Back in February 2018, during a grand launch in Manila House Private Club in Bonifacio Global City business partners Carlo Alvarez and the Clavano siblings—Lui, Mico and LA—announced that they will be opening WagyuMafia in Manila, the first overseas branch outside of Japan. The event was topbilled by founder Hisato Hamada and his signature beef cutlet sandwich, known as the world’s most expensive.
“Carlo and I have been wanting to open something for a long time, and we were just waiting for the right concept,” says Lui. “One time, he came back from Japan and raved about the concept of WagyuMafia. We researched the brand and found it to be unique, something you couldn’t find in the Philippines. Everyone loves steak, Wagyu most especially, so we figured, let’s give it a shot.” In 2017, they flew to Tokyo, met with the owners, and left with a signed contract.
Things seemed to be working in their favor, until a number of setbacks and delays happened. And then came the pandemic. Given the uncertainty of the crisis, Alvarez and the Clavanos decided to sever ties with WagyuMafia and started their own brand, Wagyu Studio Manila.
“We are going to turn the concept of the steakhouse on its head,” says LA Clavano, managing director of Wagyu Studio Manila. “Our brand is a contradiction: exceptional dining that gives reverence to high-quality ingredients, but served with a heavy dose of modern Japanese cool.”
They are still bent on presenting champion-grade Wagyu, but with endless possibilities, especially with chef Yoji Kitayama helming the kitchen.
Kitayama spent over two decades working in luxury hotels and restaurants all over Asia, the most recent one being Morimoto Bangkok in Thailand. He plays to the strengths of his ingredients and presents them in a familiar and simple manner. “People are going to have fun,” he says.
Beginning Oct. 31, Kitayama will be entertaining guests at the 22-seater Live Kitchen in Taguig, where he will serve a multicourse tasting menu that celebrates the beloved Japanese beef.
His maiden offering includes golden crispy gyoza stuffed with Wagyu and cheese; bite-sized Kobe cubes that have been cured for a week, cooked sous vide style for 10 hours, then stacked and served with a spicy citrusy dressing; and tartare, uni and caviar on a bed of fried nori.
Then there’s the signature sando, which comes in the form of sirloin lodged in between soft bread, smeared with sauce, and decked with gold leaf. It has the scent of buttered toast, and the breading of the meat is not heavy, so biting on the sandwich is like biting on butter.
Wagyu also comes as a sample plate featuring a couple tender slices of rib eye, rib cap and tenderloin cooked in the Josper charcoal oven and served with sancho peppercorns, grainy mustard and salt, infused with fried scallops and mushrooms.
Beef on gelato
Wagyu is also found in the dessert, where a scoop of milk gelato is crowned with a mound of savory beef jerky that’s been chopped up to chewy bits.
Completing the ensemble are slices of torched toro with a dab of yuzu paste sitting in a pool of onion sauce; a palate-cleansing crushed cucumber number with a sesame dressing; and rice cooked in ginger-beef broth and liberally topped with ikura, to be enjoyed with warm beef consomme.
A standout dish is the tebasaki. It comes as a pale-colored chicken wing, the bone of which has been ripped out. According to the chef, it was presented that way so that the natural juice from the chicken would gather on one end and the diner can take an indulgent, boneless bite, with or without a kiss from the lemon wedge. It has got to be the most tender chicken I’ve ever eaten, and though it wasn’t brined or seasoned prior to cooking, the dust Kitayama peppered it with made for a wonderful umami snack.
“The palate of Filipinos is becoming more sophisticated because of travel. Social media also helped open their eyes to good food,” Clavano says, explaining how their concept would appeal to the market. “It was pretty ballsy of us to do this, but people like Japan and people love steak. We want to offer a unique quality experience.” While the Live Kitchen is discreetly hidden, the 28-seater Yakiniku Lounge greets customers upon entry. Guests can select the best Kobe beef cuts they wish to cook on the shinko grills brought in from Japan. “One of the best things about these grills is that you don’t end up smelly after eating in the restaurant,” adds Lui.
Along with diners’ choice of sliced Kobe are ready-to-eat items like sukiyaki, gyudon and burger steak. An impressive array of Japanese whiskey and specialty cocktails like an old fashioned with rendered Wagyu fat completes the meal.
Customers can also buy Japanese beef exclusively imported by Wagyu Studio Manila at the Butcher Shop.
Great things come to those who wait, and by the end of the month, those who have patiently stood by for the opening of Wagyu Studio Manila will be deliciously rewarded.
Says Clavano, “We will make going out worth it.”
Wagyu Studio Manila, tel. 0917-1800657, 84265351; Unit 201B, 1/F, The Finance Centre, 9th Ave. corner 26th St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig