MANILA -- When a new Japanese restaurant opens, Filipino diners either look for the classic dishes (sushi, tempura, etc.) or look for something new and different. With all the Japanese eateries in the local market, it's quite a challenge to stand out.
In the case of new premium sushi restaurant Sen-ryo, it's main selling point is the quality of food. It's easy to serve sushi and tempura, but serving authentic and premium sushi and tempura is another story.
“We intend to present the authentic sushi for the fine dining occasion. Not only the high quality food but also nice drinks like sake and other alcohol drinks, which is a nice combination,” explained Genki Sushi manager Hitoshi Kimura.
Sen-ryo is under sushi restaurant chain company Genki Sushi.
Located at the ground level of The Podium mall in Mandaluyong City, Sen-ryo is a premium sushi restaurant concept from Japan. Originally from Tochigi prefecture, it has two restaurants in Japan and several branches in Hong Kong.
Mother Spice Food Corp., the operator of the local Genki Sushi in the Philippines, is the company that brought in Sen-ryo in the country.
“Sen-ryo is one of our favorite restaurants in Japan or when we go to Hong Kong. When we're craving for sushi, this restaurant is our go-to place. It's always been known for quality and it's always be known for unique sushi,” Mother Spice Food Corp. president and chief executive officer Eric Teng shared.
“Japanese restaurants are about quality and about individuality as well. Not all Japanese restaurants are the same. I think the Philippines is just tipping the iceberg in terms of Japanese cuisine here. In the past, all Japanese food tend to be in one restaurant but we're slowly becoming specialized like in Japan. There's ramen-ya, which is focused on ramen; there's sushi-ya which is focused on sushi. We definitely want to give a stronger focus on quality, premium sushi here,” he added.
The design of the restaurant alone is more premium than other Japanese restaurants. Wooden slats in a wave pattern covers the facade of the space. It has a high ceiling with modern furnishing but also has traditional horigotatsu rooms or dining spaces with recessed flooring.
And when it comes to the food, the restaurant specializes in hand-made sushi, focusing on more premium ingredients. Two of the premium dishes the restaurant offers are the nodoguro and kinmedai, two types of deep-sea fish.
“We serve nodoguro kinmedai is our unique and special sushi. Both are deep-sea fishes and not all sushi restaurant can handle the quality of fish but we serve it here. We recommend it,” Kimura said.
But they also serve more contemporary sushi like the Seared Salmon with Cheese nigiri and the Cheese Shrimp Cutlet Roll. The menu is a mix of traditional and contemporary Japanese food.
“The menu here is slightly different from our original offering but we inspected the local conditions and local preference. So maybe the fusion and combination of our authentic one and the local preference. Not completely the same,” explained Japanese chef Kazuhiko Yoshida.
“Fusion sushi is maybe getting popular especially for the younger generation but more popular overseas. Based on our experience in our business overseas, we decided to serve the seared salmon with cheese. The younger generation is changing their preferences,” Kimura said.
Some of the traditional items include the Japanese omelette, fish sashimi, and assorted tempura. The chefs decided to offer tempura just for the Philippine market.
There's also another dish that is only available in the Philippines -- a steamed egg custard appetizer.
“It's an egg custard with cheese, an appetizer. Steamed egg custard inside is cheese, cherry tomatoes, asparagus with egg liquid,” Yoshida shared.
The other premium item on the menu is Wagyu beef. The restaurant has a beef udon with kimchi, another fusion dish.
Then there's the grilled beef, Ohmi Japanese wagyu strips and vegetables on a hot plate. Cook the beef on the table with a candle burner.
To keep the food authentic, the restaurant has to source some of the ingredients from Japan, but the kitchen also sources some locally like the vegetables and shrimps, among others.
With all the Japanese restaurants available in the market, Teng believes that Sen-ryo will stand out simply because of the food. Because he also believes that expectations and standards are much higher now and Filipinos are looking for a more elevated experience.
“Filipinos are looking for quality food. They are more discerning than before. There are certain brands that we consider aspirational that are now available here. We hope that we can fulfill that part of our local market's aspirations for quality sushi. We don't want to disappoint anyone, let's put it that way. We want to exceed customer's expectations if we can,” Teng said.