At a glance, Manila’s dining scene would appear to have had an exciting past 12 months, with a slew of new restaurants and stores opening in major malls or in stand-alone locations.
Look closer, however, and it becomes apparent that most of the new concepts to meet with a lot of fanfare were either fast food joints (Popeyes, Mos Burger) or bubble tea stores. Asian restaurants offering more than sickly sweet tapioca balls, meanwhile, were few and far between, which is why Coconuts did not think twice before checking out Sen-Ryo, a new premium Japanese eatery located at the Podium, a posh, newly-refurbed Mandaluyong City mall.
Sen-Ryo started in 1968 in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture, followed by outposts in Hong Kong and Shanghai. While the original makes use of a conveyor belt to bring sushi to diners, a trend known as kaitenzushi, the Manila version makes do without that.
Instead, the Manila restaurant is a sleek space ideal for romantic dates and leisurely meals: the interiors are done in earth tones, accented with brass spherical pendant lights. The main dining area is surrounded by walls of wooden staves arranged in wavelike forms representing water — a fitting motif for a restaurant where much of what’s on the menu once swam (or scuttled) through the seas. A bar is situated in the main dining area, while a short flight of stairs leads to a mezzanine with a private room where diners can hold private meetings.
The service at Sen-Ryo is impeccable, and the waitstaff is helpful and knowledgeable, without being obsequious. They started our meal with the Signature Nigiri Set (PHP990/US$19), composed of various nigiri using the freshest ingredients sourced from Japan.
One of our favorites was the seared salmon with cheese — a slightly unorthodox pairing in some corners, but the fish’s soft texture and the airy, melty, flavorful cheese on top were a winning combination. Equally worth trying was the sujiko nigiri, which featured oily, deliciously salty orbs of salmon roe. While these two were the standouts, each nigiri was wonderful, and there wasn’t a single one we didn’t like.
We also loved the Shogun Roll (PHP380/US$7), definitely a more maximalist sushi offering, filled with a large panko-breaded shrimp, and topped with fried lotus root and shrimp drizzled with sweet chili and anago sauce.
Even after being wrapped, the lightly breaded shrimp kept its crunch, and we could hear a distinct crackle as we bit into it.
The Sen-Ryo Omelette (PHP220/US$4.32) also deserves to be commended. Their version of a traditional tamagoyaki comes with Japanese characters branded into its surface, adding an Insta-worthy twist. The omelette was fluffy and moist, with sweet-salty juices running out of it with each bite.
Those following a low-carb diet would probably be delighted by the Shiira Carpaccio (PHP380/US$7) — thinly sliced mahi-mahi atop a slaw of red cabbage, white onions, and truffle oil — but they might be the only ones. While the dish was undeniably healthy, and the fish was fresh, it also didn’t pack much flavor, and the purported dash of truffle oil was practically undetectable.
The only other thing that didn’t meet our standards was the Wagyu Beef Yakiudon (PHP580/US$11), a stir-fried noodle topped with beef slices. The noodles were pleasantly chewy, and the beef was tender, but the dish ratcheted up the sweetness to dessert-like levels.
Someone from our table called the dish an “umami flavor bomb” (hey, 2011 called — they want their bulls**t foodie cliche back) but we were honestly weirded out by the distracting sweetness.
Speaking of sweets, Sen-Ryo performed rather well on the actual dessert front.
The Ohagi Mochi (PHP250/US$5) was yummy without being overwhelmingly sweet. Served cold, its red bean paste was meltingly soft and smoother than others we’ve tried. Also worth trying is the Apple Jelly (PHP280/US$5), featuring a Japanese apple compote alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The ice cream was nothing spectacular (the restaurant was tight-lipped about where they got it from), but the apple compote — which retained some bite, and, again, had just the right amount of sweetness — was truly worth trying, especially for the uninitiated.
Generally speaking, Sen-Ryo’s menu is fantastic. It’s quite possibly one of the best new restaurants we have tried, and we highly recommend it to anyone looking for a posh spot to entertain friends and family.
We expect to see crowds of diners here in the future, so be sure to call in for a reservation.
Check out more places to eat and drink around the metro here.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our writer’s meal at Sen-Ryo was free of charge as part of a media tasting. However, Sen-Ryo had no editorial involvement in or oversight of this article. Read our Editorial Policies on accepting complementary meals here.
This article, Turning Japanese: Sen-Ryo gives a welcome break from the onslaught of fast food and milktea, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!