Traditional Meets Trendy at This New Modern Japanese Haunt in Cebu
At Ori Izakaya, the Ori Special Roll and Foie Gras Aburi are must-tries.
Panorama Heights, Nivel Hills, Lahug, Cebu City
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
(SPOT.ph) Ori Izakaya was a family affair, born out of a simple Sunday tradition. “Usually after mass, we would all go out to eat, and we’d always end up at Japanese restaurants,” shares Christelle Dychangco, the restaurant’s marketing head. “It would always be Japanese food, because it satisfied everyone—the kids, the adults. We all loved it.”
So it was really no surprise when patriarch Renato “Oly” Dychangco, Jr. declared in December 2019 that it was time they opened their own. He had met a chef in Manila who was interested in venturing out to Cebu, and was excited to start his own homage to a cuisine his family loved.
What was surprising, Christelle and her sister Holly revealed, was the timeline he’d set. “On February 1, he sat us down and said, we’re opening on February 14,” Christelle recalls. By then, they’d already gone through a series of food tastings for the menu, and had filed all the necessary permits. “He said, if our paperwork is ready, then there’s no excuse. Let’s open in two weeks.”
Flanking the open space are two glass rooms—one for the kitchen and main dining area, and the other a private room that can accommodate 25 people. “We were really inspired by izakaya places in Japan, where it’s all outdoor seating and very casual,” Christelle adds.
Thee glass enclosures were also in keeping with the restaurant’s name. In Japanese, ori means cage, which Holly incorporated into various design elements—the glass walls, the blinds, a wooden chandelier that looks like a bird cage.
Of course, the name also had a personal element to it. “We joke around about Ori being the Japanese pronunciation of our founder’s nickname, Oly,” Christelle shares. “But when we looked it up, we found that it also means ‘head,’ referring to one’s spiritual intuition and destiny. So we thought it actually ended up making a lot of sense, because he is the head of the family.”
Considering the whirlwind both sisters went through to get Ori Izakaya open, it’s impressive seeing it all come together. Industrial elements like concrete floors and walls are juxtaposed against colorful murals, paper lanterns, traditional Japanese plates and cups, and pops of greenery. It’s relaxed and inviting, creating a comfortable environment where people can sit and savor the food.
“We wanted to create a restaurant where we keep traditional tastes, and also have quick and trendy options,” says Christelle. Their signature rolls, for one, are updated versions of favorite Japanese flavors, all cleverly named to keep in with the restaurant’s youthful vibe.
The Ori Special Roll (P380) is a natural crowd-pleaser—the crunch of its ebi tempura and kani center is given a spicy touch with leeks and chili strips, while the tobiko coating give it an interesting texture. Another must-try is the Oo’ Nah Ghee Roll (P455), which perfectly foils the unagi taste with rich cream cheese and crispy cucumber, then topped with avocado and mango slices.
Those who prefer their sushi torched will be happy to see their selection of aburi, including the indulgent Foie Gras Aburi (P320). Lightly torched, the slices of foie gras are incredibly buttery on top of the sushi rice, while the balsamic teriyaki glaze gives it a subtle kick. Another meaty choice would be the Saikoro (P180), skewered beef cubes charred lightly for deliciously tender bites.
“In the future, we hope to expand our menu further,” Christelle shares, adding that they hope to bring in bento boxes into the menu soon to accommodate the lunch crowd from nearby offices. “We also want to incorporate a Japanese lounge to utilize the outdoor space at night—maybe have music and sake-based cocktails.”
As it is, Ori Izakaya is proof of what the Dychangco sisters can do on a deadline. With the relaxed and satisfying menu, it’s now one of our favorite spots to enjoy casual, modern Japanese cuisine in a city of emerging gastronomic adventures.
Photos by Nath Ybañez