If you enjoy your battered, deep-fried pork cutlets in atmospheric surroundings, Tonkatsu Kobayashi near Umeda Station is the place to go. It’s delightfully retro and serves up a delicious, reasonably-priced set lunch – perfect for your porcine fix.
Close-up of a pork loin cutlet. - image © Florentyna Leow
The area around Umeda Station with its interminable maze of shopping malls may overwhelm the first-time visitor – all well and good if one has shopping lists to tick off and an indefatigable stamina for browsing trinkets, but less welcome when lost, hungry, and faced with the prospect of finding a solid meal among all these chain restaurants. The next time you find yourself in Umeda and in need of respite from cookie-cutter shops, venture out of the comfort zone of department store restaurant floors and into a quieter back street for this little gem: Tonkatsu Kobayashi.
Inside Tonkatsu Kobayashi. - image © Florentyna Leow
Walk in when it opens at half past eleven, if, like me, you cannot wait any later. The salarymen will begin to trickle in around noon on a weekday, though the restaurant’s quiet surroundings mean less foot traffic than average, and few crowds.
Clocks and street lamps inside the restaurant. - image © Florentyna Leow
“Retro” is the word bandied about for Tonkatsu Kobayashi’s interior and it is entirely apt. The entire place is a little self-consciously and deliberately old-fashioned in its decor, with touches of Art Deco about it. It’s a mostly dark, burnished wooden interior, with globe lamps hanging over the counter, antique carved panels of cranes and pines, stained glass windows, lamps like Victorian street lights emblazoned with the restaurant’s name, and high-backed Mackintosh-style chairs. A proliferation of antique clocks line the walls, as though pilfered from someone’s collection. Laminated menus and metal pitchers stand next to hand-thrown vases on the counter. So it is also entirely fitting that the restaurant should also be playing a mixture of Ella Fitzgerald and 80s power pop ballads. If you go for nothing else but the atmosphere it will have been worth it.
Pink-streaked centers in the fried pork cutlet. - image © Florentyna Leow
Luckily, the tonkatsu is more than worth the arduous 3-minute walk from Hankyu Umeda Station. The most important considerations: lean or fatty? For the former, pick the fillet (hire); for the latter, go for a loin (rosu). You can choose from a few breeds of pork, like Tokyo-X, Shimane, or one dubiously named “healthy”, but it is unlikely to matter all too much. Still, it’s a choice best made with your wallet. I found the Shimane-raised heritage breed pork was worth the higher price point.
A selection of condiments for the pork: Turkish extra virgin olive oil, daikon tartar sauce, salt. - image © Florentyna Leow
Most tonkatsu restaurants serve their cutlets with a sweet, viscous sauce. I like Kobayashi’s because they dispense with this altogether for clarity of flavour. Instead, you dip your thick fingers of pork in salt, olive oil, and an unusual daikon radish tartar sauce – all the better to highlight the juicy sweetness of flesh and fat.
The set meal. - image © Florentyna Leow
Tonkatsu aficionados may note that the frying is not, say, Butagumi-level excellence, and they would be right. (The batter is not perfectly crunchy and didn’t always adhere to the pork.) But here at Kobayashi I find the sum of its parts greater than each individual element. For instance, the red miso soup spiked with a touch of yuzu is charged with a dark, earthy, salty depth so lacking in white miso versions. Miso soup in so many other restaurants tends to escape one’s attentions. The shredded cabbage is a tad coarser than most versions and has a little more heft. Salt and yuzu-pickled Chinese cabbage makes a beautiful counterpoint to the fatty pork and a great accompaniment to white rice. Taken together it makes for a more satisfying set lunch than most places.
One cannot ask for perfection at this price, but you can get a pretty damn good meal at Kobayashi. A delightfully retro restaurant visually at odds with the ferro-concrete streets of Osaka outside, a hunk of juicy fried pork, a bowl of miso soup, and a quiet counter at which to listen to the sound of sizzling oil. What more could you ask for from a meal?
The entrance to Tonkatsu Kobayashi. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Take the Chayamachiguchi Exit from Hankyu Umeda Station. At the bottom of the stairs, you’ll see Hankyu Sanban Gai. Turn right and head outside the building. Cross the road and take the street opposite – you should have Zara on your right. Walk to the end of the street and turn left. Tonkatsu Kobayashi will be on your left just a few metres down.
Name in Japanese:
4-2 Chayamachi, Kita-ku, Osaka 〒530-0013
11:00am～3:00pm (L.O 2:30pm)
3-minute walk from Hankyu Umeda Station, 5-minute walk from Umeda Station on the Midosuji Subway Line, or 8-minute walk from Osaka Station on the JR Osaka Loop Line
:: Read customer reviews of Kobayashi Tonkatsu on TripAdvisor
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Tonkatsu Kobayashi is located in Osaka's Kita and Umeda district. See our complete list of things to do in the Kita and Umeda district, including places to eat, nightlife and places to stay.
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