In Nagoya, it’s quite common to hear people happily shouting “Ikomai!”: street slang for “Let’s Eat!”. Words that are music to our ears, an invitation that we can’t resist.
Acouple of evenings ago, I was having drinks with a restaurateur and we both marveled about Ikomai, and how it’s become one of the most popular new restaurants in the highly competitive Salcedo Village streetscape, despite launching with very little social media fanfare. There were hardly any announcements on Facebook, and relatively few posts on Instagram, the two channels essential to promoting most new establishments nowadays. My friend mentioned that perhaps, Ikomai is prospering because it’s exactly where it needs to be for the patrons that need it. It’s a brilliant insight.
First, parking is easy. There’s a massive open lot directly across the street. Second, it’s on a densely populated, high-foot traffic location on De La Costa street. Third, it has a cozy, almost low-key, serene vibe, punctuated by a pleasant surprise: an al fresco garden area. Fourth, it leverages the goodwill and builds on the menu from its humble beginnings as a Japanese street food stall in the village’s famous Saturday market. And fifth, but far from the least, Ikomai has the culinary equivalent of a killer tech app; the restaurant also houses “Tochi”, which offers many of the finest desserts in Makati, including the “Espresso Walnut” cookie, which the cognoscenti value as the best damn chocolate cookie in the city.
It’s almost an exclamation point to the entertaining story of how Ikomai came to be: a tall young Japanese chef knocks on the door of the home of a respected Filipino chef; they have
common friends who facilitated the introduction. The Japanese chef walks in with a massive suitcase, and to the Filipino chef ’s amazement, opens it and reveals, just like in Pulp Fiction, a trove of treasure. Long story short, James Antolin has one of the best Japanese meals of his life, in his own home, prepped from scratch, by Hide Saedeki. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship; not too long after, Taro Hori, a businessman based in the Philippines, and James’ brother Peter forge a partnership with the two chefs, and Ikomai is born.
I’m positive that the four gentlemen are in awe at how their restaurant’s tables are always full. I’m not. I had extremely high expectations for Chef James, and he’s fulfilled all of them. The progressive Japanese menu developed by Chef Hide combines elements from various cuisines, essentially two recipes intertwined, two countries represented in every dish. The Tuna Poke, spiced up with Sriracha, is a stunner. The Shio Saba, mackerel masterfully grilled, delicately sprinkled with salt, is a worthy bestseller. The presentation, the plating? Simply sublime. The strengths of both chefs, combined seamlessly, in perfect harmony, the delicate and the dramatic, Japanese finesse and Filipino passion, united as one.
“THE STRENGTHS OF TWO SKILLED CHEFS, COMBINED SEAMLESSLY, IN PERFECT HARMONY, THE DELICATE AND THE DRAMATIC, JAPANESE FINESSE AND FILIPINO PASSION, UNITED AS ONE.“
02 1 Moriawase Kushikatsu 2 Tuna Poké 3 Ikomai Interiors 4 Shio Saba 5 Tochi Espresso Walnut Cookies 6 Chef Hide Saedeki