It’s the greatest feeling when I find a restaurant that I can say after a meal ‘yes, that’s exactly how I imagined it to be’ or even better, when it exceeds my expectations. It’s also a fantastic feeling when I realised I’ve finally found a restaurant that makes something authentic which I crave for all the time. A restaurant that fit into all these descriptions is a newly opened Japanese restaurant called Gypsy & Pig in the city.
I first read reviews of this place on I Hua’s blog and Agnes’s blog. Like most people, I didn’t know what type of cuisine this restaurant served when I read its name. When I asked chef and owner Kenji about the big WHY question he simply answered ‘no reason’. But when I was doing research while writing up the blog post, I figured out why. I believe Gypsy & Pig sources their meat from a local producer called ‘The Gypsy Pig’ in Darnum, West Gippsland. I’m a genius!
Gypsy & Pig specialises in ‘kurobuta’ or black pig meat which is a rare and tasty pork that is usually quite expensive. According to wiki, the kurobuta or ‘Berkshire pig’ (as the pig originated in Berkshire in England), is a ‘vulnerable’ breed with only roughly 300 breeding sows left in the world. The locations are spread out across a few major farms in England, USA, New Zealand and Kagoshima in Japan and it seems there might be some breeding in our own backyard too.
As you can imagine, this restaurant is all about pigs, with pig decorations everywhere, pig printing on the menu, the glasses and the walls. It’s everywhere. I love it! I was born in the year of the pig (Chinese zodiac) so pigs have a special place in my heart. I feel like I can connect with this restaurant.
It also had a surprisingly ‘fine dining’ decor even though the dishes are not overly expensive and definitely not fine dining type of food. What also surprised us was the premium disposable, very nice smelling, bamboo chopsticks.
Most of the dishes on the menu had some form of pork in it, although I’m not certain if all the pork they used were black pig meat or not since none of us could tell. If it was really kurobuta meat used here then the prices of the dishes are quite reasonable. $20 for a tender, juicy and succulent tonkatsu (deep fried crumbed kurobuta loin) with a crunchy but not oily outer layer is enough to keep me happy for days. In fact, I wanted to eat here just because of the tonkatsu. When I was in Japan in March for 2 weeks, we ate at least 3 meals at specialised tonkatsu restaurants. Those experiences left a permanent mark in my memory and every now and then that craving kicks in. You won’t be able to imagine my excitement when I found out about this special menu item! Believe me, it’s totally different to the tonkatsu you get at other Japanese restaurants. This is done properly.
For one, it’s served on a proper wired rack for any remaining oils to drip off the pork. Secondly, it’s served with a mountain of cabbage. Thirdly, it’s also served with cold pasta salad (I know this seems bizarre) which is how it’s done in Japan. The miso soup was beautiful and rice is all you can eat. I forgot to mention earlier that it’s $20 for just the pork cutlet and extra $7 to make it into a set called ‘teishoku’ which comes with sides, rice and miso soup.
The proper way to eat it (for me that is) is to pour a small ladle of the tonkatsu sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) in the honey jar provided on the table onto the pork cutlet and then chow it down with the rice. You also have the choice of pouring ‘wafu’ or Japanese style dressing onto the cabbage salad from the glass bottle on the table (I thought it looked like a baby’s milk bottle ). The sauce is a ponzu and soy sauce mixture which was slightly tangy.
We went to the restaurant as a group of 7 people, out of which 5 people ordered the tonkatsu. You can imagine how popular it is.
One of my friends Kenneth ordered the ‘slow cooked kurobuta belly and egg in sweet soy’ for $18. This would have been my second choice if I didn’t order the pork loin. The meat so so tender it literally melted in my mouth and it was also perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of sweetness for me. Although this is a very Chinese looking and tasting dish, I think it’s better than most of the braised pork belly dishes I’ve had at Chinese restaurants. Portion size wise it really wasn’t very big. Kenneth is a big eater so he may not have been all that full.
Another friend ordered the ‘pan grilled sliced kurobuta with special ginger soy’ for $19 and another friend ordered a ‘deep fried crumbed scotch egg’ for $8.50 on the side. I didn’t taste either of these dishes but they looked quite nice. Although I did think the scotch egg was a bit expensive. It was a very well cooked egg with runny yolks and crumbed with kurobuta meat so I guess that’s why it was expensive.
I had ordered an entree but as I ordered it quite late, it came together with my main so I ended up eating it after I chowed down my pork loin. This ‘oven baked potato and pancetta gratin with creamy spicy cod roe sauce and melted cheese’ for $16 wasn’t what I was expecting. For one it didn’t really taste like cod roe (mentaiko) although it did have the colour and you can see the small bits of roe floating around. That I was a bit disappointed with. Secondly, it was very creamy and according to Yuye tasted a bit like macaroni and cheese, without the macaroni. Anyway, seeing as I was very full already, this dish was shared around, although with the same feedback from my fellow diners. Probably a dish I would order again.
You would think I’d stop there, being as full as I was, but as soon as I walked in the door I knew I just HAD to get the dessert platter. I mean, it’s a platter that had a bit of every dessert on it for $18. Why would you not get it? The platter came with black sesame ice cream (my all time favourite ice cream flavour), green tea ice cream (my second favourite ice cream flavour), NY styled cheesecake, almond jelly and creme caramel. Of course you can also order these desserts separately, but why would you do that when you can have it all?
The ice creams were no doubt the most popular items on the platter, the other desserts were fantastic although not AS good as the ice creams. I would have loved a Japanese styled light cheesecake, a similar version can be found here on my travels to Osaka. It was THE best cheesecake I’ve ever had. But this NY styled one was not too bad as well.
The meal would not have been complete without a cold glass of Asahi beer. For $8 it was quite expensive for beer although expected for such imported brands.
I’m so glad I’ve found this restaurant! Now I know where to go next time I have tonkatsu cravings so thanks I Hua and Agnes!
The restaurant is a tight squeeze and I think the only reason you can still get seating is because they are still reasonably new and not well known. Once they become more popular with Japanese teishoku fanatics like myself, you will have to book well in advance, especially for busy nights and peak dining hours. I was even surprised that I was able to make the booking for 7 people on the Saturday lunch time for that Saturday night’s sitting! Like mentioned on the above respective blogs, this place probably only seats around 20-24 people and most of it is at the counter. We actually enjoyed the view from the counter as we got to admire the great chef Kenji in action.
Gypsy & Pig
Phone: (03) 9640 0731
Shop 3 391 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000 (on the corner of Hardware St and Lt Lonsdale)