Tonki Tonkatsu, Tokyo

13/20 What does it all mean?

 Food Icon 7 | Service Icon 2 | Ambience Icon 2.5 | Value Icon 1.5


Thumbs up

  • Home-style tonkatsu
  • An institution that has been open since 1939
  • Watching the kitchen from the counter is an experience in itself

Thumbs down

  • There are much better tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo
  • The long queue

Recommended dish(es)

  • Rosu Katsu Teishoku (Pork Loin Cutlet with Rice, Soup & Pickles)

TL;DR – Tonki serves home-style tonkatsu, very different from the tonkatsu you would be traditionally accustomed to. While Tonki’s style of tonkatsu has its legions of fans and a multitude of glowing recommendations, if you are after the best tonkatsu in Tokyo, I would recommend you go to the equally famous Narikura.


Tonki Timelapse

Bees in a hive.

There’s no doubt about it, Tonki is amazing.

The fact that this institution has been around doing the exact same thing since 1939 – amazing.
The efficient queueing system that replaces a line with an old man
 who, against all odds, remembers who came in first and who ordered what – amazing.
The wait itself, over an hour during peak times – amazing.

There is one thing that isn’t amazing though. The tonkatsu itself.

Not that Tonki cares; that was never what they were trying to be. In the land of shokunins (Narikura, Tonta, Maruichi), Tonki represents the other, equally Japanese, end of the spectrum – the lean production system. Everything about Tonki embraces the production system made famous by Toyota.

The components of the machine that is Tonki.

Every process is standardised and everyone is specialised (Muri 無理) – there’s a person who solely cuts the tonkatsu, the batter person and the frying person never cross, and there’s a person in the background who shreds cabbage with such dedication you’d think that it was the star on the plate.

The menu is pared back for efficiency (Muda 無駄). There is rosu (loin), hire (fillet), and kushikatsu, a deep fried skewer of pork and onions. There is no choice of breeds or grades. There are no entrees or desserts.

Your tonkatsu is fried the moment you sit down (Mura 斑). There’s a 20 minute wait, but it means a tonkatsu that is served to you at the peak of its taste.

Unlike a shokunin’s relentless pursuit of perfection however, the focus of a lean production system is efficiency and reliability, not excellence.

Tonki Rosu Tonkatsu

Rosu Katsu Teishoku (Pork Loin Cutlet with Rice, Soup & Pickles) – ¥1900/$22 AUD (7/10)

Tonki’s tonkatsu itself is on the other end of the spectrum as well. Egg and flour is applied evenly to the pork three times in alternating layers, which is then gently dipped in finely ground fresh panko to avoid ruining the carefully layered coatings of egg.

As a result, the batter is dark brown and crisp, and what the pork lacks in tenderness and juiciness, it makes up for in robustness. This is not the end point of porcine perfection, it’s classic, home-style tonkatsu, the way it has always been.

Tonki Rosu Tonkatsu

Rosu Katsu Teishoku (Pork Loin Cutlet with Rice, Soup & Pickles) – ¥1900/$22 AUD (7/10)

Therein, however, lies the problem. Tonki may be Japan’s most sentimental tonkatsu but despite multiple glowing reviews, unless you are a middle aged Japanese local, Tonki will likely draw on an empty food memory. You’ll be better off going to the equally famous Narikura.

Tonki Tonkatsu Exterior

Deceivingly peaceful from the outside.

So, is Tonki an institution? Absolutely.
Is Tonki a must visit in Tokyo? Perhaps.
Is Tonki the best Tonkatsu in Tokyo? Absolutely not.

It’s not even close.

Tonki Tonkatsu (とんき 目黒店)
1-1-2 Shimomeguro, Meguro, Tokyo (map)
+81 3 3491-9928
http://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1316/A131601/13002040/

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