Formerly Allium and with the same chef, Mark Tan, at its helm, Hibana is where flavors and technique are fine-tuned to serve Japanese food that's both timeless and modern. There's succulent seafood, impossibly tender wagyu, a heavenly miso souffle, and more.
Their corner of Legazpi Village is largely unexplored by myself; but with the recent restaurant openings on their side of the neighborhood, the once seemingly sleepy streets have now turned vibrant. In Bolanos street itself, where Hibana is located, one will find the new home of The Girl + The Bull, and beside it a bar named Pappy. A short walk to the street parallel to it, there's Made Nice Supper Club where creative millenials serve dinner, and close by is Trufa, a pasta bar where carb lovers can customize their pasta dishes. Move on a little further and more familiar food spots are in sight: next door neighbors Your Local and Yardstick. Hibana sits comfortably in the mix, offering the area modern Japanese dishes in a slick-interiored establishment, which ties everything in to give one an enjoyable dining experience.
Hibana means spark in Japanese, and the restaurant's menu highlights food cooked on their robata (Japansese charcoal grill). Eating here also gives customers a tasty overview of the chef's creative spark–his keen attention to detail and technique making an otherwise basic Japanese dish, extra memorable. Food here is refined, with Chef Mark Tan's signature for using great product. Hibana is for customers who simply love Japanese food and want something a little bit more: to be surprised a little–but to be deliciously satisfied–in their dining experience.
Take the restaurant's appetizer of Prawn Cracker with Uni Sabayon Dip (P135), for instance. The thin and crispy crackers are made from scratch, and the dipping sauce of uni silky with an irresistible tangy finish. You'll finish one order in no time. Have this for starters, or pair it with your nightcap–Hibana serves solid cocktails, both classic drinks and signature concoctions.
My personal measure of a great Japanese meal is on how they deliver in the raw seafood department. Hibana satisfies with theirs, like the refreshing Yellow Fin Tuna Tataki (P285) topped with a delicate combination of Asian pear, pickled shimeji mushrooms, and ponzu. The younger ones can bet on grabbing their chopsticks to get more pieces of Salmon Aburi Maki (P350) — it's classic and clean, slightly sweet, and without any spice nor heat that usually kids shy away from. As for myself, I am the happiest with a plate full of sashimi, and their 5 kinds of Sashimi (P1,250) was a delight. It comes with deep-fried heads of the prawns, and served as my in-between crispy breaks from the succulent slices of raw fish.
There's something quite primal and also nostalgic about eating meat on a stick. It reminds you of childhood days where street food was one of life's simple pleasures, and there is much happiness in leaving utensils behind to gnaw into meat straightaway (somehow it makes the eating process even more delicious). Hibana's kushiyaki can be ordered per stick, and their grilled pork and chicken do not disappoint. There's Tsukune (P85/stick) and Pork Belly (P65/stick), wonderfully seasoned Chicken Thigh (P55/stick), and my favorite, Chicken Skin (P65/stick). Each bite begs for a sip of sake or beer, and the Filipino in you will crave to chase it with some rice. Try pairing the sticks with Wagyu Yakimeshi (P250) or Prawn Yakimeshi (P250) to make it extra filling and flavorful.
From their Robotayaki selection, we partake on Wagyu Beef Saikoro (P625), cubes of impossibly tender Wagyu meeting black garlic chips — soft and crunchy alternate on the palate. It's so enjoyable that one must take delicate, conscious bites to savor every moment of it (rice optional, but highly recommended). If you're looking for a seafood option for your main course, you're in good company with the Salmon Teriyaki (P320), perfectly cooked with its well-balanced sweet and salty glaze. There's nothing I despise more than overcooked and dry salmon in a Japanese restaurant, and so I am happily relieved to bite into a tender and sweet fish in Hibana.
While there are many familiar Japanese flavors and dishes in Hibana's menu, the restaurant doesn't limit itself to the traditional — and delicious examples of how Chef Mark Tan incorporates non-Japanese with Japanese is in their dessert lineup. Save space for sweets, because they are noteworthy here. Fruit-based desserts are a personal favorite, and if your sweet tooth is like mine, you'll easily fall for the Mango Passion Fruit Mousse Cake (P260) which oozes with well-balanced sweetness, with perfect texture in every forkful. It was a feat to share one order, so perhaps you should order one for yourself. Same with the Kyoto Miso Souffle (P195) — a best seller and everyone's favorite. It's easy (also, lazy) to just pump up the sugar in any dessert item to get that sweet fix one longs for after a meal, but in this place, they make it a point to be well-balanced, sweetness tempered with another component. It is never heavy-handed, just like the souffle–surprisingly light, incredibly fluffy, and just a joy to consume. It takes a while to be served as it is made upon ordering, but is the most delicious delayed gratification when ending your meal at Hibana.
Hibana is located at the ground floor of Grand Midori Building in Bolanos Street, Legazpi Village, Makati. They are open Monday to Saturday for lunch (11am to 2:30pm) and dinner (6pm to 10pm); closed on Sundays. Call 519-1088, like Hibana on Facebook (/hibanaph) and follow on Instagram (@hibanaph).