New Restaurant Alert: Koku in Salcedo Village, Makati
Manila is turning Japanese and we're loving it.
G/F Two Central Building, 109 Valero Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(SPOT.ph) The word "koku" is a form of measurement. Historically, it described the amount of rice required to feed one person for a year (around 330 pounds). It also refers to "abundance." This definition sets the tone for Koku, a recently opened restaurant in Makati City. Married couple Michelle and Bambi Meer believe that a good meal comes from a generous serving of food which, in turn, comes from a generous serving of love.
Koku is slightly bigger than your usual Salcedo Village haunt. Bambi and Michelle designed it to be both a friendly neighborhood go-to, as well as a place for celebration. Sliding doors could either divide the restaurant into private quarters or open it up for one big fiesta. It is a kind of thoughtfulness you can get from experienced restaurateurs, which Bambi and Michelle are. Bambi runs Subic's famous steak stop Meat Plus, and the couple is also behind prolific comfort food havens Kettle and Fireside.
A taste of Chef Samurai
They opened Chef Samurai in December 2013 when their favorite Japanese restaurant in Olongapo shut down. They tapped Chef Bruce Ricketts (Sensei Sushi, Ooma) to help develop a menu that was both familiar and novel (think papaya oysters and sushi pizzas) and it didn't take long for the restaurant to become a destination.
Almost three years later—and after all the clamor for Chef Samurai to open in Metro Manila—Bambi and Michelle have relented, sort of. Some of Koku's dishes are carried over from Subic, but the menu is generally a brand-new adventure.
We're digging the modern direction in the interiors.
Salmon Belly Skewers (P198)
The Oyster Papaya (P268) may have traveled some distance, but no way did it lose any of its charm. The briny Japanese oysters are complemented by thin slices of papaya. A sweet sauce bridges the gap between the contrasting flavors.
California Sushi Pizza
Spicy Tuna Sushi Pizza
Salmon and Cream Cheese
Family is emphasized at Koku and even the couple looked into their own for ideas. The Meers, for example, encountered sushi pizzas during a family trip to San Francisco and their kids asked them to recreate it. Instead of bread, crispy sushi rice patties make up the crust—a stage for a smorgasbord of sushi components. They have California (P268) with kani, mango, and cucumber; Spicy Tuna (P308), with chopped tuna in a zingy sauce; and Salmon and Cream Cheese (P328), which pretty much explains itself.
Koku Special Tuna Sushi
Salmon Aburi Sushi
The Salmon Aburi Sushi (P288) has four pieces of salmon sushi that are torched, adding a smokiness and a very subtle crispiness to the delicious bite.
Koku's range of sushi is easy to love. The Geisha Maki (P318) is an explosive blend of crabstick, mango, and cucumber, topped with seared salmon. Meanwhile, those who can't make a decision between salmon and tuna would find bliss in the Dynamite Roll (P318), with its stunning assembly of salmon and tuna, brightened by sticks of cucumber and just a hint of chili. We'd go for the Samurai Maki (P498) ourselves. Its palate-teasing combination of unagi, kani, cream cheese, cucumber, and shrimp tempura is a winner.
Meanwhile, the succulent beef of the Wagyu Teppanyaki (P538) is balanced by a nice serving of vegetables on the side. For those looking for that Chef Samurai playfulness, the Japanese Carbonara (P198) is where two cultures meet and get along quite swimmingly. Who needs bacon when you can have shiitake, fried wakame, and crispy salmon?
The Coffee Jelly (P138), served with vanilla ice cream and cream sauce, feels like a simple dessert to finish a meal at Koku. But after that adventure, it's always good to go back to something comfortingly familiar.
Photos by Hans Fausto