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MANILA, Philippines – As Poblacion continues to gain its life and energy back since the pandemic, several restaurants have been popping up and pinging on foodies’ radars, quickly becoming new city favorites for the nightlife owls and daytime diners in the area.
One example? Peruvian-Japanese restaurant Japonesa, founded by Notorious Concepts. The hip and upscale restaurant-bar located along Don Pedro Street corner Jacobo in Poblacion, Makati City, opened in mid-2022 and has since gained a loyal following for its handcrafted cocktails, “fusion” menu, and casual ambiance that works both for day and night.
The concept is simple: melding together both cuisines to create respectable bites of different flavors and novel executions. The restaurant is helmed by Chef Luis Higa, a Japanese by birth who spent a chunk of his culinary career in Peru. Thus, the inspiration for Japonesa was born!
It’s a spacious, aesthetic restaurant with an alfresco area fit for groups of friends or solo diners who want to enjoy a spot at Japonesa’s gorgeous, well-lit bar – even the tables are equipped with streaks of warm, neon lighting.
Best of both Japanese and Peruvian worlds
The menu is an eclectic mix of Japanese and Peruvian influences, with many seafood and vegetable-forward dishes that highlight fresh ingredients and either clean or bold flavor combos, with a price range that isn’t too exorbitant but is pricey enough to be considered a TGIF or weekend treat.
You’re in Poblacion, so you need to try at least one of Japonesa’s signature handcrafted cocktails that are too delicious that it’s scary – you won’t realize you’ve already drunk a whole glass of alcohol! They’re also very pretty, too.
I’m a fan of fruity, tart, and bright cocktails that aren’t too strong, so we were happy with the Sakura (P395) – a creamy, smooth cocktail of gin, strawberry, and hibiscus that almost tasted like a strawberry yogurt drink. The best-selling Watermelon Hai-Ball (P380) was a sweet cocktail made of sake, watermelon, and elderflower that was light and refreshing.
For the appetizers, we were served a simple Kamote Frito (P195) dish of crispy-thin sweet potato chips served with a spicy jalapeño aioli. The crowd-favorite Bomba Camarones (P545) followed and provided a flavor bomb of sweet and savory with a hint of heat – crispy shrimp was generously coated in a sticky-spicy aioli. A few pieces of shrimp were enough for my palate, so this is a dish best shared.
For something light and fresh, the Maguro Tiraditos (P495) was enjoyable – a beautiful plate of thinly-sliced maguro sashimi with a sesame-mango sauce that works, plus cherry tomatoes, sesame seeds, and greens. For the thinness of the sashimi, it was a bit steep in price; maybe because it was a dish I could easily finish solo, and it’s not one that will really fill you up. If I’m splurging, I’d order this again.
A vegetarian dish I would order again was the Coliflor Frito (P395), a massive plate of fried cauliflower, soramame puree, and romesco sauce. The quality cauliflower was “burnt” and crisp in the right places, and perfectly soft in most. The creamy, boiled broad beans puree and slightly tart tomato-based sauce jived well together with the smokiness of the cauli. Considering that this was purely veg, this dish filled me up and didn’t lack flavor at all.
We also tried the popular La Japonesa (P595) staple – crispy rice crackers topped with spicy tuna and green chili. It’s Japonesa’s most known pulutan because this bite-sized appetizer is easy to eat and has everything you might be looking for in one satisfying bite – crunch from the rice, raw fish, creamy aioli, and subtle spice. I was looking for a bit more umami, though, so I dipped mine into soy sauce, which helped.
We were also served the Rainbow Roll Maki (P645) of salmon, hamachi, seasonal avocado or mango, aonori, sesame, and tobiko. Off the bat, it’s a beautiful roll that showcases the freshest catch. The fish used was clean, premium, and not malansa at all. My only observation was that the roll was a bit drier than the usual maki I order from Japanese restos – the rice used wasn’t typical moist sushi rice, and so I found myself looking for some sort of sauce or aioli drizzled on top or served alongside.
For our main, we enjoyed the Peruvian Steak with roasted cherry tomatoes, potato, and charred spicy-sweet shishito peppers that I could snack on all day. The tenderloin steak strips were hefty, cooked medium-rare and soft, and was the perfect instrument to mop up that addictive smoky sauce it’s served in.
Just note that if you’re looking for authentic Japanese maki and dishes, I would recommend heading to your favorite Japanese resto instead for your fix. Overall, Japonesa is one of Poblacion’s must-try spots right now if you’re looking for good food to accompany your sosy nightcap, night out, or romantic date with. We ate a lot, but we weren’t grossly and overly full; everything was light and fresh, with dishes more novel and upscale than your regular bar chow. Come for the food, stay for the vibes, and spend the night with some great drinks in hand! – Rappler.com
Japonesa is located at 5658 Don Pedro Street corner Jacobo, Makati City. They’re open from 5 pm to 12 am on Mondays to Wednesdays and until 2 am on Thursdays and Fridays. They’re open from 11 am to 12 am on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, check them out on Instagram.