Taking over the former premises of now-defunct Longplay is Panko, a new Kushikatsu bar concept that is also under the Unlisted Collection umbrella of brands which also runs other F&B concepts such as Bistro November, Restaurant Nouri, Bincho at Hua Bee, Pollen, Salted & Hung and Cheek by Jowl (recently awarded with its first Michelin star) just to name a few.
Panko is run by the same team that is behind Bincho at Hua Bee, a Yakitori bar that is also run by Unlisted Collection at the quaint neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru where the pre-war shophouses are located. Unlike Bincho at Hua Bee, Panko is a Kushikatsu bar which focuses primarily on deep-fried skewers of meat and vegetables, Japanese style. For lunch, Panko serves up a rather value-for-money lunch set menu with a variety of Donburi to choose from; the set also comes with complimentary Chawanmushi, Soup, Pickles, Kushikatsu and Dessert alongside at a price between $16++ to $20++. The dinner menu features a wider variety of Kushikatsu sticks as well as sides such as sashimi, katsu, salads and maki rolls apart from a small menu of rather interesting desserts; Panko also serves up a course menu at $88++/pax that covers a variety of their Kushikatsu alongside salad, udon and sashimi for those who prefer to try a little bit of everything. A wide variety of alcohol is served as a complement to their Kushikatsu offerings. As Panko takes over the former space of Longplay, Panko takes the space of the entire shophouse that is situated between two streets, thus having entrances at both Arab Street and Haji Lane.
(Chawanmushi, Kushikatsu, Pickles, Soup)
We made our visit to Panko during lunch hours, thus allowing us to try out their lunch menu. As mentioned earlier on, every lunch set comes with complimentary Chawanmushi, Soup, Pickles, Kushikatsu and Dessert. The Chawanmushi served with the lunch set was silky smooth; savoury from the sticky dashi stock and comes filled with quite a good amount of goodies such as fish cake, a chunk of chicken and gingko nut within especially for one that comes complimentary as part of the lunch set. The soup also comes with a good portion of seaweed and tofu within, while three sticks of Kushikatsu is served with every lunch set item. We were served Brussel Sprouts, Baby Tomatoes and Scallop Kushikatsu sticks; we found all three sticks pretty much free from grease and seemed to be brushed with a little bit of sauce for a savoury flavour. That being said, we thought the batter could probably fare a little better if it were to be crisper, especially since the fried batter also seemed to come off from the ingredients fairly easily.
(Kaisen Bara Chirashi Don)
At $18++ for the Kaisen Bara Chirashi Don, this is a rather value-for-money option for those who are into Chirashi/Bara Chirashi/Kaisen Don considering the other items mentioned above that one would be getting alongside the Donburi. Diced raw fish with Ikura that is served atop a bed of warm rice, the cubes were reasonably well-sized to ensure a spoonful contains a good portion of all the elements; the raw fish being fresh, while the Ikura gives that popping sensation that burst of umami-ness.
(Unagi Toji Don)
We also tried the Unagi Toji Don; a Donburi consisting of egg and Unagi that is done in a way similar to the Oyako Don; the egg simmered with Unagi in dashi sauce for a light, savoury flavour that also helps to give the rice a bit of flavour. The Unagi slices were coated in a sticky, sweet soy sauce for flavour, while also not particularly scaley. Overall, quite a comforting dish for those who are looking for something lighter with a more homely touch yet looking for something more than the typical Oyako/Katsu Don especially for Unagi-lovers.
During the day of our visit, the dessert being served was a scoop of Vanilla ice-cream. Served in a chilled bowl, the scoop of ice-cream is smooth, creamy and aromatic; sure, this may not be an artisanal dessert of any sort, but it did definitely put the meal to a good end.
Panko is one of the places that we found pretty suited in the neighbourhood it is in. Being a watering hole that serves up deep-fried Japanese skewers, the swanky vibes of Panko with its use of neon lights and dark interiors with visuals of Japanese sights within the restaurant felt at home in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood, especially along the hipster stretch of Haji Lane. We were pretty satisfied with the service, with the staff being pretty attentive and promptly filling up our glasses and firing up our desserts as we finish our main courses. While the lunch menu is pretty affordable and comes as a great deal considering it is almost akin to having a six-course meal, we are not particularly swayed with their Kushikatsu offerings from the few sticks that we had tried that came along with the lunch sets; there is definitely some room for improvement in terms of execution that would help especially for the textural aspect for the Kushikatsu. That being said, we have yet to try their dinner menu so it may be possible that the Kushikatsu sticks served during dinner are probably done better as compared to the ones we have had. Still, Panko is probably a place worth checking out if in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood, especially since there are not many places that serve Japanese fare within the area; we do definitely recommend checking out their lunch sets out for a value-for-money deal.
4 Haji Lane/33 Arab Street