Months after its' debut on our shores, we finally got to try out that much talked about purveyor of katsu, Yabu.
I have to say, that wait was worth its' weight in gold. Or in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), in this case.
We opted to visit their Mall of Asia branch, as it is closest to us, as well as being the latest of their (so far) three branches. It was also a calculated move to visit them at a traditionally 'sleepy' hour (late afternoon) since, judging by the reviews and posts about the lines during 'proper' meal times (lunch and dinner), it might be a bit of a wait had we gone then.
We were led to our table and given a wet towel to welcome us.
The server assigned to our table then asked us if we were aware of their 'ritual', the preparation of a sesame based sauce. Being our first time, we wanted to hear her run through it with us. It starts out with a saucer filled with different-hued sesame seeds.
After some poundin' and grindin', it releases a heady fragrance (I've always loved the smell of anything sesame) and becomes powdery.
And that's when you add 'the' sauce provided.
As soon as I opened the menu, my eyes zoomed in on two choices: the Kurobata, known as the black Berkshire pig, comparable to the status of Kobe beef (called the "High King of katsu" in their menu); and the Soft Shell Crab. The latter won out, only because I have never had soft shell crab yet. (Come to think of it, I have not had any porcine dish labeled a Berkshire. Hmm.)
Two words: Crustacean heaven.
The breading was light, and I could not find any trace of oiliness, despite its deep-fried preparation. In fact, all their dishes are served on a strainer, which we both agreed was unnecessary, since no oil seemed to seep out from either of our choices. I was half-expecting some form of resistance to my enamel, even though it was labeled "soft-shelled", and was pleasantly surprised to find none at all.
The ratio of crab meat to crab fat almost measured in equal amounts, so the fragrance and texture served as delectable precursors to that savory experience of sinking your teeth into the dish, and I found myself willing my mouth to chew slower to prolong the taste and sensation swimming so melodiously in an oral symphony.
Arthur chose the Hire and Seafood Katsu Set, described as a "piquant mix of pork and seafood" in their menu, and would be colloquially called a "sampler", since it consisted of pork (hire), black tiger prawn, cream dory, scallop, eggplant and pepper. While he did not appreciate the cream dory too much, the pork and prawn were met with better enthusiasm, and because I was able to 'sample' all of his dishes as well (and the pork, soft and fragrant, rated the best item in my book), I was quite impressed that all of the items carried that lightness and non-oiliness that characterized my own choice.
Since we ordered them as sets (each of our sets cost PhP 485), it included miso soup (which we both agreed was one of the best we have had from Japanese restaurants in Metro Manila), unlimited rice as well as unlimited cabbage with your choice of goma (sesame dressing) or shouyu (sesame based vinaigrette), some pickled items and fruit slices to end your meal.
The courteousness of the staff is matched by their attentiveness, something that I am very particular about, given this country's penchant for viewing customer service as "variable" or "non-essential". While I am willing to endure rudeness if a restaurant's dish can negate all other considerations, given this generation's adeptness at broadcasting every minute detail over Facebook and Twitter, it makes good business sense to provide excellent marks in all aspects. Yabu gives a nod to the power of social media, designating some of their walls with commentaries from blogs and personalities.
It's a rare thing when the product matches the hype, and Yabu does so spectacularly and deliciously. Feed your curiosity with a panko-encrusted delight from a place that proudly displays its' katsu credentials.
Yabu, House of Katsu
2nd Floor, South Arcade,
Main Mall Atrium, SM Mall of Asia