Friday, February 10, 2012

Real Japanese food at the Dusit Thani

On Wednesday night, there were lots of things happening all over town and we at Travelife Magazine were invited to about 8 different parties and events. So, as everyone likes to party at our office and we’re in a bit of a relaxed mode these two days because our Travelife Japan events in cooperation with the Embassy of Japan and the Dusit Thani Manila are going so well, we all decided to take the evening off and party – but in separate directions so that there was someone going to each event.

One of the most popular invites for last night was the one for the first-year anniversary of Sweet Bella, a very high-end cake shop and café at the Fort. Everyone likes the nice people behind Sweet Bella and we all love their cakes, so there was a bit of a tussle as to who would get to represent Travelife Magazine and Travelife TV in this one.

I took myself out of the running early enough as there were too many people wanting dibs on this invitation, and so for the cocktail hour I headed to the Mandarin Oriental to celebrate with the Embassy of Iran on the occasion of their national day, and to welcome the new ambassador of Iran to Manila.

Have lunch with Travelife Magazine on Friday, Feb 17
at UMU Japanese Restaurant of the Dusit Thani Manila.
or call Travelife Magazine during office hours (8138400/ 8922620)
to reserve a seat at lunch.


I go to embassy parties all the time, and especially to the National Day celebrations. But this was the first time I’d seen a hotel ballroom decked out so beautifully for a National Day. From the entrance alone, it looked like we were entering a beautiful Iranian palace filled with precious objects and Islamic art. It was really stunning.

“This is the handiwork of our new ambassador,” someone whispered. How very refreshing, and so I just had to meet their new envoy to Manila. Ambassador Ali Mohammadi struck me as very cultured and extremely friendly, eager to promote Iranian culture more in Manila, where there has either been a dearth of sources on Iranian culture or negative publicity about it. I am very much looking forward to working with their embassy on helping to promote the beautiful aspects of their culture in Manila.


The main event for my evening was at the Dusit Thani’s UMU restaurant, one of the top Japanese restaurants in the Philippines and the choice of Travelife Magazine and the Embassy of Japan for our joint projects: Travelife Japan Night on February 16 and Travelife Lunch with a Geisha on February 17. It’s the most beautiful Japanese restaurant in Manila and Chef Noriyuki Fukata is really a perfectionist when he is asked to make an authentic Japanese meal. He takes such a request very seriously.

So the result of all our planning for Travelife Japan Night on February 16 is an honest-to-goodness delicious Japanese dinner with almost every single ingredient being flown in from Japan next week. And I’m not talking about the flavorful tempura and sushi you get in most other high-end Japanese restaurants, but the real deal.


The real deal is subtle in taste because it relies more on the high quality of the ingredients and the slight seasoning; so there's no overdose of salt, pepper or soy sauce. If you're joining us on February 16, be prepared for something different from the usual Japanese restaurant fare. But as one of the Japanese present at the food tasting said that night, "This is the kind of food our ambassador serves when he hosts dinners at his home."

Please note: Travelife Japan Night on Feb 16 and Lunch with a Geisha & Travelife Magazine are both fee-based events. You will not be able to enter without a confirmed reservation and payment. Travelife Japan Night on Feb 16 is full but the Feb 17 lunch still has available places. Please call Travelife Magazine at 8138400/ 8922620 during regular office hours, or email to secure a reservation for the lunch.

My dinner appointment was with two of the most senior diplomats in the Japanese embassy, as we were the appointed tasting committee and in charge of making sure the meal would be authentic and delicious.

I came from the Iranian National Day so I was several minutes late; but when I walked in at just past 8 PM, the restaurant was filled with Japanese. Yes, apart from the two Japanese embassy officials I was having dinner with, there were so many other embassy officials having dinners to entertain clients and conduct work meetings at UMU -- but in other areas of it -- at the same time. That’s how popular UMU is with the Japanese community that so many of the clientele are Japanese who know their food, rather than just Filipinos who love Japanese food.


Chef Fukata, who was once the private chef of the Embassy of Japan before moving on to the Dusit Thani to head their restaurant, is a real perfectionist; and that’s why we’re severely limited to 200 covers for Travelife Japan Night on Feb 16.

Of course we could have more people, but the quality of the food would suffer, and Chef Fukata himself would not allow that. So it's a happy and unhappy problem of sorts for us. We're completely booked for the 200 covers and I have lots of people tearing their hair out about not being included or about not having their reservations processed.

We've tried to be as fair as possible and to process completed confirmations as they come in, but there's just been too much demand for dinner. Right now, the waiting list is about 140 people for the next available seat -- meaning a cancellation -- and even I've decided to give up my own dinner just so one more person can experience Travelife Japan Night.


Almost every single item is being brought in for Travelife Japan Night, and in fact kilos of the famed Japanese beef enough to feed 200 people are now being readied to be flown over by carriers are we speak.

In spite of all the work and effort, and costs, for putting this dinner together, we’ve tried to keep costs manageable although still pricey. Without factoring in the cost of the geisha entertainment and all the décor and periphery preparations involved, I can tell you now that the cost of the meal – simply because everything is being flown in from Japan, including the ice cream ingredients – is at least twice what we are charging.

And that’s not even factoring in the cost of drinks, entertainment (and the cost of flying and housing the geisha and their hair pieces over in Manila for 3 nights) and décor, plus staff fees and meals. JAL has even reserved two roundtrip seats TKY-MNL-TKY just for the hairpieces of the geisha. And so many people are working on this evening to make it a great success, as with all Travelife events.


So I guess that’s why we have a waiting list of over 140 pax for the next available seat and at the moment there’s absolutely no seat in the house to give. People know a fantastic cultural opportunity and a great evening when they see one. And it’s so heartwarming to know that so many of the Travelife readers and friends who have signed up and paid for this dinner are people who have attended every single one of our Travelife Evenings last year.

That just goes to show how high the satisfaction level for a Travelife event is, because it’s reasonably-priced, so personal in planning and preparations, and a true labor of love because we’re committed to bringing you the world in every way possible.


We have a lunch on February 17 that will feature the geisha in performance, as well as greeting guests personally at every table – lots of photo opportunities and experiences to see the charm of these ambassadors of Japanese culture for yourself – but we won’t be serving a degustation meal but a regular UMU lunch.

Even then, when you make you calculations, you’ll realize that we’ve literally only charged you for an UMU lunch and we’re shouldering the costs of everything else.

So it’s pricey at P1999 per person for the lunch on Feb 17, but you won’t get a better deal elsewhere with a good lunch from Manila’s best Japanese restaurant and a rare and ordinarily incredibly expensive geisha performance thrown in for free courtesy of Travelife Magazine, the Embassy of Japan and the Dusit Thani Manila. And, of course, our valued major partners: Japan Airlines (JAL), the Transnational Diversified Group (TDG), Canon Corporation, and Globe Platinum.

As of this morning, we still had about 20 seats available for lunch, which will start at 12 and end at 2 pm to enable more people who work at companies to join us for their lunch break with a little extra time. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to see geisha up close and personal. They’ll be performing their beautiful songs, and also going from table to table to interact with guests.

No magazine gives you the world like TRAVELIFE Magazine.

* * *

To commemorate the resilience of the Japanese people
one year after the Great Earthquake,
and to celebrate the beauty of Japanese culture.



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