Koku: A Playful Take on Japanese TraditionSeptember 3, 2016
While Japanese restaurants are aplenty in Manila, there are usually several different approaches to the cuisine in the city. We have for example, singular, focused places that pride themselves on the execution of one dish (with ramen being the most predominant example), traditional shops that offer a breadth of items on menus pages-long, or some fusion-led restaurants with dozens of versions of makis. These fusion places more often than not pile on ingredient after ingredient, or make food suffer in order to cater to a wider audience. Bang for your buck can be rare when it comes to invention, but that doesn’t mean it is gone from our restaurant landscape altogether.
The months-old Koku for example, offers variations on the norm without overcomplicating things, while managing to keep value for money at the forefront. No surprise as the concept comes from seasoned restaurateurs Michelle and Bambi Meer, who come with impressive backgrounds in casual dining. The inviting space has elements of modernity, but still feels quite Japanese in its minimalist execution.
All the focus however, should be on their plates, which manage to be both comforting and exciting, straying away from the usual but never without intention. Their oyster papaya for example, layers silken oysters on top of thin slivers of the fruit that are still slightly crunchy, and pours over aburi sauce to tie sweetness with salt. Their sushi pizzas sound like a bastardization, but deconstruct it in your head, and the elements make absolute sense. Sushi rice is lightly breaded and deep-fried, providing the crispy edge to spicy tuna, a job that would usually fall on the shoulders of pieces of tempura batter.
It’s really the quality of the ingredients for the price that sets Koku apart from any other modern Japanese place. Tuna is fresh, plump, and fleshy, so that even when sauces are poured over, or it is cooked instead of displayed raw, its distinct taste is still intact and never fishy. Chunks of salmon belly are silky and fatty, with the intense coral color of their flesh visible behind crisp skin and dots of roe. Their bentos are well-seasoned and well-cooked, which would please anyone taking a quick lunch break from work, who want a complete meal without dipping far too much into the month’s pay.
An easy favorite, their carbonara, displays what Koku does best. At P198, it is a hefty plate of delicious ingredients that come together with ease, never once forgetting that it still should pay homage to Japan. Springy noodles are graced with Japanese ingredients that are meant to bring out the flavor of umami: shredded wakame, earthy shiitake mushrooms, and crispy salmon skin that replace the parts of pig that belong to the Italian dish. Tuck into here, and you won’t feel guilty for giving into something less than traditional or authentic.
A modern Japanese joint that serves thoughtful reinterpretations of the classics.