkatsu sauce (basically a thicker version of Worcestershire sauce) adds a tang and an extra dimension to the Tonkatsu.

Contrary to popular belief, Tonkatsu is deep fried at a low temperature of 140°C for about 20 minutes. This maintains the juiciness of the pork and ensures a crisp crust.

Narikura Exterior

Narikura’s inconspicuous entrance can be easily missed when there is no line

I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. I ended up coming back to Narikura three times in my short 8 day stay in Tokyo, and in a city where you can find the world’s best sushi, wagyu and ramen, that means a lot.

So fellow foodies, what’s the best pork dish you’ve ever had?

18 thoughts on “Narikura Tonkatsu

      1. Hi,

        I was trying to book nakahara as well, but the concierge told me they didn’t take phone reservations. What’s the best way to get seats?

        Regards, Yuhun

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hey Eric,

    Just went this week, based on your recs. Have to agree, this is the winner from all accounts. I have to say I ordered the large cut (@3,900 yen) of sirloin as I like my meat fatty “Loin (ロース)” – the queuing made me hungry.

    Meat was absolutely spectacular. I swear this was almost looked like wagyu beef disguised as pork! The cut I had looked even fattier than the ones here. Really well-marbled. Not forgetting the lighter style of the batter. It’s of a lighter color than the usual ones which are darker brown. I liked that too, but really couldn’t focus with how good the pork was.

    Will definitely be back. Great article.

    Yuhun

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Eric,

        If I remember, it was on the right side of the menu. And the fatty cut ‘sirloin’. Whole menu is in Japanese so that didn’t really help. But I did take a picture of the menu, so hopefully someone who understands Japanese can translate. I’ll email you the picture.

        Regards,
        YH

        Like

      2. Eric,

        Here you go, picture of the menu.

        Fatty one is the one on top

        [image1.JPG]

        Here’s a picture of it, largest cut

        [image2.JPG]

        Regards, Yuhun

        Like

  2. This place looks fantastic.
    Im visiting Japan in December, so I’ll pay this tonkatsu restaurant a visit at lunch.
    Booking high end sushiyas or kaiseki restaurants in Japan is a nightmare, so im glad i cant just step in here and have meal
    Great review btw!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and the kind words!

      Yeh booking high end restaurants can be a pain, especially when you just want the flexibility of waking up and eating what you want. I would recommend Shimada as well, in terms of places you can step in and have a meal. Kaiseki style food, in a more casual standing izakaya setting.

      Let me know how your thoughts on Narikura when you visit🙂

      Like

  3. Hello,

    Fantastic review and photos – I will be going to Narikura in December because of your review. I just have a few quick questions if you don’t mind.

    1. How would you suggest someone who can’t read or speak any Japanese to order from the menu at this restaurant? Can they speak and explain the menu in English?

    2. Since you said not all the specialty breeds are available at one time- which breed and cut do you recommend for someone who doesn’t like too much fat or too lean but somewhere in between?

    3. Aside from the 3 specialty breeds you mentioned do they ever have any other better breeds?

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Joseph

      First of all, thanks for reading. No problems with the questions.

      1. The staff at Narikura can’t really speak English. However the menu is pretty small, so there isn’t an overwhelming number of items to choose from

      2. I would recommend Kuramugi Ton. You can either go for the loin (ro-su in Japanese) or fillet (hi-re). Loin is fattier and my usual cut. It’s similar to the Sirloin on a steak. The fillet is similar to Tenderloin/Eye fillet steak, supremely tender but little to no fat. If you do go the loin, I would recommend the 190g or 120g cut. The 250g cut is cut from the centre of the pig which is usually the fattiest (and probably too fatty for you)

      3. The breeds depends on their season. I’ve been recently and currently they have a Kagoshima Black Pig, Kiramugi Ton and an Ice Cured pork. Having had all of them, my favourite is the Kiramugi Ton. Each specialty breed is given a full page and is in the centre of the menu (first page being an explanation of the cuts, the last page being the normal menu). The Japanese words for Kiramugi Ton and Loin/Fillet are in the review so you can line it up with the menu.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Hope you enjoy! 😊

      Eric

      Like

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