A new restaurant in Makati fills us in on the many interesting and flavorful ways the confluence two cuisines–one hailing from South America and the other, East Asia–delight and excite the yearning palate.
Nikkei opened a few weeks ago in the hip foodie neighborhood of Legazpi Village, sharing the same street as Wildflour and Sarsa. At first look, it seems as if you've stepped inside a ultra-cool ramen bar, with warm light bathing its wooden interiors and furniture. Exposed hanging bulbs spell out chic/modern/hipster (depending how old you are), and then one notices the shelf lined with liquor. Nikkei is both Japanese and Peruvian, with a menu to accompany you during lunch or dinner, light midday snacks, or late evening cravings of sips and bites.
'Nikkei' is the culinary offspring of two countries already abundant in flavors. Both Peru and Japan share a mad love for the freshest catch of fish, and thus a highlight in Nikkei cuisine. In this restaurant, their Argentinian Chef Christian Cejas serves the hungry his take on the fusion cuisine, backed with his experience in working in the kitchen of a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant in his home country.
To start your Nikkei feasting, have the Parmesan Scallops (P180/2 pcs), a traditional Peruvian seafood appetizer known as conchitas a la parmesana. The restaurant's version has the scallops golden and shimmering with Japanese butter and Parmesan cheese, then topped with onion leeks. The skewers of Tako Confitado (P260/2pcs) were a treat to nibble on, as the tender octopus had some sweetness with panka-miso sauce. Appetizers also include causa, another Peruvian specialty that are bite-sized servings of soft mashed potato bites topped with either fish or seafood. There's Ebi (P110) served with prawns, guacamole, and a combination of peppery sauces in Peruvian rocoto and Japanese togarashi. The Salmon (P120) causas have your pillowy potato mash topped with salmon tartar, guacamole, chalaquita (Peruvian salsa), sesame oil, and togarashi.
If you love raw fish like the Japanese sashimi, then the Peruvian Tiraditos at Nikkei is for you. Sliced thinly like sashimi and prepared similarly to Italian carpaccio or crudo, the raw fish or seafood (you choose from white fish, salmon, octopus, or tuna) is seasoned lightly with a sauce. You can order it as Kocha (P140) with salad sauce and crispy tea, Nikkei (P160) with a savory-sweet Nikkei sauce, red chili, and cilantro. Other tiraditos include Coco (P140) with coconut milk and Salmon Ginger (P160) topped with lime juice, Shoga (ginger) sauce, and negui.
Ceviche is something I never get tired of, and our palates are quite accustomed to this raw marinated fish and seafood dish — it's the Peruvian cousin of our Filipino kinilaw. It's served in leche de tigre, the "tiger's milk" consisting of citric goodness combined with salts, spices, and juices. Some ceviches have the leche de tigre on a separate glass, which you can sip on or pour on the seafood. Nikkei serves a Classic Ceviche (P280), which has chunks of white fish atop sweet corn, with glazed sweet potatoes on the side. This ceviche gets its oomph from a combination of red onions, rocoto, and cilantro. A personal favorite is the Green Ceviche (P360), where a mix of white fish, octopus, and prawns is generously coated in a luscious thick sauce of wasabi cream, red onions, red chili, and cilantro. The combination of corn (canchita) and crispy sweet potato strings provides contrasts in texture. For a very agreeable starter, order one of their sushi rolls — the Grill Ebi Sushi Roll (P140/5pcs, P280/10pcs) is the palate pleaser, rid of any spice or heat that people tend to shy away from. The rolls lean on the pleasantly sweet side, similar to a California Maki's profile, with prawns, cream cheese, onion leeks, mango, yellow pepper sauce, and togarashi, Kids will love this one.
For your mains, dive into meatier horizons with hearty pork and beef dishes. Straight from their charcoal oven is the Miso Kurobota (P550), tender short ribs marinated in miso sauce and served with wasabi coleslaw. I grew fond of Nikkei's version of Lomo Saltado (P420), as the classic Peruvian dish is elevated in the restaurant, with tenderloin sauteed with vegetables, while served separately is a pile of French fries that is a nest for a poached egg. Pop that egg by poking it with a mealy fry, then mix it with the tumble of fried potatoes. Let that serve as your starchy chaser after every lip-smacking forkful of the stir-fry beef. It's very tempting to order rice and chow on this one like a hungry Filipino, and that's totally fine, as in Peru they eat this dish with rice, too.
Leave space for dessert so you can sample their homemade ice creams and a cake that's worth every forkful of sugary-sweet calories. Get the Ice Cream Tasting (P280) for a trio of their signature homemade ice creams, a scoop each served atop a steamed bun French toast. You'll get to try their Ginger, Wasabi, and Sesame flavors (also available per scoop), and the addition of the warm buns make it a unique-tasting ice cream sandwich (ginger is my favorite). Before you ask the server for your bill, please squeeze in more dessert space for the Tres Leches (P198), an incredible interpretation of a typical cake in Peru, which is also a favorite in Latin America. The sponge cake is well-soaked in custard cream that it is amazingly moist, bordering on delightfully wet. It is so decadent and perfect with black coffee, yet easy to consume with its deceivingly light texture that you might find yourself swatting away the forks of your companions, wishing you all had one order each of this cake. Which you can do, so why not indulge while you're dining in Nikkei?
Nikkei is located at the ground level of Frabelle Building, 109 Rada Street, Legazpi Vilage, Makati. The restaurant is open daily from 11am to 10pm. Call +63927 2730114 / 02 880 0231, Like Nikkei on Facebook (/nikkeiph) and follow on Instagram (@nikkeiph).