From the outside, Banzai looks like an office building, spare and boxy save for a few standees announcing the specialties. Inside, however, is an open layout of live cooking stations taking up most of the middle portion.
Lining the far wall by the windows are tables and chairs. More seating is available near the dessert area and beside the kitchen at opposite ends. All in all, the restaurant can seat 500 customers.
The reason for the grid-like layout becomes clear when performers in full makeup and elaborate costumes enter stage left and begin their mini performance directed by Floy Quintos. There is a fight scene between two ninjas and some geisha twirl their paper umbrellas, but it all ends quickly enough, and people begin again to line up for their food.
The setup at Banzai is buffet-style but its owners point out that they use “imported ingredients prepared and cooked the Japanese way.” The spread includes tempura, teppanyaki, sushi and sashimi, among other items. The owners—Ricky Laudico, Marvin Agustin and Raymond Magdaluyo—are the same ones behind John and Yoko, Sumo Sam and Akira, Japanese restaurants all.
“We knew it would be difficult to open another Japanese restaurant because there are already so many open right now. It was important that we step up our game,” Laudico, co-owner and managing partner, told Inquirer Lifestyle. To accomplish this goal, the owners made it a point to send their chefs on annual trips to Japan. They also book trips for themselves so they remain updated on any trends.
The three Japanese chefs at Banzai have a combined work experience of over 70 years. Chef Hiroshi Ishikawa has been in the restaurant business for a total of 40 years. After over 20 years working in Japan, he moved to the Philippines to start anew. Expert sushi chef Norimasa Masuda has been working in the country for 12 years. In charge of Banzai’s ramen station is chef Kimwori Iwabuchi who has 19 years of experience in the food business both here and in Japan.
Aside from the ample selection at Banzai, the quality of the food is another element that the owners are particularly proud of. Co-owner Agustin said that they make sure that the meat
and produce are of very high quality.
“We also made sure to include all the Japanese favorites like teppanyaki and tempura. There is also a make-your-own-ramen station. We’ve even included non-Japanese items like Peking duck for those who might prefer something else,” Agustin.
Still, he admitted that filling up the 500-seater restaurant was one challenge he felt unprepared to take as his other restaurants usually only seat 150 people. He need not have worried as the restaurant was full during a recent visit.
The prices must have helped. Lunch buffet per person from Monday to Friday is P699; dinner on weekdays is P899. On weekends and holidays, the lunch and dinner buffet is P1,088 each—still cheaper than a hotel coffee shop.
“We wanted to bring the experience of Japan to Manila, so we brought in everything authentic Japanese through Banzai,” Laudico said in a statement. This includes “not just the food, the ingredients and the sauces, but the chefs, the décor, the Japanese art on the walls, and the cooking methods.”
The restaurant has an ongoing promo where birthday celebrators may eat for free as long as they come with three full-paying adults.
Banzai is at Bldg. J, SM Mall of Asia by the Bay, Pasay City. Visit www.facebook.com/BanzaiPH or call tel. 5527368.