It may seem like overkill to write about places like Panko. But since opening last year this Japanese takeaway joint has attracted an almost fanatical following among Bothwell Street’s office crowd. The idea is simple enough: good quality, hot food served quickly and generously for not much cash. Panko nails every aspect of that and then some. So what can you expect?
The eponymous breadcrumb features heavily on Panko’s small menu. There are exceptions of course but, for most people who cram into this shop every weekday, it’s all about one thing: the katsu curry. And my goodness what a glorious thing it is. The carnivore’s choice is chicken or pork which is tenderised before being dredged in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried. This results in meat that hits that sweet spot of texture and tenderness.
Vegetarians are catered for splendidly with the vegetable curry which is bursting with courgettes, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. The crowning glory, however, is an incredible pumpkin croquette, crumbed and fried to golden, crunchy perfection. It tastes as good as it looks and the outer crispy coating yields to reveal a soft centre that tastes far too good to be mere pumpkin. Whether your protein is animal or plant-derived, the rest of the dish is the same. The whole thing sits atop a generous portion of short-grain Japanese rice which acts as a perfect vehicle for the outstanding curry sauce. It’s not too thick, has a subtle kick and just the right level of salt. The cherry on top is a delicate posy of pleasingly sharp Japanese pickled vegetables.
These are the things that make Panko worth shouting about. There’s a clear attention to detail that transcends their humble surroundings. Take the beef teriyaki for example. That same glutinous rice forms a base for a rich and savoury teriyaki beef that melts in the mouth. But you’ll also find a zig zag of Japanese mayonnaise drizzled across the top. And some of those pickles I mentioned above. Oh, and did I mention the deep-fried crispy egg? There’s a deep-fried crispy egg. Something that could easily be about shoveling food into cartons is elevated by that little bit of extra effort and they’re rightly reaping the rewards. If beef isn’t your thing you can also have chicken or salmon, but be warned: only the beef has the egg.
What of the rest of the menu? It’s not always successful. The gyoza dumplings (chicken, pork or vegetable) are tasty and come on a bed of rice with the ubiquitous side of pickles and a dipping sauce. I loved the dumplings but this doesn’t really feel like a hearty lunchtime meal. The intriguing “katsu set” promises katsu chicken or pork along with a prawn given similar treatment. If that wasn’t enough you also get one of those outrageous pumpkin croquettes. Once again we have rice and pickles but the real star here is the tonkatsu sauce: a tangy revelation that cuts right through the fried elements and lifts the entire dish.
This isn’t the lunchtime norm of poorly prepared stodge or overpriced salads from national chains. It’s a somewhat overused phrase, but this is proper food prepared to order that I’d be happy with if it was served to me in any of the city’s Japanese restaurants. Yes the menu is limited, and yes it relies heavily on the katsu element. But in doing so they’ve really found a niché worth exploiting. One that they’ve perfected in fact.
At the time of writing, all dishes are priced between £5.80 and £6.50. It’s not exactly supermarket meal deal territory but that’s not the point. This isn’t an everyday lunch. It’s an antidote to winter sleat or a comforting Friday hangover cure. Perhaps that’s my only criticism: I love their food so much that I’d really like to see what kind of sandwich they’d make. And if Panko made sandwiches I might just move in.
9 Bothwell St
0141 248 6907
Fab katsu curry
Made to order
Good veggie option