An impressive roaster of specialty restaurants continue to open around The Fort, making the area one of the most complete food destinations that can satisfy any craving. Steak the First, which opened its doors last December, brings foodies delicious steaks in a no frills environment.
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An Accidental Business
Kevin Co, Steak the First’s proprietor, welcomed us into the Net Park-based restaurant after lunch hour. It was the best time to shoot because since its opening, people have crowded the restaurant during lunchtime to try one of their many beef dishes. During the mid afternoon, several tables were occupied with regulars who were avoiding big crowds. They are looking to try some of the restaurant’s most premium cuts, including the newly imported Kokusan Gyu beef from Japan. While this particular item is not on the menu, the waiters will offer it to you. It is their most expensive cut. After tasting its melt-in-your-mouth goodness, you will understand why.
A food chain in Japan, Steak the First fell onto Kevin’s lap almost accidentally. An amateur cook who enjoys time in the kitchen, the 25-year-old always knew he would enter the food business. However, when plans for a Japanese soft-served ice cream business fell through, he was left with no ideas. It was a chance meeting with Steak the First’s owners in Japan that inspired him to bring the restaurant to Manila.
Relatively new, Steak the First has only opened a handful of stores in Japan, making the Manila branch the first elsewhere in Asia. Staying true to the mothership as much as possible, they try to recreate the Japanese experience to a tee. Dark wood decorates the spacious interiors. Armchairs are used for eating around clean, white marble tables. All of these details are similar to the Steak the First restaurants found in Japan. Their food menu is almost entirely the same as well, offering premium cuts of beef, served with a miniature hot stone grill with sidings of their special, secret sauces.
Steak as a Religion
The way Kevin describes how steak should be eaten at Steak the First is so precise, that it almost feels like his religion. After ordering your choice of cut, the steak is cooked on a grill with an open fire. No butter is used to hide quality. Steak the First is very confident in their meat that they simply use a smidgen of salt and pepper to season their steaks. This is then moved onto a plate, which is then served with a miniature stone grill so that those who want to cook it a bit more can easily do it themselves. Kevin recommends eating it the perfect medium rare (as served), but admits that many diners in the Philippines like it well-done. “It’s all about the experience,” he shares, picking up a piece of wagyu with his chopsticks, heating it for three more seconds, and dipping it into their extraordinarily good garlic butter sauce (which is only served during the dinner). Another secret sauce called the Signature Sauce is served during lunchtime.
The steaks are treated with much care. Kevin says that they never cook steaks frozen, allowing these to sit in a chiller until these are ready for cooking. He understands the risk of spoilage, but he promises that he’d never serve an old piece of meat anyway, justifying the risk by saying that quality is the most important thing for the restaurant.
Each serving of meat is served with a very simple array of sides, which is rice, watercress and a piece of lemon. The lemon he shares, is a good palette cleanser, showing a different side of the beef when squeezed on top. It also serves as good break between sauce changes. These simple steak dishes are also ideally eaten with drinks from Steak the First’s simple bar menu. A standout is the Highball, which uses a generous amount of premium whiskey that will surely hit the right spots.
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An Impromptu Tasting Menu
There are multiple other dishes worth trying at Steak the First such as their Octopus Ceviche and 12 Months Aged Prosciutto. But at the end of the day, diners come there to enjoy a mean piece of meat. We were privileged to have been able to try Steak the First’s impromptu tasting menu. Here, Kevin ordered every steak on the menu (including the premium Kokusai Gyu cut). He arranged the meat from least to most premium, telling us to try each individually and slowly. We gradually made our way down to the last one, and on the journey, we noticed the quality of each meat differed. The first being the most tough, the last being the most melt-in-your mouth.
The first steak is the Akami Steak, which is tougher and leaner than everything else on the plate. Kevin says it is a best seller with diners at Japan. The Top Sirloin and Striploin are the next on the list of bestsellers. While both almost similar, the latter is a little more tender. The Rib Eye Roll is next, which will surprise you on how flavorful and tender it is. Kevin says that it is their current best seller, because it is the most familiar to Filipino audiences. The Tenderloin lives up to its name “tender”. Last on the menu is the Wagyu, which will literally have diners closing their eyes and relishing the flavor and texture with each bite. It is soft, fatty and sinful—everything you’d want with this cut of meat. The Kokusan Gyu was an additional treat, having been imported from Japan just the day before. Kevin recommended that diners recreate this impromptu tasting menu with a group of six friends. He suggested that this way, everyone can try each steak and figure out what they truly want for their next visit.
The restaurant has no frills at all. They simply exist to give Filipino foodies a taste of premium Japanese-style steaks. That’s one thing we love about the new eatery—it’s all about the food. With Manila’s bloated food scene, it is refreshing to discover a new restaurant that cares not only about flavor, but also to educate its audience with all things steak. It may be called Steak the First, but we’ll definitely be back for a second, third, and even fourth time.