Manila has always had a special affectation for Japanese cuisine, or washoku. Aside from the old-timers peppered across the metro, recent years saw a surge in ramen and katsu places. But there’s more to Japanese food than just raw fish, fried kurobuta, and hot broths.
Here we round up a few of the places where you can try more Japanese dishes, so read on, build an appetite, and let go of your usual chopsticks.
Believe it or not, there is a Shibuya way of preparing what you and I know as French toast. When Café Shibuya invited Speed over for lunch, we were giddy with excitement. None of us have tried the toasts and Ghirardelli chocolate drinks that they’re known for, so off to their flagship store we went at U.P. Town Center in Quezon City. Being first timers, we put our lunch fate in the hands of their manager, who pointed us to their bestsellers, and we happily obliged. While waiting for the dishes to come out, we looked around the cozy restaurant. It is artistically designed with fancy typography, lots of wooden furniture, and a few punches of happy colors. The place was quiet enough for a weekday lunch despite the several occupied tables. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Frappe – Below Zero (P155) was served first, sending us in a frenzy. It was Belgian chocolate goodness in a tall glass, a sip of which takes all of your adult troubles away. The consistency was light, while the combination of chocolate powder and syrup on the airy whipped cream topping added to our childlike excitement.
But, it was time to move on to grownup food. We started with Signature Salad (P245), which was surprisingly huge. The salad had fresh and crunchy veggies, tomatoes, and grapes. The mango vinaigrette was on the sweet side with a tinge of sourness. Together with the feta cheese, the ingredients provided a variety of flavors and textures to make the start of our meal interesting.
Beef Bulgogi Nachos (P265) was up next. For an appetizer, it was quite filling. The beef came in marble-size balls in a generous amount. The flavor was again on the sweet side, encouraging you not to hog too many toppings on one nacho. This would make fora great snack, too, especially with the barkada. The pasta had a mild seafood flavor that was complemented by the cheese, but could prove too fishy for some people due to the roe. Called Mentaiko (single: P265; sharing: P480), this dish would be better off paired with something that can balance the flavor and keep you eating more. After all, the single serving is big enough for a group of four (like us) if you’re sharing more than one dish. The main event came in the form of Shibuya Benedict (P255). It was a monstrous 3 x 3-inch buttery toast topped with shitake mushrooms, farmer’s ham, and breaded deep-friend poached egg—how that is made, I don’t know, but the egg yolk was runny like heaven’s drool. The rest of the toast proved great for wiping the plate clean of the light and frothy Japanese mayo cream sauce. We nibbled on the side of potato chips paired with Mentaiko sauce dip in between bites.
We almost forgot that a main dish was lined up—Honey Lemongrass Chops (P295)—which we gobbled down fast so that we can reach dessert sooner. The two slices of pork chops were about 1/4-inch thin. They came with java rice, and a side of corn and salsa. Original Shibuya Honey Toast (baby: P145; regular: P175) and Strawberries and Chocolate Toast capped our lunch. We ordered both in baby serving, which should’ve really been called baby damulag. Original Shibuya Honey Toast gave a simple but spot-on combination of flavors and textures, what with the toast’s crunchy surface and pillowy core (as advertised), the vanilla ice cream’s thick and creamy consistency, and the honey’s gooey sweetness. Chocolate and strawberry lovers, on the other hand, would love that the latter dessert had thick Belgian chocolate syrup dressing, and firm and ripe strawberries with that playful sourness.
The cozy ambience, colorful interior design, and comfort food and drinks make Café Shibuya ideal for a catch-up brunch, Sunday lunch with family, and unimposing dinner dates. Leave all your grownup baggage at the door, and just enjoy a soothing and filling meal. Remember three things when dining at Café Shibuya: bring a big appetite or come with a group because the serving size is huge, almost all the dishes lean toward the sweet side, and of course, order a toast.
Café Shibuya G/F U.P. Town Center, Katipunan Ave., Diliman, Quezon City 2/F TriNoma, North Triangle, Quezon City 3/F Glorietta 2, Ayala Center, Glorietta Complex, Makati
There are more alternative Japanese food establishments out there than you think. And when they’re almost single-dish restaurants, you should be in for a serious gastronomic treat. Dine at these other two places and tell us what you—or your stomachs—think. Dohtonburi Straight from Japan, Dohtonburi is a chain of restaurants specializing in okonomiyaki or Japanese pancake. Aside from more than 300 stores in Japan, it has four branches in Bangkok, Thailand, and one in Taiwan. In the Philippines, they opened their first store last year in Greenhills, San Juan. At Dohtonburi, you can make your own okonomiyaki by picking all the ingredients that you want, mixing them with the provided egg and okonomiyaki paste, and pouring your creation on the grill. If you’re not as adventurous, just pick from their tried-and-tested okonomiyaki recipes, which usually include cabbage, bonito flakes, and Japanese mayo.
Dohtonburi 2/F Cullinan Prime Bldg., 8 Missouri St., Greenhills, San Juan
Hokkaido Takoyaki The ball-shaped Japanese snack called takoyaki is not as foreign to Filipinos as okonomiyaki. Food stalls of it can be found everywhere. But Hokkaido Takoyaki takes it up a notch by providing a decent dine-in option and more takoyaki variants to choose from. Grab six to 12 pieces of octopus, bacon and cheese, kani (crab meat) and mozzarella, and scallops. These can be eaten on their own or, true to Filipino fashion, with rice, which Hokkaido Takoyaki also offers. They also prove to be great pasalubong or pot luck contribution. Each takoyaki is topped with bonito flakes, cheese, Japanese mayo, aonori powder, and okonomiyaki sauce.