Yoshoku is the term used in Japanese cuisine to describe Western dishes adapted to the Japanese palate. In short, Japanized European food.
At Hajime, a just-opened restaurant at the gleaming new Edades Tower and Garden Villas in Rockwell, Makati City, they call it “crossover cuisine,” a term that, says its owner and host, Larson Chan, 27, was coined to highlight their own concept of Japanese fusion.
Which means that, while its name is decidedly Japanese—hajime translates to “beginning” or “origin” in Nihonggo—the food served at the restaurant is not Japanese in the strictest, traditional sense. Larson and his family wanted to redefine what Filipinos think of modern Japanese food. A more global take, if you will, much like the ones the young man saw and observed while living as a student in trendy Los Angeles, California.
Thus, the Chans tapped a yoshoku chef from Tokyo as Hajime consultant. He was personally handpicked by the patriarch, Larry Chan, the avowed epicure in the family, for the Japanese chef’s knowledge and skill of both traditional Japanese and international cuisine (French, Italian, Spanish).
It was the senior Chan, who travels extensively to indulge in his passion for food and cooking, who helped develop the opening degustation menu that includes, for instance, braised premium Japanese awabi (abalone) on a bed of creamy mushroom and broccoli risotto.
Larry Chan is such a food enthusiast that he takes online courses (“try Harvard University’s free food and science course on edx.org,” he suggests), and can regale guests with his knowledge on food ingredients alone (“when you slice the abalone in half, the flesh inside must be darker than the outside; that means high quality”).
“A good restaurant starts with having the best ingredients,” the man says. “What comes next is the interpretation. How do you do it better?”
Though there’s no professionally trained chef in the family, Larson says, “My dad lives to eat… I’m just here to make sure everything runs smooth.”
Larson, a spirited and affable presence at Hajime, studied business and cinematic arts in the United States, but has decided to come home to run the family’s restaurant ventures. (His dad declined to talk about his trade outside of the food business.)
The Chans are also behind the Kichitora ramen franchise.
To underscore its modernity, the Chans did away with the low-ceiling and dark furniture typical of Japanese restaurants. There’s an airiness to the 50-seater Hajime with its use of light-colored wood, its floating lanterns-inspired lighting fixtures suspended from the high ceiling, the handiwork of C+Y Design Studio.
For the soft opening, Hajime is only serving a six-course degustation menu (P3,500+) for lunch and dinner.
It starts with a Molten Lava Egg topped with Black Caviar and Truffle Oil. The Tengoku Salad is composed of goat cheese-topped seared foie gras on a bed of greens with an umami dressing.
The luscious soup is carrot and pumpkin with a side of Japanese rice crackers.
Then there are three kinds of aburi (maguro, shake and A5 Matsusaka wagyu steak).
The entrée is Braised Dried Japanese Abalone on Mushroom and Broccoli Risotto, and A5 Matsusaka wagyu steak.
The meal is capped with a simple dessert of macaron and ice cream.
Hajime Fine Dining, G/F Edades Tower and Garden Villas, Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City; tel. 0927-8892511 or 6258824.