Firecracker Roll, Jalapeño Popper, Negi Miso–Japanese essentials with a twist, and lots of family love
‘At first, people thought Roku is a franchise from abroad. I am glad to say it’s an original concept that we carefully and deliberately thought of’By Vangie Baga-Reyes |Philippine Daily Inquirer
Barely six months into the dining scene, Roku is already making a big buzz not only in its territory in Katipunan, but also in nearby Marikina, Pasig and Quezon City.
Lovers of Japanese food troop all the way to Roku to enjoy its sushi, maki, ramen, donburi and yakitori—everything listed on its well-thought-out menu.
Maki enthusiasts can’t get enough of the Firecracker Roll, spicy salmon maki with a strange crunchy bite. The spicy kick in the dish is a pleasant trick that enhances the fish’s richness and body.
The S.S. Roll is salmon skin and cream cheese maki topped with a fresh piece of salmon. Its goodness lies in the addition of crispy salmon skin inside the rolled rice, to add extra texture to the concoction.
The Roku Roll is a tender and refreshing filling of kani crowned with fresh tuna and salmon and delicately drizzled with Roku’s homemade sweet-spicy sauce. There’s also the Jalapeño
Popper, a fiery combo of jalapeño, cream cheese and salmon covered with crunchy tempura batter.
The wide selection of ramen, on the other hand—whether shoyu-based, miso-based or shio-based ramen—continues to attract Japanese food patrons to this 60-seater modern Japanese hub ensconced on the fifth floor of The Oracle Hotel and Residences along Katipunan Avenue, in front of the Ateneo de Manila University.
The Seafood Ramen is a shio-based ramen dressed up with clams, mussels, squid, shrimps, bok choy and leeks topped with spring onions; while the Roku Ramen is a shoyu-based ramen with a hefty serving of tender chashu pork, bok choy and egg topped with spring onions and nori.
The soup alone is rich and satisfying, with a mellowed flavor of secret herbs blending well with the noodles and meat.
But if you crave for an extra-hot and spicy bowl of soup, go for Negi Miso, a chili miso-based ramen with ground pork and veggies topped with scallions and spring onions. The spicy broth doesn’t set your mouth on fire, but its strong flavor remains in your palate.
Another menu highlight is the beef teppan, pan-seared chunks of beef with garlic ships—all quite tender, tasty and juicy.
Roku is run by mother-and-daughter team Sheila and Milka Romero. Sheila is a seasoned restaurateur who used to operate classy restaurants like Azzurro and Chimes. She later shifted to home design and decor with a business called Beyond Bamboo. Then she put up Oracle Hotel, where Roku is housed.
Nineteen-year-old Milka, a third-year Management Economics student in Ateneo, has already shown interest in managing her own business. She’s also adept in marketing and creative design.
The blend of Sheila’s expertise and class and Milka’s energy and creativity is quite evident in their first venture together. Roku exudes elegance, style and comfort—perfect for casual gatherings with family and friends, business meetings or afternoon tête-à-têtes.
Roku’s modern look and feel sets it apart from other traditionally staid and somber Japanese restaurants. It has non-intimidating, non-fussy interiors, with bright lighting and comfortable seating. It uses shades of white and beige, which blend well with warm wood panels. A colorful and interesting anime artwork occupies one side of the wall.
The dining space can comfortably accommodate a large number of diners; the veranda overlooks the Ateneo green fields, for those who enjoy an al-fresco setting.
But if you look at the room closely, the focal point is not the anime artwork or the walls or the sushi counter, but the “six” floor-to-ceiling columns standing in the center of the room in
black, white and orange, which apparently represent the Romero family.
Roku in Japanese means six. “We are six in the family,” says Milka. “And we all love Japanese food.”
Sheila, married to sportsman and businessman Mikee Romero, has four children. Milka is the eldest in the brood.
“I assigned Milka to come up with a catchy name,” adds Sheila. “I told her it has to be one word and the name alone would tell you what it sells. At first, people thought Roku is a franchise from abroad. I am glad to say it’s an original concept that we carefully and deliberately thought of.”
The Romeros enjoy traveling and eating out. So, it’s no surprise that Sheila and Milka want Roku to be a fun, family eating place that people can go to for bonding moments and get-togethers.
“Funny, we realized since we opened, it’s usually the children (students from nearby universities) who discover the place, and then they bring their parents with them. Then the whole family goes together and enjoys the sushi and ramen.”
In putting up Roku, Sheila and Milka made sure the business is run professionally. Mother and daughter traveled to and studied together in Japan, boning up on the basics of sushi-making at the Tokyo Sushi Academy for several days.
“The Japanese don’t teach you modern sushi, it’s always the traditional way, focusing on the freshness of the ingredients,” says Sheila.
“The school emphasizes quality and skills,” adds Milka. “But we Filipinos like to mix different things and put a modern twist. So, we’ve created a variety of interesting rolls like Jalapeño Popper and Firecracker Roll to perk up one’s tastes.”
Still, Roku makes it a point not to overwhelm the original flavors of Japanese food, such as its tempura, teriyaki dishes, gyoza, etc.
Sheila handles the operations while Milka does the concept and marketing for Roku. Both of them created every dish in the menu, including the soy-based sauces and desserts.
Milka concocted the Apple Pie Gyoza with sweet minced apple filling and served with vanilla ice cream on the side.
“We also make it a point that our prices are affordable,” says Milka. “Most of our clients are also students like me. We want to serve good-quality but affordable food.”
All Roku bowls, plates, glasses and utensils, incidentally, are custom-made from abroad.
Having been in the food business for quite sometime now, Sheila feels Roku is one of her legacies to her children, especially to Milka.
“This is her first venture in business,” says Sheila. “I don’t want her to be culture-shocked. I’ve been telling her all my experiences in the restaurant business. This is my sort of legacy to my kids. This is different this time, that I am passing everything on to my daughter. I am really happy that she’s interested.”
With all the hard work the mother and daughter put up in establishing Roku, the most important part for them remains their bond.
“At the end of the day, we bonded,” says Sheila. “We are like sisters. My children keep me young and energetic.”
“In totality, our bonding as a family is reflected in Roku,” says Milka. “It has become a family experience and, as a result, we want the restaurant to have a family atmosphere as well.”
Roku is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call tel. 3525780 or 9267777.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTOS BY ALANAH TORRALBA