It is safe to say that good katsu in the Philippines is no longer a novelty. Judging by long lines and equally long waiting lists, well-renowned, authentic Japanese katsu restaurants who have set foot in the country continue to draw in hundreds of customers daily, signifying that the katsu craze will not be dying out anytime soon. Indeed, katsu restaurants have come up with all sorts of gimmicks to keep their patrons hooked on their brand.
Ginza Bairin, new as it is to the Philippine dining scene, needs none of that.
Now open at The New Glorietta Mall
The thoughtfulness and sincerity that goes into Ginza Bairin is what impresses me most about it. The brand is traditional, understated, and a timely homage to the beauty of the Ginza district. Established by pharmacist Nobukatsu Shibuya in 1927, this generations-old family business takes pride in being one of the pioneers in the katsu industry. Today, Nobukatsu Shibuya’s grandson, Masaya Shibuya, stands at the helm of this successful business venture. Together with Operations Manager Tetsuya Ohyabu and Philippine Managing Director Scott Tan, he has been able to bring his brand of delicious katsu to local shores.
Inside Ginza Bairin
“I’ve always been a big fan of katsudon,” shares Tan, enthusiastically. “Ginza Bairin became my favourite. When I would visit Japan, I would always drop by just to have their katsu.”
Ginza Bairin’s katsudon is different from what we have familiarised ourselves with here in the Philippines. It is prepared and cooked with the choicest ingredients: fresh meat, cottonseed oil, and special breadcrumbs (panko). It is also cooked with two golden farm fresh eggs. One is mixed into the pork during cooking, and the other is laid to rest atop the donburi, giving the katsu its trademark velvety taste.
Special Katsudon Set
The Special Katsudon Set (P395) is a Ginza Bairin original that remains to be a classic favourite even today. Tender hire katsu, Japanese Koshihari rice, two golden eggs and a special sauce come together to make the most delightful donburi that I have ever come across during my katsu adventures. It is surprisingly light and pleasant—a fantastic start to the ideal authentic katsu experience.
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Shibuya-san took a moment to tell us about how he best enjoyed his donburi. Instead of mixing the egg with the meat and rice, he would take some meat from the edge of the bowl and dip it into the egg yolk before eating.
Mixed Set A
For some variety, one may choose to avail of any of their set meals. For our dinner, we had Mixed Set A: Rosu, Hire, Prawn (P425). Tan describes it as the perfect way to enjoy the best of Ginza Bairin katsu. One may choose to partake of the katsu either by dipping it in Himalayan salt, the special mustard, or ground sesame seeds with katsu sauce. I was particularly happy with the prawn, as the shrimp itself was fresh, whole and perfectly cooked. The breadcrumbs, laid on thinly, do not interfere with its flavour. The Unagi Katsu Set (P795) is one of Ginza Bairin’s most unique offerings. I have had eel in several dishes before, but never as a katsu. Again, this was another pleasant surprise. The flavour and texture of the eel is quite prominent, and it flakes nicely.
Unagi Katsu Set
The biggest delight was, of course, the Katsu Sando (P215). Crisp hire katsu is sandwiched between two layers of (unbelievably) soft bread and seasoned with two special sauces. This is a post-WWI dish that Shibuya had dreamed up during the rice shortage. This is probably the boldest and most flavourful among Ginza Bairin’s offerings; wasabi lovers will definitely dig this with its added spice.
Their Gyoza (P150), comes, as Tan said it himself, “with wings”. It is very crisp on the outside, but full-bodied and soft on the inside. Rounding out the breaded goodness was our dessert, Coffee Jelly with Vanilla Ice Cream (P90).
Coffee Jelly with Vanilla Ice Cream
It is easy to empathize with Tan’s passion for the brand. Ginza Bairin speaks of old-world authenticity that has found its niche in the modern world. Everything is prepared and made according to the strict standards of the Japanese—quality is uncompromised and only the best ingredients are used in order to create the best of dishes. And yet everything remains as pure and as humble as it once was.
It is an honour to have Ginza Bairin in the Philippines.
Images by Jayne Orlina.