Eater London Award-winning chefs Zijun Meng and Ana Gonçalves will start selling Tātā Eatery and Tōu’s celebrated Iberico pork katsu sando as a meal kit, for collection only initially, from a premises at 72 Old Compton Street in Soho from Friday 14 August.
The sandwich, which first appeared at Tātā Eatery’s hugely successful 2018 summer pop-up in Kensal Rise, subsequently went viral, and would go on to form the backbone of the menu at Meng and Gonçalves’ concession, Tōu, at the Arcade food hall on Tottenham Court Road last summer.
The sandwich kit, which will retail at £10.50 (£3.50 cheaper than at Tōu), includes two slices of brioche, a panko-crusted Iberico pork cutlet, XO shallot sauce, shredded cabbage, sliced onion, and raspberry sauce. The chefs say that the sando can be recreated in under five minutes, with only the brioche needing to be toasted and the pork deep-frying; the rest is assembly. Like it has been at their restaurants and pop-ups, Gonçalves told Eater, “it’s a quick pick-up.”
The introduction of meal kits are a curious side-effect of the pandemic: on the one hand, a natural revenue stream for operators with good packaging and good logistics — a comparatively straight forward way of maintaining some cash-flow and remaining attached to an existing customer base. Gonçalves says that while the chefs’ premises inside Arcade remains closed — and has no set reopening date — the meal kit project was “cool, because it’s a way of keeping the brand going and keep the katsu alive!”
But for the consumer, the absence of chef skill in the transaction is notable. Granted, there are talented home cooks who will endeavour to recreate the dish to the exact specifications of the original (culinary hypebeasts?), but there exists another who will surely butcher it. But for the chef or restaurateur, that matters less, for there is a sense that the meal kit is as much merch as it is lunch. Tōu will initially offer only 50 per week, so demand will almost certainly outstrip supply — and while it may be part-accidental in this case, the effect will be to increase awareness and increase desirability. The natural next step: Tōu x Supreme 2021?
Gonçalves says that because of limited funds, the kits will be available only for collection for now. “Let’s see how it goes. We don’t have that much investment... but if people are really interested, then we have options to deliver that we haven’t finalised,” she said. “Hopefully we can roll it out as a permanent thing — all over London and even outside London.” Depending on the success of the sando, Gonçalves added that Tōu might introduce a DIY kit for the new kimchi pork burger the chefs have been selling at recent Friday pop-ups from the Old Compton Street site.
With no set reopening date at the chefs’ only fixed location, Meng and Gonçalves’ are fortunate in the sense that rent was paid as a percentage of turnover, so it leaves them with no outstanding liability at the location. It’s just a waiting game, and an opportunity for them to focus — amid such uncertainty for the future of restaurants — on a series of pop-ups over the coming months. As has been the case since the duo first popped-up on Druid Street Market in 2016, temporary residencies and short-term restaurant projects have been their chosen way of operating.
“We have a few options,” Gonçalves said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months — is there gonna be a second lockdown? We don’t know. Our best bet is to do a few pop-ups; going back to our roots. That’s how far we’ve thought about it.”
Orders for the first batch of katsu sandos can be made through Instagram from this Friday, 8 August.