It’s always thrilling when I find out about chefs hanging up their aprons at established restaurants to open their own hawker business. Maruhachi Donburi & Curry is just one of the many, where Chef-Owner August Wijaya ventured out to run his own hawker stall in Punggol, selling restaurant-quality Japanese fare.
In November 2020, August, together with his Japanese wife Yoko, opened Maruhachi Donburi & Curry to keep doing what they loved and to be their own boss. No doubt, the uncommon location within a kopitiam was partially to leverage on cheaper rent.
As I entered, the striking red decor around the shop garnered my attention. Inching closer to check out the prices and peek into the kitchen, it was obvious that this humble stall is not one to underestimate. I mean, most items here were above S$10, which is something the wallet is not used to spending on one dish when it comes to dining at kopitiams. Is it really worth it? Oh well, I’m about to find out.
What I tried
Go big or go home, right? I went straight for the premium Blackpig Katsu Set (Teishoku) (S$14.80) which comes complete with a side salad, a bowl of rice, and the essential miso soup. Red ginger and tonkatsu sauce are provided separately so you may add them according to your preferences.
It felt odd to indulge in such a masterpiece within such a social setting. Yet, I must say, this was served just how you’d expect it to be when dining in a restaurant—right down to the mini rack to hold the pork up! Super, super grand.
One word: faultless. Let’s ignore the price tag for now and focus on the quality of ingredients. The thick-cut tenderloin (otherwise known as rosu) had a perfect ratio of fat to lean meat, deep-fried in panko bread crumbs to achieve a beautiful crisp and golden skin. Every slice was juicy, tender, and delectable. Squeeze the lemon for a bright burst of zest and pop a few ginger slices to make each bite full of flavour.
Till now, I’m still bewildered by the stellar meal at Maruhachi Donburi & Curry. Despite its steep price point for a hawker meal, I must admit this was worth every cent.
Every component of this set meal paralleled what one would usually be served at popular tonkatsu restaurants. Knowing I could get a similar version at almost half the usual price, makes this a meal worth returning for.
After the super satisfying Teishoku set, I had great expectations for what’s next. The Chicken Katsu Curry (S$8.80) was a cheaper option and humbly served as is, with Japanese short-grain rice, Japanese curry, and deep-fried chicken cutlet.
Unlike the pork tenderloin, the chicken cutlet was on the thinner side, with a higher batter-to-meat ratio.
Now, don’t be fooled by the unsuspecting Japanese curry. The curry is thick, umami-laden, a tad sweet with the slightest spice. Mix it up with the rice and a crispy chicken chunk and you’ll have the perfect bite. If you’d ask me, I’d probably opt for the Curry with Pork Katsu (S$9.80) or Blackpig Katsu (S$11.80), and upgrade it to Spicy for an additional S$1.
Deviating from my fried food streak, the last on my list here at Maruhachi Donburi & Curry was Una Tama Don (S$11.80). Some would consider this a premium bowl to go for while at a kopitiam, but for this generous portion? I beg to differ.
The egg was cooked perfectly to complement the short-grain rice, evenly coated with sweet katsu sauce.
The unagi chunks are more than you’d expect and almost comparable to a portion you’d find off the rack at Don Don Donki. The eel chunks are glaze-grilled to provide an appetising texture. Altogether soft, succulent and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. I can’t complain—especially not at that price point.
Trust me; the pork options at Maruhachi Donburi & Curry would most definitely be the protein of choice. Don’t get me wrong; the chicken and fish options are admirable, but the Blackpig Katsu tops it all. If you’re on a budget, the donburi would make a substantial meal—perfect for a quick lunch or takeaway dinner.
I’m not sure about you, but for such affordable high-quality Japanese fare, I would return in a heartbeat. While I’m there, I might just pack a box or two home to save for my next work-from-home lunch!
Expected damage: S$6.80 – S$16.80 per pax
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