I almost delayed writing this—thought of waiting a while until I’ve exploited the place before I share it to the general public. Alas, a good thing never remains secret, so might as well divulge.
This year-old place I’m reluctant to share is a Japanese restaurant called Ukiyo, which houses the most extensive selection of shochu in the metro. Most Filipinos are familiar with sake, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, but not everyone has tried shochu—Japan’s other indigenous drink—usually made from potatoes. The main difference between the two: sake is fermented, whereas, shochu is distilled.
The Alphaland I’m familiar with is the mall connected to the Magallanes MRT station along Chino Roces Avenue (formerly Pasong Tamo). So, when my companion and I reached the 6th floor via the escalator, we were stumped when we found an office on that floor and no sign of the Japanese restaurant we were looking for. A security guard advised us to go back down to the ground level and ride an elevator from there. Finding the elevator is apparently not easy, because it’s tucked behind a walkway marked by a shawarma kiosk. If you’d rather navigate without the help of strangers, a small Exit sign hanging near Super 8 Grocery and the restroom is the only indication that there’s a way out behind the area. Follow where the sign points and discover an elevator that will lead you to the sixth floor. I did this and found myself on a dimly-lit floor that opens to a rooftop and connects to another building. It felt like a treasure hunt. And it’s exactly this sort of exclusivity that made Ukiyo my choice of escape.
If, however, you’re familiar with Alphaland Southgate Tower, which isn’t the mall, but a 20-storey structure with leasable space—then you’re saved the adventure I went through.
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Once you’re on the floor, you’ll easily spot it—elegantly-designed, modern-looking, yet exuding an almost ephemeral vibe. The word ‘ukiyo’ literally means “floating world” in Japanese—and it’s the same name given to the pleasure-laden lifestyle developed in the red light district during the Edo-Period in Japan. This is why architect Jorge Yulo has designed the place to look indulgent—but not flamboyant. It’s still distinctly Japanese, with its floor-to-ceiling shelves displaying colored bottles of shochu, polished wooden dividers, a stone floor lined with pebbles, private rooms secured by sliding doors and a bar adorned with more shochu bottles and Japanese cherry blossoms. My favorite features: the glass-paneled section of the floor near the bar and the low wooden ceiling resembling the waves of the ocean. They lend an aquatic feel to the place, which is an apt reminder of the restaurant’s name.
What’s good design without good food? Thankfully, Ukiyo’s chef, Masakado Matsumura-san, knows his craft well. After all, he hails from Nagoya, Japan. After being ushered by kimono-clad attendants in a private room, we’re given warm hand towels. Promptly served as our appetizer is the Edamame Garlic (P160), Japanese soybeans with garlic and olive oil. The little green nibblers are bursting with flavor. I already enjoy edamame beans served plain, so this addition of salty-peppery tastes is definitely an upgrade.
Another appetizer is Ukiyo’s best-seller, the Tebasaki karaage (P220), which are fried chicken wings marinated in homemade sauce (note that they don’t divulge the ingredients of the sauce). This dish easily becomes a favorite—the chicken skin is crisp but not oily, the meat tender and delicately-flavored up to the bone. It’s a mixture of sweet, salty and ‘citrus-y’—thanks to the homemade sauce and a squeeze of lemon. A sprinkling of sesame seeds may be the crucial ingredient, too.
Knowing it’s a shame to waste such awesome pulutan, co-owner Yoohoo Villanueva immediately requests for a bottle of shochu.
A green, chilled bottle is brought to the table. Manager Keitaro Kawasaki-san pours its liquid contents to small glasses, which are slightly taller than tequila shot glasses. I swirl one and take a whiff, like how wine tasters do—and like how I always do with every alcohol drink served to me. It smells strong, slightly antiseptic. Others enjoy their shochu on the rocks, which is probably advisable if you’re a first timer. I take a sip and I feel a surge of warmth dart through my throat and to my stomach. It doesn’t burn but the alcohol is potent.
Keitaro served us dishes that are great to pair with shochu: Kuro buta reishabu (P480), which is thinly-sliced black pork cooked in shabu-shabu style with shredded onion leeks and then served cold with special homemade sauce. This one’s my favorite, because the flavorful pork lined with just the right amount of fat, is such a stark contrast to the simplicity of the shochu. Carnivores will rejoice with the Kitayama rib eye amiyaki, reasonably-priced at P1400 per 100 grams. A bite of this broiled wagyu dish packs a deep-seated smoky flavor that is excellent with either of its sauces: the ponzu sauce with onion leeks and spicy radish, and the yuzukoshou, which is ‘lemon-y’ wasabi. The men couldn’t help but wipe this dish clean.
Kuro buta reishabu
Kitayama rib eye amiyaki
For pescetarians, there’s the Salmon belly saikyo yaki (P350), a very indulgent dish of grilled salmon belly marinated in special Nagoya miso sauce. The fish is fatty, glistening in a film of sweet glaze. Its skin is not scaly, lending just the right amount of crisp.
Salmon belly saikyo yaki
Those on a diet will be pleased with the Maguro tataki (P360), a dish of seared fresh tuna with onion leeks and ponzu sauce. There’s also the Tori no tsumire nabe (P400), a simple broth made of mini chicken meatballs, mushroom and tofu. The clear yellow soup warms my tummy, and is still oddly good after a gulp of cold shochu.
Tori no tsumire nabe
Because this is a Japanese restaurant, we couldn’t forego the maki rolls. We’re served the Kayama san maki (P330). KA- stands for karashina (mustasa or mustard), YA-for yamaimo (yam) and MA- for maguro (tuna). The bitterness of the karashina stands out and I can’t help but wish for more tuna.
Kayama san maki
A must-try is the Uni isobe age (P250), which is sea urchin wrapped in seaweed tempura. I recommend to eat this with a generous sprinkling of lemon juice and rock salt. It’s so good, and so different, that it just wins me over.
Another unusual fare is the best-selling Ukiyo Special Pasta (P680), a mix of mentaiko (cod roe), squid ink and fresh uni. Surprisingly, it isn’t black as expected from squid ink and the texture is creamy—like carbonara sauce. The noodles are al dente and every bite is just an explosion of flavors from the sea.
Ukiyo Special Pasta
For dessert, a simple vanilla Mochi Ice Cream (P180/2pcs) is served.
Mochi Ice Cream
I survey our table after the last bite of mochi. Chaos — but, as I down the last of my shochu, my mind and my stomach agree — they’ve never been more Zen as this.
For reservations or more information, visit http://www.ukiyorestaurant.com/