We all know that some meals are about more than just the food itself, and tonkatsu at Takadanobaba’s Narikura is one such comprehensive culinary experience. It all starts with finding the end of the line; there’s practically always a queue outside this revered pork cutlet specialist, and you can expect to spend at least an hour standing in it before being allowed to enter the basement premises. You could cheat and aim to arrive before the early evening opening time, when the queue is shortest, but that would border on doing Narikura wrong. After all, the sweet aroma of fatty meat and frying oil that wafts up into your nostrils once you reach the top of the staircase – meaning you’re almost at the entrance – is more than worth a fleeting moment of boredom.
And it only gets better after said appetite-stimulating olfactory sensation: orders are taken outside, so once seated in the smallish room with space for only 20 or so diners, you’ll be staring at a beautiful cut of deep-fried deliciousness within mere minutes. Those lucky enough to be directed to a counter chair will get to enjoy the chefs’ craftsmanship at point-blank range.
The exact menu varies slightly depending on the kind of high-grade meat available – on our visit, the standard option had been shipped in from the Kirifuri highlands in Nikko, while brand pork alternatives included Niigata’s Kiramugi and Kagoshima-grown Berkshire (‘Kurobuta’). Teishoku sets centred around either the fattier rosu (loin) or the leaner hire (fillet) cut start from ¥1,600, while you’ll need to fork out at least ¥2,250 for a heirloom version. All teishoku come with tsukemono pickles, potato salad and a superb tonjiru (miso soup with pork and veg), plus a bowl of rice than can be refilled once at no extra cost.
But back to the point: Narikura’s light, crisp, refined and undeniably moreish cutlets are frequently praised as the best in Tokyo, and we’d have a hard time arguing with that moniker. Our tokujo rosu (¥2,950) was decadently fatty but never greasy, with the breaded envelope around the silky smooth meat unraveling perfectly once bitten into. Combined with our chef’s calming demeanour and the respectful but down-to-earth atmosphere of the space, it made for the most blissful meal we’ve had since, uh, our last stop at this pork palace.
Ozawa Bldg B1F, 1-32-11 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
|Opening hours:||11am-2pm, 5.30pm-8.30pm / closed Thu, Sun|
|Transport:||Takadanobaba Station (Yamanote, Seibu Shinjuku lines), Toyama exit; (Tozai line), exit 3|