Good wagyu in a hobbyists’ haven
One of the malls that has always given me quiet pleasure is Makati Cinema Square, now renamed Makati Central Square in the absence of any multiplex cinemas in the actual building.
It fronts the very busy Pasong Tamo, and is bounded (as they say in Geography class) by the Mile Long creek and the warren of shops and izakaya that make up Little Tokyo. Inside, the structure is a post-apocalyptic crumbling tower of cement that has just the right amount of faded splendor and sleaze to make for a great afternoon out.
I like Makati Cinema Square because you can always find parking, there aren’t any of those those odious real-estate brokers handing out flyers, there aren’t any transvestite prostitutes soliciting, and there are shops from which you can actually buy stuff.
As a place to hang out with the family it leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s a great meeting place for the tito crowd: Eat at Seryna, have your watch overhauled by Mang Andy at Arnesto, look for bargains at Unique Bisyo, and then have a massage at Balikatan (blind masseurs).
One of the biggest inconveniences was always that you had to walk all the way around Plaza Fair, which was generally in stygian darkness until the owner ran out of money, at which point it would light up and do a flash sale.
Plaza Fair is gone, and a new “extension” wing is now up and running, including a branch of Romantic Baboy on the second floor. Because it’s in such an eccentric location, it’s one of the least crowded branches of Romantic Baboy—I guess until this piece comes out.
But the new restaurant that everyone has been talking about is Manpuku, which is two escalators down, beside the fencing club. (It’s also the floor that has a shooting range and an archery range, if fencing isn’t your thing.) In case of a zombie apocalypse, this is probably one of the best malls to be stuck in.
Walk past the store that advertises ammo for Uzis, and you’ll find yourself in a charming little restaurant that advertises itself as a Japanese steak house. What it is really is is a restaurant made for the consumption of wagyu, brought in by either the same company or a sister company, which is ensconced next door.
After mowing down your targets or hunting for vinyl in the various shops around, middle-aged men with fancy watches sit down and eat their share of prime sirloin or chuck. The thing to go for is the stone-grill wagyu, which comes in several varieties; we chose the ribeye, despite the waitress telling us that the sirloin had a more ideal ratio of marbling. The ribeye has, well, the most fat.
The meat did not disappoint. It came as thin slices to dip into the sukiyaki and as chunks on a hot stone grill, and are best eaten adorned as little as possible, with just a bit of soy sauce to dip them in for the sukiyaki cut, or in a dust of salt mixed with pepper for the hot stone cut.
Another favorite of mine which we did not have room for is the seiro, strips of beef cooked in a bamboo steamer, and then dipped in sauce. With hot sticky rice, it’s divine. A hundred grams per person is ideal; if you can finish 200 grams, good for you, but I wouldn’t advise a cholesterol test in the near future.
No astronomical rates
The prices reflect the fact that it isn’t paying astronomical rates. This is not the first wagyu restaurant in the area: there was previously one in Sunvar Plaza, and that was also very good, indeed (I’ve no idea if it’s actually the same one). It also had the same value for money: It’s not cheap, but it’s worth paying that much for top quality wagyu cooked to perfection.
The same meat, in a restaurant like the one on the top floor of SM Aura opposite Ogetsu Hime, felt like a rip-off—but they’re probably just trying to cover their rent. If you can live with the cobwebs and overall slightly dodgy feel, malls like MCS are the best place to have food that isn’t about dining in white tie and tails.
The rebranding of MCS to “Makati Central Square” and the new, hip restaurants coming in will mean that the demographic of the place is likely to change—and rent will also go up concomitantly. A full gentrification would drive out the reason so many people slip off to this mall: small niche shops that can’t afford to pay the kind of rent that a more mainstream mall would charge, that cater to hobbies and specialized interests.
There’s also Aida’s Chicken Bacolod, which is one of the best in town, and of course the vinyl shops, galleries and sex toys. It’s like our mini version of Chungking Mansions.
I hope the gentrification is done, well, gently, or these fine establishments will end up at places like Guadalupe Commercial. That’s just a little too grungy for me. –CONTRIBUTED
Manpuku, 2nd Basement, Makati Cinema Square; tel. 8003814
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