Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The best Japanese food in Manila

You know that saying about how God closes a door but he opens a window?

Well, I don't mean to sound irreverent, but I now have a different and more pragmatic version of this:  when an important appointment is canceled, it's replaced by something else even more overwhelming.

Last night I was invited to dinner by an ambassador of a pretty large country. It had been on my schedule for weeks; but this afternoon, something came up suddenly and the ambassador had to reschedule.

Suddenly and unexpectedly left to my own devices for an evening, I pondered my choices, including letting a friend who'd spontaneously invited to dinner yesterday morning know that I was suddenly free.

In the end, I decided to just relax and catch up on work at home as my next free evening won't happen until after July 3rd.


Interestingly, that wasn't the end of the story after all. I was at work till late for a meeting with my sales team and then I intended to go home and actually get an early night for once. While I was busy going over stuff with my team late in the afternoon, however, events were actually unfolding around me.

And without my even knowing it until it was a done deal, I suddenly found myself with 20 people at home for a rather historic dinner. I wish I could write more about it, but let me just say that I couldn't believe who was sitting in front of me in my dining room table. What an honor, what a privilege. What a surprise.

And what a secret. Unfortunately, I have to keep it this way.


Then tonight I attended an intimate sit-down dinner for 10 hosted by the Ambassador of Japan to the Philippines, at his residence. I'm often invited to dinners by ambassadors at their home or at a restaurant, but tonight, I was actually not directly invited by the ambassador but by his guest of honor.

The Japanese ambassador had invited my old friend XX, a very big businessman, to dinner and he'd ask XX to invite 8 other people. XX took along his family and the top executives of his firm, and he'd asked me to be the 8th. I was happy to accept.

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The crisp invitation card for the dinner, hand-delivered to my office, specifically said it would be a casual sit-down dinner beginning at 630 PM. Indeed, the atmosphere over dinner was relaxed and informal, but the dinner itself was elegant and very precise, as diplomatic dinners always are.

We sat around the living room with drinks for a few minutes, and then the door to the dining room was slid open to reveal a simple but beautifully set rectangular table. By the entrance was a little table with a printed seat plan, where we could check our names and places at the table. This may sound pretty formal to lots of people, but it's pretty SOP for a dinner of an ambassador.


All the ambassadorial dinners I've been to have served wonderful food. Most have their own chefs and they try to serve the cuisine of their countries as part of their promotion of their culture. The Japanese ambassador has a wonderful private chef from Japan who spent seven years at the famous Tokyo restaurant Kitcho, and the six-course dinner we were served tonight was literally a work of art.

It's probably the most delicious Japanese dinner I have ever had in Manila. It was so refined in taste. Nothing screamed or shouted, but everything was incredibly good. No exaggeration.

I wish I could have taken some photos as everything was just so beautifully presented, but it just wasn't that kind of dinner. Usually I can manage to sneak a photo or two on my Blackberry; but not tonight. There were too few people and no one had cameras or phones anywhere near.

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And this is really unfortunate. I eat in pretty nice restaurants or attend fancy dinners almost every day, but tonight's meal was truly special in simplicity but elegance.

The sashimi of lobster and tuna, for instance, was just perfect, and it arrived in a little house of shaved ice with a dollop of wasabi at the entrance. Meanwhile, one of the two main courses, a special lobster tempura, came in the shell of a giant lobster. So the waiters brought in a lacquer tray for each one of us, and on each tray was the giant lobster and a little tray of wasabi salt to dip the pieces of lobster tempura in. This -- and everything else, actually -- was almost too pretty to eat.

Dessert was the Japanese version of halo-halo, but without any shaved ice. It was very good as well.


At the end of the dinner, the residence chef, Ryohei Kawamoto, who eventually wants to open his own restaurant in Tokyo, came out and our little group applauded. Then the ambassador introduced each of us, and what amazed me was that he remembered every detail of something we had said about ourselves earlier that night, and he'd repeated it to the chef as a way of explaining tonight's guests.  

I couldn't take any photos but I did bring the individual menu next to my placemat home, so at least I can reprint the menu so you can get an idea of the lovely meal tonight. "Short and sweet, but perfect," was exactly the message I BBM-ed my friend XX afterwards, to thank him for including me tonight.

He's off on a Travelife tomorrow and soon, so am I. But then again, it seems everyone around me is indulging in a Travelife these days. Just another (delicious) day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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Dinner in honor of

Hosted by the
Ambassador of Japan

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Chef: Ryohei Kawamoto


Vinegared coconut crab

Lobster and tuna sashimi

Beef sukiyaki

Lobster tempura a la Residence

Steamed rice with sea bream

Halo-halo a la Residence

La Sirene de Giscours Margaux 2001

Kyokusen Gokujo Junmai Daiginjo from Iwate Prefecture


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