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A piece of Japan in Malate |


A piece of Japan in Malate

THE BACONMAN COMETH - Sharwin Tee - The Philippine Star
A piece of Japan in Malate
The sashimi course at Royal Sakura was pure heaven.

Social media algorithms have a way of finding out what your heart truly desires. On my feeds, I have been inundated with videos from vloggers enjoying some of the best, most enticing food Japan has to offer and my envy just kept growing, video after video. I just had to have a special Japanese meal, at least just to placate my feelings of envy. With that, I made reservations at Royal Sakura in Malate and the staff promised to create a special menu for the reservation as they do whenever anyone reserves for their omakase menu.

Seated at the sushi counter so we could watch the chefs at work, we got some sake to pair with the meal. What a meal it turned out to be. The appetizer course was a platter of small bites. A small glass of Japanese Plum One (flavored wine) was on one end of the long plate and some immaculately shiny black beans were on the other side. In between were chestnuts with a sweet sauce, candied walnuts, some crisp fried tatsukuri (sardine) and a smoked salmon summer roll. It was quite surprising for me to start the meal with so many sweet things, but each was so delicious, I didn’t spend much time thinking about why or what it meant for the meal’s progression. The black beans, chestnut, walnuts — each sweet in their own way — were all variations of soft and fluffy, with an almost creamy mouthfeel. The tatsukuri and the smoked salmon roll finally lent some saltiness to the course. Both were executed wonderfully with the tatsukuri enticingly crisp and the summer roll bright and fresh. After downing the shot of plum wine, I found myself properly “appetized” for the coming courses. I guess parents weren’t always right when they warned against eating sweets before dinner.

The next course was a platter of sashimi, fresh flown from Japan. I tried to hide my slightly audible gasp as my eyes surveyed the simple yet elegant presentation of slices of otoro (the best slices of fatty tuna belly), hamachi (yellow tail), salmon, uni (sea urchin) and a giant Hokkaido oyster. Each was at the height of freshness; each bite of the oyster and the uni giving you the lovely brine and flavor of the sea while the richness of fish slices donated their incomparable richness. It was at this point of the meal that I began to lose sense of where I was. Malate or Tokyo, it simply didn’t matter anymore.

Grilled Flat Fish was a lesson in how simplicity leads to greatness.

The grandiose nature of the sashimi course was then beautifully followed by the most simple of dishes: a grilled flatfish, adorned with a single lemon slice. The server indicated that the accompanying shaved radish and spring onions could be mixed with some soy sauce tableside and that would be the sauce of the fish. Flaky and tender, the fish was lovely by itself and even better with the sauce. It was the least impressive-sounding dish on the menu, but it was dynamite.

The next grilled dish was just pure indulgence. A5 Miyazaki beef cuts, tongue, short rib and loin were served raw beside a small grill. The tongue, dipped in Himalayan salt after a pair of quick 30-second kisses on the grill, was magical. Its texture was bouncy, dare I say almost like cartilage, but it was absolutely juicy on the inside. It could have been my favorite bite of the night. The short rib and loin, also cooked less than a minute on each side, mind-boggling in tenderness and juiciness, provided a flavor so delicious I literally could only groan. Words just didn’t come out of my mouth.

The next course was called “Vinegar,” a curious name as, it was a dish of steamed snow crab that was chilled. As I coaxed the meat from the shell and dipped it into the vinegar, the name made perfect sense. The juicy, sweet and salty crab meat was enhanced by the kombu (dried kelp) vinegar, enveloping it in sour and umami flavors, making every bite a perfect one with four flavors playing nice with each other. Indeed, the vinegar, while it wasn’t the most expensive part of the dish, was its heart and soul.

The next three courses were served together. Chawan mushi (steamed egg custard), a dashi soup and a platter of nigiri sushi (handmade sushi) made for a lovely trio to wind down the meal. The egg custard was comforting, a nice and light dish to calm the bright vinegar flavor from the previous course. The soup I found a bit too mild for my taste, but then that could have been to whet the palate for the amazing sushi platter. With an otoro sushi and a seared wagyu one, it would be easy to forget about the other pieces, but each held their own. The tamago (egg omelet) and the unagi (eel) were not too sweet, and the shrimp and saba (mackarel) were wonderfully marinated and bright. Most importantly, the rice was cooked perfectly and flavored impeccably.

The dessert course was a lovely duo of black sesame pudding and custard-filled mochi. Given the plethora of wonderfully bombastic and rich dishes that came before, the light and slightly sweet pair was the perfect way to end the meal.

Taking stock of the meal as I stood up from the table, I debated if this was my favorite meal of maybe the past five years. It wasn’t such a hyperbole. After all, service was impeccable too, friendly and attentive yet unobtrusive, with fallen chopsticks replaced within 30 seconds. As my envy slowly melted away with each course, I had to smile to myself. Perhaps the vloggers can have their Japan. I will always have my Malate.

A5 Miyazaki Wagyu grilled tableside? Of course, yes!

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Sharwin’s book, The Gospel of Food, is now available in National Bookstores nationwide plus Amazon, Shopee and Lazada. Follow Sharwin’s food adventures on Instagram @chefsharwin and for questions, reactions, recipe and column suggestions, you can contact him on

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