Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Best Japanese Restaurant: A reservation-only affair

WHEN Soba Kamakura was hailed as the Best Japanese restaurant in 2018 by SunStar Best of Cebu, we knew we had to check it out ourselves. It wasn’t one of the more familiar names in the Japanese food scene in the city, so the mystery only fueled our desire to go. Turns out, it can be a bit of a challenge to book a slot at the 11-seat restaurant as it is strictly by reservation only. Waiting time can take at least a week, depending on the number of persons you’ll be dining with. Still, we managed to sit down with the chef and owner and get him to tell us more about him and his business.

It was in 2016 when Hiroyuki Sakata first opened Soba Kamakura in Mandaue City, with only six seats then. He had long wanted to operate his own Japanese restaurant in Cebu. He first set foot on the island in 1995, in Caohagan to be exact, where he managed a small hotel for seven years. He then worked in factory management in Mactan for 13 years, after which he had to fly back home as his mother’s health was failing. When he came back here, it was time to put in work for his dream restaurant.

Chef Hiroyuki also told us the story behind the name and we couldn’t help but be impressed by his fluency in Cebuano. Soba (buckwheat noodles) is one of Japan’s representative dishes, commonly eaten cold with a dipping sauce or tsuyu, or served in a bowl of hot, clear broth. Kamakura is his hometown, a former capital city of Japan. Soba Kamakura specializes in soba and unagi (eel), both of which are prepared fresh every time, using all natural ingredients.

“Yes, there are many Japanese restaurants that serve soba but they use dried noodles. We are the only one serving it fresh and handmade. In Manila, some also use fresh noodles but they use a machine. Ours is completely by hand,” he said.

He further explained that soba takes 30 to 40 minutes of prep time and the eel, 60 to 70 minutes. The soba has to be consumed within an hour and the dashi stock, made in-house, should be consumed within the day. That is why guests should call to reserve and pre-order before making their way to Soba Kamakura.

The wait may be long but the flavors are rewarding and you will be received with warm and fine service. The restaurant’s limited seating capacity guarantees guests a rather intimate experience and allows the chef to focus on quality. Since 2016, it has been highly favored not only for a job that’s consistently well done but also for the chef’s personality and his tangible passion in the food. His love for his craft is incredible that you can see it in the way he beams when telling us about it and you can taste it in the dishes served.

We highly recommend the Kamakura Gozen, a set meal for two that includes Tonburi Hiyayakko (cold tofu topped with tonburi or field caviar), marinated yellowfin tuna, beef salad (Angus beef cut sukiyaki-style), shimeji dobin mushi (mushroom soup steamed in a small teapot) mini unagi rice bowl, beef soba, matcha pudding and soba tea. The chutoro sashimi, medium fatty part of the Pacific bluefin tuna, is worth the splurge. For us, all these make the perfect meal at Soba Kamakura. The contrast of hot and cold, soft and crispy, light and rich is sure to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

For a dining experience reminiscent of one you’ve had in Japan, secure yourself a seat at Soba Kamakura, E.C. Bldg., Greenhills Road, Casuntingan, Mandaue City. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. every day except on Mondays.

This isn’t the most appropriate way to end a feature but please, do check out the restaurant’s restroom while you’re there. You’re welcome.


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