Another one of those pre-rain Saturday late mornings spent with my ever-starving mother. Now that Chinese New Year’s just round the corner (well tomorrow, to be precise, not that I’m ever good at remembering specific dates let alone consider history as one of my principal passions), I knew many cafes I wanted to try out were all closed. Five and Dime, no. House at Dempsey, no. Jones the Grocer… Let’s give it a shot. And so we scurried over to Mandarin Gallery, expecting our bellies to be greeted and filled up by a wholly Western spread.
I still remember my uncle exclaiming all the glories and wonders of this jewelled Japanese eating house, tucked away in the quite aisles of Mandarin Gallery, hushed and hidden from the calamity of the bustling outside world. Order and serenity restored. A disguised quietness lending savoury appeal.
The entire box of tables and chairs outside the main eating area was totally filled with reserved signs, like ghosts waiting to be settled in graves. A little weird, but that was the first thought which came to mind. Black, black everywhere. The fact that I paired hot pink lipstick with bright red cropped pants was also probably a contributing factor in my aberrant mental state. Sometimes outfits lend a little more attitude than necessary.
Mine certainly did.
And I still haven’t changed out of it.
The little pot of soy sauce came with the icy block of tofu, so we assumed that the tofu lacked enough flavour in order to be eaten by itself. After pouring a generous amount, we realised we made a terrible mistake, for the purity of that pasty cuboid was lost amongst the stinging saltiness. I picked instead at the untouched scallions and crumbled white bits. I just love tofu; that firm and angular belly begging to be cut through, refreshing any palette it chances upon.
Even the edamame had a lovely sprinkling of salt to partner the sweet, al dente bean within.
I got brown rice whilst the maman got white, since I find the taste and woof of brown grains to be twice as pleasing and interesting. Sticky, with a nice bite and reluctance to give in totally. We gave our orders to the amateur waiter, only to have our rice choices mixed up later, with my mum getting brown rice and me, white. Woe betide us all! Not the best first impression, considering how our food didn’t even come at a quick enough timing. Sitting at the counter, we could clearly witness the camaraderie going on between the chefs as they chopped up tonkatsu, joked with each other, mixed dressings and radishes.
Those oysters were mighty flavourful, packing in a lot of heart in a smaller than usual portion size. A good squeeze of lemon and a magnanimous drizzle of tonkatsu sauce and you’re pretty much good to go. Tuck in, maybe with a smidgen of rice soaked in a little frothy soup.
And I can now declare that the tonkatsu sauce here is officially the best I have ever tasted.
Some lack enough Worcestershire and ketchup, others are simply not tart and sweet enough. This had the perfect balance of everything, right down to the consistency and the way it coated everything with a strong tang. What a privilege.
The soup is thicker than what you would get in a typical Japanese set meal with miso soup. This had bits of shitake, stringy unidentifiables, tofu and radish. Comforting and a tad more complex. Hot delight to shake up the frigid air all around.
The lady called it black forest and something else (was it roasted tea?) jelly. I never took a liking to any sort of jelly in the first place, though I took a bite nonetheless. Despite being a tad watery and bland, the individual flavours could be picked out carefully if one paid any attention to doing so at all.
Tonkatsu here is quite something. I’m taking my dad here next time.
Tonkatsu Ma Maison
333A Orchard Road
#02-35/36 Mandarin Gallery