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MANILA, Philippines – When one door closes, does a better one open? For the owners behind Ginza Japanese Restaurant, that seems to be the case. The local establishment previously known as Ortigas City’s Marufuku now carries a new name, new branding, a new menu, and new locations, but offers the same heart and premium quality its loyal patrons love them for.
Marufuku had suddenly closed down in January 2022, which Ginza’s owners told Rappler was due to the space’s lease expiring. With a lease renewal not in the cards, the owners knew that they couldn’t just leave their “baby” behind. Determined to bring life back to their passion, they took their personal love for Japan and the unforgettable fare of Ginza, Tokyo and resurrected it as Ginza Modern Japanese Dining.
Just a few months after Marufuku’s closure, Ginza popped up along Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City. Due to its word-of-mouth success, the pop-up quickly became a permanent fixture. A second branch soon followed along Emerald Avenue, Ortigas, which was then followed by Ginza’s newest spot in Icon Plaza, Bonifacio Global City, which just opened in March.
Its quick expansion is a testament to the loyalty of Ginza’s patrons and how its steadfast popularity had withstood the test of time. In between Marufuku’s closure and Ginza’s opening, customers were just waiting in eager anticipation. Now Ginza is branching out to appease a wider spectrum of customers – families celebrating on the weekend, Japanese and Filipino employees in the middle of a work day, and colleagues celebrating on Friday nights.
Working with the space
Ginza’s new BGC branch is a “collaborative, evolving space” that is more sprawling, more casual, and a bit more modern than its predecessors. Every branch holds its own distinct ambiance or vibe, the owners said, depending on what dining environment you’re looking for, whether intimate or bustling.
The Ginza team decided to “work with the space” in BGC by converting the ground floor into a family-friendly area, complete with a sushi bar. The intimate second floor is designed to accommodate team meetings, private functions, and group meals to cater to the BGC working crowd. It’s happy hour-conducive too – in the works upstairs is a cozy private area with a personal cocktail bar and lounge seating for parties and events.
Walking in, my eyes immediately locked on to the beautiful sakura (cherry blossom) tree installment by the entrance, which was thoughtfully placed there in honor of Japan’s haru (spring) season. The team is also collaborating with local artists to showcase regular exhibits at the BGC space.
The BGC branch retains Ginza’s zen-minimalist inspiration, adding a more clean, classy, and modern aesthetic with heavy wooden elements. However, it doesn’t feel stuffy or too high-end – the touch of family and home emanates from the space, maybe because the owners are very hands-on with Ginza’s growth. From the marketing and social media, to the interior design, menu, R&D, and strict quality control of every dish presented, the owners are ever-present in making sure Ginza stays true to its roots.
Itadakimasu! Time to eat
Despite the homey touch, however, note that Ginza BGC is not your typical, affordable, neighborhood Japanese hole-in-the-wall gem. It’s an upscale, contemporary, fine-casual Japanese restaurant with a price range of P500-P1,000 and above for most of its mains, and sashimi and sushi for around P300 and more. But if elevated presentation, high-end quality, and authentic Japanese fare with a refined twist are what you’re looking for, go for Ginza, as long as you have the funds to spare.
I’ve visited my fair share of Japanese restaurants as a relatively purist diner – just give me a plate of salmon sashimi, maki, miso soup, and chirashi don, and I’d be more than happy. At Ginza, though, the dishes served were unlike any I’d ordered before. Camembert tempura? Eggplant tempura with prosciutto? Ginza isn’t “fusion,” per se – it’s a new and interesting way to enjoy traditional Japanese ingredients and techniques, without anything tasting too alien or high-brow. Most of the dishes are the owners’ own favorites from the Ginza district, which they tried to recreate for the Filipino palate.
We were served Ginza’s new small bites menu – appetizers that are best shared with co-workers on a Friday night during happy hour, with your barkada, or on a date. It was hard to pick a favorite from Ginza’s stand-out starters! We loved the Sizzling Mentaiko – crunchy crostini served with pollack roe in sizzling olive oil. It was a garlicky, tangy, and umami-rich dip I would have loved to also mix with pasta or have on steamed rice.
The Nori Ikura Tempura provided crunch with a pop of saltiness and subtle punch of wasabi. The Eggplant Tempura with Prosciutto combined the creaminess of eggplant, the crunch of tempura batter, and the soft and salty cured ham in one bite. The Camembert Tempura with Black Raspberry Jam would be a crowd-pleasing addition to any charcuterie board; chunks of creamy camembert are delicately fried like tempura, dipped in a sweet-tangy fruity jam.
Don’t miss out on the Ebi Tempura Hand Roll, made extra tasty with the teriyaki sauce lightly slathered on the juicy prawn. If you love oysters, the Kaki Furai is a fried delight; the premium, juicy, and huge oysters are air-flown from Japan and are lightly breaded to golden-brown perfection.
For more fried goodness, order the best-selling Tontoro – super thinly-sliced pork nape that’s baked until paper-thin and oh-so-crispy. You can’t have just one piece, like chicharon. This snack is salty, fatty, and flavorful – but not oily. Warning: it’s addictive!
For the mains, the Grilled Hokke is an ode to an underrated Japanese fish that deserves more fame, next to saba or ginadara. It is a variety of mackerel that doesn’t have that distinctly fishy taste of saba; it’s clean, light, and mild, with small bones that are easy to remove. It being simply grilled is enough.
Love karaage but find it too plain sometimes? Try the Wakadori Kuwayaki – crunchy, deep-fried chicken fillet pieces in a light, sweet-savory-citrusy soy garlic glaze with a nice hint of yuzu. Also addictive!
The rice bowls are done well, too. The off-menu Kinoko Negi Gyudon is a warm, comforting bowl of beef and mushrooms doused in a creamy, thick, and beefy gravy-like sauce. The Wagyu Steak Fried Rice, which is mixed at the table in a sizzling clay pot – is a good accompaniment to the mains. The simple Onsen Tempura (soft boiled egg) on rice was satisfying too – I love me a perfectly soft boiled runny egg.
One of the star entrees is the Ginza Sumiyaki Udon, Japanese charcoal noodles stir-fried with mentaiko and tobiko, topped with the freshest, well-cooked seafood (unagi, oyster, mussel, squid, shrimp). It’s beautiful, simply cooked, but proud with flavor.
The Robatayaki doesn’t disappoint, either! Charcoal grilled skewers of moist and juicy salmon belly and pork, plus tasty Japanese sausage, with a squeeze of lemon on top…chef’s kiss.
Ginza also has an extensive desserts and beverages menu available. We unfortunately didn’t get to try the Matcha Brazo De Mercedes, which is apparently a crowd favorite. We liked the Key Lime Pie and the Sesame Shake!
Your usual comfort bowl of katsudon, chirashi, or tempura may be more expensive here, but you’re getting a “taste of tradition amid a novel experience” at Ginza. You may even find your newest Japanese comfort food dish here! If not, there’s always next time – a first-time trip to Ginza will almost guarantee a second (or third, and fourth) return, because there are always new items on the menu to discover and potentially love. We enjoyed almost every dish across the board, which makes our next visit (probably on a payday) even more exciting. – Rappler.com
Ginza BGC is located at the Ground Floor of Icon Plaza, along 26th Street, Bonifacio Global City. You can get in touch via Instagram or 09178878366.