The tonkatsu specialist from Nagasaki lands in Thonglor.
Hamakatsu, a well-known tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant hailing from Nagasaki on Japan’s northwest coast has just opened its first international branch, at The Taste Thonglor.
The Bangkok opening offers mostly the same dishes as in Japan, plus more unagi (eel) options, and a carrot and apple dressing that's been adapted to suit the Thai palate.
Recommended dishes include the whopping cheese, pork loin and pork fillet set (B395), which also comes with a deep-fried prawn, and the bowl of chopped and boiled Japanese organic unagi on rice (B690). Do ask for the chef’s daily special assorted cutlets (B295), too. All katsu come with unlimited rice, miso soup, cabbage and pickles.
Another highlight is the 90-minute dessert buffet (starting at B100 if you've already bought a katsu set), which comprises seasonal Thai fruits, several flavors of sherbet like pineapple and mango, and tiny treats such as green tea roll cake, soy shortcake and milk pudding with mango sauce.
Another in the conveyor belt of supposedly legendary Japanese restaurants arriving on our shores, Hamakatsu’s story is typically rags-to-riches. Beginning life in 1962 as a Nagasaki hole-in-the-wall serving tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlets), the chain has since expanded to more than 100 branches all over Japan. Bangkok is its first foreign outpost.
Positioned front and center of Thonglor’s shiny new food-focused mall The Taste, Hamakatsu’s glass facade, muted color scheme, doting wait staff and tinkling piano soundtrack add up to a vibe that’s more Zen-like Japanese day spa than poky izakaya. And there’s a certain level of reverence here for what’s essentially deep-fried comfort food. The menu explains that the pork is sourced from a free-range farm in Samphran, while most other ingredients—from the unagi (eel) to the, erm, cabbage (a big deal, apparently)—are flown in from the motherland.
As you await your katsu, you grind your own sesame seeds before adding your choice of the two dipping sauces (one sweeter than the other; both delicious). The whopping cheese, pork loin and pork fillet set (B395), which also comes with a deep-fried prawn, showcases the extra attention to detail. The golden cutlets are almost free from oil with genuinely tender pork housed in perfectly crisp breading.
The other highlight sets here focus on grilled unagi (B590-980), which packs a melt-in-your-mouth, paste-like texture with a shiny soy glaze that gets the balance just right between sweet and salty. These katsu and unagi sets all come with unlimited rice, miso soup, shredded cabbage and pickles—a feast that makes the menu’s smattering of raw dishes and salads like the bland salmon Caesar salad (B200) seem like an afterthought. We do like the mabo-nasu (eggplant and ground pork stir fry, B120), though: spicy with a semi-crunchy texture that might remind local diners of nam prik ong.
The 90-minute dessert buffet (starting at B100 if you’ve already bought a set) is good value for its solid array of fruit, ice cream and sherbets, milk puddings and cakes, but not really essential. Sukhumvit has no shortage of decent katsu specialists, but few are quite as refined as this. Our only complaint would be that even with its lengthy list of sake and shochu, Hamakatsu feels more like a daytime space.
This review took place in November 2015 and is based on a visit to the restaurant without the restaurant's knowledge. For more on BK's review policy, click here.