When Nikkei first opened its doors in Legazpi Village for the first time in 2015, gastronomes were certainly enthralled. The Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant had something new to offer, converging two unexpected cuisines into one. It is no surprise that people came running. Today, Nikkei has expanded to two other restaurants in the Metro, recently launching branches in Podium and One Rockwell. The original sleek, minimalist exteriors have been retained for these new additions, while the creations in the kitchen have diversified into being even more inventive cuisine. The eatery has found the right marriage between the slick, clean flavors of Japan, and the spicy, playful palette that is distinctly Latin America. They have also just launched their newest tasting menu entitled Now & Then, which features several of Nikkei’s best-selling dishes and new imaginative inventions tailored to stimulate the palette.
The origins of the word Nikkei goes back several hundred years, to a time when a group of Japanese immigrants re-located to South America. Making use of the spicy, new ingredients that their new home had to offer, Nikkei cuisine was born. In the new millennium, the fusion cuisine has gained much acclaim and popularity with discerning gourmets around the world. The homegrown restaurant Nikkei takes its name from the famous cuisine. It was founded by the food loving couple Carlo and Jackie Lorenzana with Chef Juan Barcos helming the kitchen. It was the first of its kind in the Philippines, showcasing the biting flavors of Japanese-Peruvian gastronomy to much fanfare since opening the Rada eatery two years ago.
A Well-Balanced Tasting Menu
Nikkei recently launched their new Tasting Menu Now & Then to a small group of foodies and media personalities. Lifestyle Asia was in attendance for the very first public trail. In collaboration with Wine Warehouse, the dinner was held at Issei, the new private function room tucked away from the main dining area of the One Rockwell branch. Private parties may easily reserve the function space upon request. It accommodates as many as 12 to 15 people, and is a charming area for intimate affairs. It was also announced to the privileged invitees of the dinner that the Now & Then tasting menu is not publicized on the regular menu. Those who want to try it must call a representative from Nikkei to make special arrangements and reservations at the Rockwell branch. After ordering, one is treated to a culinary delight, which includes eight courses for dinner.
Diners will first be welcomed with an amusebouche, a bite sized appetizer made by the chef. For the event, the hors d’oeuvre was that of a salmon ikura served with a dash of truffle potato cream. The flavor exploded in the mouth, and expectations were raised for an evening of good food. A dish called Tiradito soon followed with much praise. Similar to Japanese sashini, the dish is raw white fish, but this time served with Peruvian ingredients such as rocoto sauce, lime juice, cilantro emulsion, red chili, and glazed sweet potato. These first two dishes captured the essence of the flavors that were expected of the evening.
An appetizer dish of Tuna Latke was the next plate served. The dish was a playful mix of textures, with a tender seared tuna sitting atop a crispy potato pancake with huancaina sauce, cilantro and lemon. To round up the first batch of courses, Taco Causa was then brought out of the kitchen. This dish consists of guacamole, octopus confit, panka-miso sauce, and chives. Although the description makes it sound like more of a Peruvian dish, the fresh seafood aspect gave it the right balance of Oriental flavors. Appetizer dishes were paired with Laurenz V Singing Gruner Veltliner, a wine from Austria, made with much finesse.
No Better Combo Then Sushi and Wine
When the appetizer courses concluded, it was time for more traditional Japanese fare, the fan favorite we all know as sushi. Brought out on a dark plate were three types of the Japanese delicacy, enhanced with the spicy flavors Peru. The first was known as the Ceviche Roll. It was a well-crafted sushi with generous portions of raw white fish, cucumber, onion leeks, cilantro, ceviche sauce and fresh chili. Next the Ebi Furai, which included a deep fried prawn, avocado, white fish, ceviche sauce, and togarashi. Lastly, the Panko, which was complimented by its own special salad sauce. Guests of the dinner party all agreed that the last roll was indeed the most delicious of the three. It was filled with salmon, kampyo, truffled cream cheese, cucumber, and onion leeks. Also the richest of the rolls, everybody saved the Panko for last, to give them that final zing of flavor before waiting for the main courses. The sushi was thoughtfully paired with a Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc, from the Loire Valley region of France.
For those looking for other alcohol options, Nikkei also offers a new variety of alcoholic beverages and cocktails for their diners to enjoy. The Tokyo/Lima Red Eye for instance is a delightful concoction that includes gin, lime juice, and simple syrup. For those looking for more of a punch try to the Terrace House Tipple, which perfectly infuses shiso leaf with a mixture of Mancino Vermouth Blanco, Ambrato, Chase Elderflower liquor, and tonic water. Lastly, the adventurous may opt for the Salaryman, which includes different parts Mancino Vermouth, Chinato, Rinomata Aperitivo, cold drip coffee, and soda water.
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A Clean (Yet Sinful) Finish
The indulgence of the main courses was more than welcomed by hungry dinner guests. Nikkei chose to begin their last service of dishes with the Fideo Saltado, an interesting pasta-like dish that felt clean in flavor and silky in texture. It includes Peruvian “chow-mein” (their spin on the stir fried noodle), served with shrimp, snapper fish, squid, pork belly, vegetables, and an egg yolk to make it creamier. Everybody agreed that although it tasted clean, it was undeniably rich and full of flavor. It a blessing that the Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir wine from Marlborough, New Zeland was on hand to help the food go down the digestrive track.
Following that, Nikkei brought out one of its big guns, serving their best-selling sea urchin risotto. Each bite was as sinful as the next, and yet diners could not have enough. Luckily, the fluffy rice dish was served with a very tender seared tuna cut, that allowed the flavors to balance out seamlessly. Arguably, the pièce de résistance of the new tasting menu was the Carilleras, braised Iberrico pork cheeks with a truffle potato cream. Each bite of the well-cooked pork was reminiscent of the streets of Japan, where street side sellers grill their own cuts of wagyu or other premium meats on wooden sticks. Yet, this Iberrico pork dish felt like a heightened version of this, especially with the addition of the truffle potato cream. To think, this isn’t even beef, but pork which is not regularly seen in Japanese cuisine. It was an inventive final main dish, and enough to re-visit to Nikkei and its new tasting menu.
Dessert was the traditional Peruvian Picarones, sweet potato fried dough (almost like a donut in apperance) with maple syrup and ice cream served at the side. It was the ideal conclusion to such a meal. It was best enjoyed with a cup of hot tea or coffee to help digestion. Tasting menus often take a while to serve and be had, but to Nikkei’s credit, service was quick, without sacrificing the quality of their food. It is worth booking a table at the Japanese-Peruvian restaurant for your next eating binge, especially when cravings for fusion flavors call. It hits the right spot for any food lover.
Nikkei is located at 111 Rada, Legaspi Village. The new branches are located at One Rockwell and Podium. The new tasting menu Now & Then is only available at the One Rockwell Branch. Call or text Nikkei’s Marketing Manager Monica Modomo at +63 917 527 4370 for inquiries and reservations for the tasting menu.
By Chino R. Hernandez
Photographs courtesy of Nikkei