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Something new’s a cookin’ in Poblacion.

Many consider Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Japonesa as the hottest thing right now in Poblacion, the place to be at the Makati neighborhood where everyone wants to be after hours.

READ ALSO: The Master: Filipino Chef Earns Michelin Star For Japanese Restaurant In Florida

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Families usually arrive earlier in the evening before the 20s-to-late-30s crowd comes filling up the spot at night.

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A post shared by Japonesa (@japonesapoblacion)

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Unique yet familiar, it’s got all the thrill to be inviting while comfy enough to keep them craving. That’s the secret to Japonesa, according to Notorious Concepts chief executive officer James Thomas.

Cool concept

Notorious Concepts is the same restaurant group that brought Alamat and West 32. Now, it explores two entirely different directions in one go through Japonesa.

La Japonesa

The concept came about after Thomas had a “serendipitous meeting” with Chef Luis Higa, a Japanese man who had lived nearly half his life in Peru.

“We quickly got to talking about setting up a brick and mortar. Because Luis is Japanese by blood and lived in Peru for so long as a chef, we found that doing Japanese-Peruvian would be the obvious choice,” Thomas tells Lifestyle Asia.

Dragon Flight

Although they began discussing the idea a full year prior to opening, it took them four whole months to work on the concept since there were three other pending ventures beforehand.

Lengua Katsu

The Notorious Concepts leader said their food group is on a mission to introduce fresh and exciting culinary adventures in a Poblacion. In fact, they believe it’s a neighborhood with the potential to become the next Lan Kwai Fong (Hong Kong).

“As such, we strive to cultivate a strong epicurean culture here just as much as we focus on nightlife,” Thomas declares.

Grapefruit Hai-Ball

It only took one taste of the food from Higa’s online business Little Peru to realize that they’d be missing out on a huge opportunity by not pursuing a project with him. Thomas said the food was “unique, yet familiar,” which was exactly the right way for them to introduce people to new phenomena.

Lomo Saltado

“Sometimes when restaurants get too creative with their dishes, it can taste great, but the familiarity just isn’t there, so people won’t crave it. With Japanese food being so beloved here in the Philippines, it acts as a trojan horse for the Peruvian flavors and nuances that most restaurantgoers aren’t accustomed to,” Thomas analyzes.

Pretty place

“Japonesa” literally translates to Japanese girl. This reflects in the feminine atmosphere and ambiance of the restaurant compared to Notorious Concepts’ other establishments.

Hamachi Tiradito

Pastel colors complement playful fixtures and decor. This aesthetic means to “evoke a feeling of adventure, but also warm, safe, and familiar.”

Like its counterpart concepts, however, Japonesa shares a similar music component.

Pineapple Hai-Ball

“The genre may be different here, but we still rely on music. Especially later in the evening, to set the tone and let people know, that it’s OK to let your hair down and have more than your fair share of cocktails. We’re a nice and respectable restaurant that you can take your parents to. But you can also come here with friends and party it up! We are in the heart of Poblacion after all,” Thomas invites.

Coliflor Frito

The 180-square-meter space began construction in early January and finished by the start of April.

“Other than going for a more feminine vibe, one curveball request we gave to our head architect and designer, Kat Encorporado, was to retain the original floor left behind by the previous occupant. The floor tiles were in pretty good shape. But it was made of very specific colors that would make any interior designer shake their head,” Thomas recalls.

Nonetheless, they designed around the floor and ultimately became satisfied with the result.

Watermelon Hai-Ball

The place currently seats about 60 people, but the management plans on adding more patio seats outside. Japonesa also has a second floor that they plan on converting into an extension.

Entero Shimeji

“We’ve been gaining more and more popularity since opening day. So we think it’s best to bite the bullet now and create more space to accommodate more visitors,” Thomas reveals.

Mixed menu

Of course, what keeps the customers coming is the restaurant’s lineup of Japanese-Peruvian cuisine.

Maguro Tiradito

After a few months of operation, they’ve narrowed down a few bestsellers. These consist of La Japonesa (signature sushi roll), Lengua Katsu (katsu-style lengua), Lomo Saltado (beef stew in soy sauce-based broth), and Hamachi Tiradito (yellow tail sashimi).

“We met our head chef Luis back in early 2021 and started brainstorming ideas. Luckily for us, chef Luis has been collecting cookbooks from all over the world since he was a younger man and has amassed a respectable collection. We poured over the books every few weeks drawing inspiration where we could. Until one day, we were ready to test them out,” Thomas recalls.

Watermelon Basil Smash Tub

Overall, Notorious Concepts spent about a year thinking about the Japonesa menu. This is on top of the actual research and development process that took about three months.

Fortunately, these hourlong food-tasting sessions would come to pay off through overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Sake Tiradito

“The reviews we’ve been getting are extremely encouraging. The preparation our team made was solid and everything came together just how we drew it up. From the ambiance, the food, the drinks, the service—everyone seems to appreciate and love what we’re doing,” Thomas celebrates.

Moreover, Japonesa is already welcoming regulars.

“It’s been an exciting couple of months, but Japonesa is just getting started. I can’t wait to show the world what else we have in store. We’re already working on the grand opening menu and should be rolling that out along with extended hours of operations. So you can start joining us for lunch instead of just dinner,” Thomas concluded.

White Rabbit

Japonesa is at 5658 Jacobo Street corner Don Pedro Street, Poblacion, Makati. For more information, visit Japonesa’s Instagram page (@JaponesaPoblacion).

Photos by Excel Panlaque

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