Watami is quite a happy surprise. While most Japanese food-gluttons will agree that the best and most authentic fare can be found in hole-in-the-walls with menus that barely speak English, they won't be disappointed at Watami– a new Japanese casual restaurant in Mall of Asia.
Rooted on the ishokuya concept which features a balance of three elements — delicious food, great ambiance, and good service — Watami grew from a simple dining outlet in Tokyo to an “Asian Dining Sensation” with more than 700 stores in Japan and the rest of Asia (Hongkong, Shenzhen, Taiwan, Shanghai, Singapore , Guangzhou, Malaysia). The Bistro Group of Restaurants, whose portfolio includes successful chains such as TGIFriday’s, Italianni’s and Fish & Co, among others, recently launched the first Watami restaurant in Philippines.
Located at the sunset-viewing part of the mall, Watami has that contemporary and hip Asian vibe all modern Japanese restaurants strive for. The ambiance is classy yet subdued, with lots of wood paneling and earth tones.
The 170-seater restaurant has a rather large menu so expect food-picking to take some time. Besides the usual suspects (sushi, ramen, yakitori, and sake), you’ll find a scattering of Korean-influenced and Westernized-Japanese favorites such as Kimchi rice, pizzas, fries, and wine.
To save you half of the time you'll need to study the menu, here are some recommended items you can get on your first try.
Usually, a great Watami dining experience starts with a bowl of Watami Salad (half serving P220; whole serving P350). Comprised of a handful of lettuce, broccoli, onion, corn, cherry tomato, and shrimp, the Watami Salad tossed in sesame ponzu dressing is everything you can ask for in a salad: bountiful, crunchy, and complementary. Splendid 'til the last drop, the sesame ponzu dressing is definitely the prima donna in this beautifully orchestrated performance.
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As soon as you graduate from your infatuation with the Watami Salad, try Salmon and Vegetable in Rice Paper (P185). This salmon harukami roll with sweet chilli mayo is a new take at the usual fresh spring roll concept common in Asian restaurants. There's a cube of fresh salmon sashimi within the roll and it's always fun when your tongue gets to that part.
Salmon and Vegetable in Rice Paper
If you're the type who never leaves a Japanese restaurant without swallowing tiny slabs of fresh salmon, then go ahead and try Watami's Salmon Sashimi (P225). It's okay, but it just doesn't stand out the way the other dishes in the menu do.
Main course can come in a wide variety of dishes. If rice is a staple element of your meals, then you wouldn't be disappointed with Watami's selection.
The Beef Rice Bowl with Spring Egg (P195) is an easy recommendation. It's aesthetically interesting (served in a stone bowl, inside a wooden box) and universally appealing. There's plenty of rice, beef, corn, pepper, and garlic in this extra hot bowl. It's a traditional and comforting rice meal; I know a lot of people who'd be willing to eat this everyday.
Beef Rice Bowl with Spring Egg
The Gomoku Pot Rice (P345) is no less elaborate and comforting. Served in a traditional kamameshi pot, this rice meal will wow kamameshi rice fans with its tasty blend of rice, bonito powder, carrot shimeji, deep fried bean curd, salmon, shrimp, and chicken. Gomoku is also the kind you'd want to eat everyday if only it were priced a little lower.
Gomoku Pot Rice
Other Japanese staples like Tempura Udon (P325) and Assorted Skewers (P295) also score well. The udon is as hearty as it should be, and the beef spring onion roll bests the rest of the nicely charred skewers.
The paper-thin Bolognese Pizza (P315), with runny egg, cheese powder, and black pepper is unique and flavorful. However, I'm not quite sure if people will be satisfied with its extra-light serving. If you want to try this pizza, better order another dish like Chicken Cutlet with Scramble Egg Sauce (P285) to help satiate your hungry tummy.
Chicken Cutlet with Scramble Egg Sauce
If you want to go all out and indulge (perhaps to impress a date?), include Self-Grilled Beef Shortribs (P295) in your order and enjoy cooking these slices of Angus meat in butter. Don't forget to ask for slightly tangy Ponzu sauce as it makes the beef ten times more interesting.
Self-Grilled Beef Shortribs
There's very little that can be said about Watami's service since they just opened. But since it's run by Bistro Group, diners can look forward to quality and personal service lauded in their other chains.
Quite good: Mango Yakult
Western desserts like this Chocolate Cake are available
Located in a very commercial mall, Watami might not be top of mind when seeking hardcore and authentic Japanese dining experience. But any restaurant that balances delicious food, great ambiance, and good service is always welcome. And for that, Watami wins our nod.
Watami's second branch is slated to open this December at the ground floor of The New Glorietta Mall Ayala Center, in Makati City.
Watami Salad and Salmon and Vegetable Roll photos are courtesy of Bistro Group