When Tonkatsu Hamachan first opened in 2001, it became an industry favorite – one of those places chefs, foodies and lifestyle journalists kept to themselves. Perhaps they closely guarded this spot because the dining room barely fit six tables, most of which were usually occupied by Japanese businessmen.
The restaurant itself refrained from self-promotion – the shoji screen with hiragana script and a frosted glass door would have been as illustrative as a blank canvas to the mostly Japanese-illiterate pedestrians in the expat-friendly enclave of Jing’an.
We lived just two blocks away from Hamachan for over a year when we first moved to Shanghai in 2007 and didn’t know about the tonkatsu genius until a friend drunkenly whispered the secret to us one night. His lips were loosened after an evening of mediocre teppanyaki paired with all-you-can-drink sake of dubious quality, and we had our new local. Even when we moved to the city’s south and went up to Jing’an less often, we still made the trip to Hamachan every few months to get our fill. We were heartbroken when it closed in 2013, another excellent restaurant falling victim to Shanghai’s rising rents and cutthroat dining scene.
Then in 2017 Smart Shanghai reported that Tonkatsu Hamachan had been resurrected, less than a block from its original location. Same owner, same menu, albeit with the inflated prices that have become commonplace in Shanghai. We went the next day.
The location has changed, but little else – besides the prices – has. Plating still occurs at a bar that holds court at the head of the restaurant, but the deep frying goes on quietly behind closed doors. The thing to order is still the pork cutlet, either loin (fatty), filet (lean) or loin with garlic. All come with a cup of miso, a bowl of rice and tri-colored turnip pickles, as well as the standard Worcestershire-like Bulldog sauce and a scoop of karashi (spicy Japanese mustard). This is the go-to order here, and you should always order it, but if you go off book, the Japanese curries are also excellent.
Service here is slow, and they’re still working on the layout of the new kitchen and the crush of excited diners returning for another bite of the deep-fried pork cutlet, so order a few appetizers while you’re waiting. The kimchi is surprisingly good, as is the still-crunchy simmered lotus root.
Make a toast to the resurrection with bottles of Kirin or Xinjiang Black Beer. This is one of the few non-Uighur restaurants to get the latter, and the dark beer pairs well with the fatty pork.