I came back home from Sapporo the other day but I’m still soothing a Japan hangover, which is why I decided to write about a local Japanese restaurant, of all things, to fill in the void. Somehow.
Anyway, Tagaytay has become such a favourite weekend getaway spot among residents of Manila in recent years. Aside from the pleasant weather, it’s also becoming a burgeoning foodie heaven. People these days would travel anywhere for good food, and heading all the way to Tagaytay is no exception. I think we Manila peeps have all grown quite used to traveling for long hours thanks to Manila traffic, huh?
I actually think Tagaytay has a lot of these restaurants I like to call “hidden gems”, because they are quite literally hidden in unexpected areas and tiny roads. For example, this place– Aozora Japanese Cafe + Bistro.
This restaurant is located at the upper floor of Domicillo Design Hotel, which is a really posh-looking boutique hotel at Km 5 in Aguinaldo Highway. Passing through the road, you can’t really spot the restaurant immediately so looking out for the hotel sign would be very helpful.
You take the stairs up to the restaurant and are greeted by friendly kimono-clad staff. They really complement the relaxed but decidedly Japanese mood of the restaurant.
Aozora doesn’t have as extensive a menu as other Japanese restaurants in Manila do, but I did notice they have some offerings on the more unique side. Bulalo Ramen, anyone? Those less adventurous need not worry though since they also have some typical Japanese rice topping favourites and ramen.
After placing our orders, we couldn’t resist going out to the balcony area. The weather was perfect and cool, but the view was even more lovely! This is one of the things I like about eating at restaurants in Tagaytay– the view is usually pretty awesome.
After a few minutes of photo-taking and walking around at the spacious balcony, we all shuffled back into the restaurant feeling hungry. Thankfully the food was just about ready.
Salmon Pomelo Salad (Php 330) 🌟
Shredded lettuce, bits of fresh salmon sashimi, and pomelo chunks are coated in seasoned Japanese mayonnaise. This tasty salad sits on a bed of fresh lettuce, then topped with fish roe.
This was a revelation. Normally when one orders a salmon salad from Japanese restaurants, one gets tempura bits plus spicy mayo added to the slices of fresh salmon sashimi. This time, we have this amazingly fresh-tasting combination. It’s a really nice change from the usual, and the fact that this was seasoned so well made me beg for another order. Literally.
Rainbow Maki (Php 320 for 8 pieces)
Rolls topped with assorted fresh thinly-sliced tuna, salmon, shime saba, tamago, and mango, for a rainbow effect.
Much as I always appreciate this rainbow colour effect, these rolls are just your typical makimono. While the sashimi on top were fresh and had good flavour, I wish the slices were a little thicker and more even. As you can see, some of the slices are a lot smaller than others.
Dragon Maki (Php 350 for 8 pieces) 🌟
Crunchy shrimp tempura is wrapped in the center of a california maki roll.
This might be the first time I’ve seen Dragon Maki presented this way. It does resemble a dragon thanks to that shrimp head, and I find this presentation really cute actually. Aside from that, these rolls were actually nice and flavourful. There’s a bit of crunch with a nice juicy sweetness from the shrimp inside.
Mixed Sashimi (Php 510)
A sashimi plate comprised of tuna, salmon, shime saba, ika, tako, uni, kani, and tamago
Aozora’s sashimi is fresh, I’ll give them that, but they also dole out small portions. Compared to what Makati’s Izakaya Kikufuji and Kapitloyo’s Haru Sushi Bar serve, these slices are tiny for the price. There’s sadly no uni either. I don’t know if it could be a supplier/logistics issue but I found this more expensive than it should be.
Gyu Don (Php 320)
A typical Japanese beef bowl.
Here’s a good pick for those who like to stick to classics. Gyu Don bowls don’t tend to disappoint since they have a pretty basic recipe followed across most Japanese restaurants. That said, this was a normal bowl. That egg yolk staring back like an eye was a bit weird for me though. A full egg on top would’ve been nicer, with a runny yolk.
Shoyu Ramen (Php 260)
Soy-sauce based ramen dish with slices of pork, veggies, and egg on top.
Since the proliferation of the specialty ramen franchises, I’ve become so hard to please when it comes to this Japanese noodle soup dish. 9 out of 10 times these days, ramen at an ordinary Japanese restaurant just no longer cuts it! (Case in point, this ramen: the egg for one should be runnier. The chashu isn’t technically even chashu lol.) And while this bowl of Shoyu isn’t bad by any means, it’s also not as memorable. The good thing is that the serving is generous and the toppings plenty.
Aozora Ramen (Php 320) 🌟
Bulalo-inspired ramen. Literally. Since Tagaytay is pretty well known as a place that serves awesome bulalo, it doesn’t surprise me that they nailed this. Without doubt, it’s the flashiest dish among the bunch we ordered, highlighting even more the fact that this is THE specialty of the house. (It was served in a clay cooking set with a live flame, so it was piping hot!)
For international readers who don’t know bulalo, it’s a famous Filipino beef soup dish wherein beef shank (typically with the marrow still inside the bone) is simmered in water with onion and pepper until tender and all the flavour is drawn out. Kind of similar to ramen broth, now that I think about it.
The flavourful broth of this dish has that unadulterated rich bulalo taste. Frankly it’s even better than their Shoyu Ramen. For me, this is a great Filipino adaptation of something so iconically Japanese. I love how it’s topped with the traditional ramen egg but also crisp garlic.
So is this place worth a try? Well, it’s got a great ambiance with some nice interiors, but there are some hits and misses for me in terms of their dishes. I feel like the restaurant needs a bit more polishing in terms of their dishes to reach its true potential. I heard that they actually have a Japanese chef who comes in on select days, so I wonder if it’ll be different if that chef handles the kitchen.
Nonetheless, they do have some must-tries for me, the first being the Bulalo Ramen OF COURSE. Second, the Salmon Pomelo Salad, which sadly is seasonal. (Good luck on that!)
Overall Rating: 3.50 out of 5
AOZORA JAPANESE CAFE + BISTRO
Domicillo Design Hotel, KM 58,
General E. Aguinaldo Highway,
Cavite, Tagaytay City,
Hours: 9 AM to 9 PM
Contact No.: (+63) 936 980 9656
Full disclosure: This post is not sponsored in any way and opinions are 100% mine alone.