One of my favourite restaurants in Manila is Nikkei, a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant headed by Argentinian chef Christian Cejas. It’s located in Rada St. in Makati, right next to Wildflour, another popular restaurant in the area. It’s slightly pricey but the food is really worth it in my opinion, and the sushi lunch sets are actually cheaper than sushi sets in other Japanese restaurants; what I also like about this place is the 20% discount they give everyday from 3pm-6pm, so I only head there around that time because of the discount and because the restaurant is less crowded.
Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine is actually nothing new. Cultural exchanges between the Japanese and the Peruvians have already been around for quite some time due to the Japanese immigrants who arrived during the 19th Century. Peru has a large population of Japanese whose ancestors emigrated due to the economic hardships of Japan in that time. Japanese-Peruvian cuisine has already become trendy internationally, with restaurants like Nobu fuelling the trend. (Speaking of Nobu, it does have a branch in Manila but it’s regarded to be the worst branch in the world).
I’ve been to Nikkei twice; the first time with a friend and the second time alone. Since we were three the first time, we decided to order a lot so that we can try a lot of the things in the menu. Please bear with me though since I don’t exactly remember all of the names of the things we ordered.
The first thing we got was Tako from the Causa Appetizers. It consisted of octopus confit, guacamole, and chives with panka-miso sauce on top of mashed potatoes. It was good, but it wasn’t exactly outstanding. There are a lot more things in the menu that are much more delicious than this.
Afterwards we got the Peruanito, a tiradito which consisted of white fish, rococo sauce, lime juice, cilantro, red chilli, and glazed sweet potatoes. Tiraditos are the Peruvian style sashimi. I really loved this one because of how well the flavours complemented one another despite seeming strange at first. The chilli really gives it a kick despite the small amount, and you can still taste the freshness of the fish despite the varying array of flavours from the other ingredients. This was one of the highlights of this meal.
Next was the Foie Gras Nigiri Sushi, which consisted of nori, foie gras, ikura, wasabi, malden salt, ponzu sauce, and gunkan. It wasn’t overpowering, which I liked, especially knowing how foie gras can sometimes taste gross when not being prepared very well. It was an interesting addition to their list of nigiri sushi, yet it’s also the most expensive. I don’t usually eat foie gras but I ordered this just to try it.
Then we had the Parmesan Scallops which were very good but very buttery, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preference. I love butter and scallops so I really liked this one, but it’s just extremely sinful. You can slurp the remaining butter that pools in the empty shells after you eat the meat.
I also wanted to order the ceviche since this is what Anthony Bourdain mentioned during his episode in Peru for Parts Unknown so we got the Classic Ceviche. It consisted of white fish, red onions, rococo, cilantro, canchita, and glazed sweet potatoes. We were advised to order this first since it’s the simplest one and ceviche isn’t exactly something everyone really likes. It was good, but it was slightly too simple for me; I’d like to try their Green Ceviche (with wasabi) and Salmon Thai (with coconut milk) next time.
Then we ordered another nigiri sushi called Huevo, which was simply tuna sushi topped with quail egg with a runny yolk. I liked this one as well and it’s one of their cheaper options for nigiri sushi.
We then had the Grill Ebi sushi roll, which in my opinion was the most outstanding of the meal. It consisted of prawns, cream cheese, onion leeks, mango, yellow pepper sauce, and togarashi. There’s a very good balance of flavours from the ingredients that they used. None were overpowering and again, complimented one another rather than masking each other. It did not leave a strange taste in the mouth, which can be a problem when it comes to modern variations of sushi; that’s usually a result of multiple flavours that end up becoming overwhelming when overdone.
The main courses are all expensive but we ordered one just to try it. We chose the most delicious sounding one, which was the Seared Tuna with Sea Urchin Risotto. This was also another outstanding part of the menu. It consists of tuna steak, uni with enoki and shiitake risotto, cilantro, togarashi, and katsuboshi. It was again, very delicious. The risotto was very creamy, yet it doesn’t make you feel sick because of the subtlety of the flavour (without sacrificing the integrity of the uni’s taste) and the texture of the rice (it wasn’t too wet and creamy, which could be problematic when paired up with the uni’s taste). The tuna was seared to perfection, one of the best I’ve ever tried.
For our dessert, we had the Tres Leches, which was simply sponge cake soaked in custard cream. It seems dry from the outside, but it oozes with cream when you start pressing it with the fork. I love the crisp and the mild sweetness from the burnt caramel surface of the cake. Like most Japanese desserts, this one wasn’t too sweet, which I love.
Since I dined here alone during the second time, I decided to order their Sushi Set, which consisted of 3 slices of tiraditos (for this meal, I got the Peruanito as well), 2 pieces each of tuna and salmon sashimi, 2 pieces of salmon, 1 piece of tuna, and 1 piece of snapper nigiri, 5 pieces of the Panko sushi roll (salmon, campy, truffled cream cheese, and salad sauce), and one scoop of ice cream (I got black sesame).
Like I said previously, this set itself is already quite affordable, as most sushi sets in Manila can be a lot more expensive yet still offer a smaller variety; it also becomes much more affordable with the 20% discount. The fish is really fresh and is probably my favourite sushi and sashimi in Manila. The Panko sushi roll is also really good, although I prefer the Grill Ebi one. This one also wasn’t overwhelming, yet I prefer the latter because of the mango being an addition to the ingredients.
This was also the first time I tried black sesame ice cream (I wasn’t able to try the strange ice cream flavours when I was in Japan) and I also really liked it because it wasn’t too sweet.
As the final verdict, I can honestly say that Nikkei has definitely become one of my favourite restaurants in Manila, probably as a part of my top 5. It’s incredible how skilful the chefs are, and I consider it really commendable how they manage to perfectly balance the various notes and flavours present in the wide array of ingredients they use for a single dish alone. This is the first restaurant in Manila I’ve actually tried that plays and experiments with food without going overboard with the ingredients. It’s definitely a must-try when you’re here in Manila.
Nikkei is located in Frabelle Business Center, 111 Rada, Legaspi Village, Makati.