MANILA -- In the food business, location is one of the most important factors that can make or break a restaurant.
In the case of restaurateur Vincent Juanta, who founded Kanto Breakfast a few years ago, location doesn’t seem to be the top priority. After he put up Lime 88 in the innards or Mandaluyong, he proceeded to open up various Kanto Breakfast locations around the metro, as well as other concepts like Calderon and Guevarra -- and almost all of these are not located along main roads.
For his new venture, 10 Ronin, he chose to open in little known Montojo St., off Pasong Tamo near Kalayaan Avenue in Makati, using the same formula that has made his restaurants flourish --find an atypical location, tweak dishes to make your concept original and have excellent price points.
Named after the five couples who co-own the restaurant, 10 Ronin is much like its sister restaurants that specialize in fusion food; this time around it’s Filipino food fused with Japanese.
Japanese-Filipino fusion may seem like a lofty ambition when you look at this 50-seater open-air food joint, but the group had well-received experiences in fusing Filipino cuisine (we’ve also been told that the menu was developed with the help of the culinary mind of Kalel Chan of The Raintree Group).
Coupled with the fact that the group, headed by Juanta, has an almost uncanny knack of figuring out the fine line between what Manila diners will find novel and interesting, and to what they’ll find unacceptable, too outlandish or too weird for their tastes.
This can easily be seen in Ronin’s small plates. The Shoestring Onions (P95), thin and crispy, and sprinkled with sour cream seasoning, is a-quickest-thing-to-order-if-you’re-hungry type of food, and also the kind that can be enjoyed as a bar chow. A plate comes with a dipping sauce, but you will be fine with eating it just as it is.
Another appetizer or “pulutan” dish is the Agedashi Tokwa’t Baboy with Onion Salad (P150), which has pork ears fried to a crisp on top of breaded and fried tokwa, resting on a pool of vinegar and soy, with a raw onion relish on top to seal the deal.
Keeping with the low-key hipster vibe (its location, wood interiors, black décor, a Japanese zen garden with an open roof, do scream that mindset), 10 Ronin also has the Japanese hipster restaurant must-have -- nori tacos (P150). But here, these are filled with sisig and salsa, furikake for crunch, and spring onions. It’s a messy eat, but if you’re looking for something that will coat your insides with fat and give your tastebuds some umami joy, this might be for you.
Here’s another tip, if you see ‘Ronin’ in front of a dish’s name, it will most likely taste good.
The Ronin UFC Fried Chicken Karaage (P175) with Bonito Flakes is a mouthful to say, and equally delightful to eat. Not too sweet and spicy (they used UFC ketchup), the dish is grounded by bonito flakes for some solid umami, a dish that you can’t go wrong ordering if you like karaage.
Fusion maki also appears in their menu. While I couldn’t taste the fusion part of the story in the Spicy Tuna Maki, I had no complaints. The tuna tasted fresh (even if it was late at night), and the dressing didn’t hold back with the heat. The tempura flakes added a nice crunch, and the portion was generous, especially at only P150.
For my late night maki cravings though, I would order the experimental Ronin Adobo Flakes Maki (P125). I found the adobo addition always works. Adobo with vinegared rice, a slice of pickled cucumber, and here, a ripe mango slice (to add some California maki vibes), all blend nicely. In 10 Ronin though, they included a non-aggressive tasting salted egg sauce into the mix, which added an elusive layer of flavor that just worked. And why wouldn’t it? We do eat adobo and rice with salted egg.
If you haven’t guessed by now, 10 Ronin also doubles as a great drinking place. Alcoholic libations can be your choice between local and international beers, standard cocktails, and even whiskies.
And while you’ve got sisig and tokwa’t baboy in the menu, what other Japanese dish goes really well with a cold beer? Grilled meat on a stick.
Here, they have an entire section of the menu dedicated to yakitori, with each order consisting of two sticks. Sticks can come with Filipino street food personas like in the Pork Blood with Salsa (P75) and their Pork Ear with Sisig Sauce (P75). I love liver and bacon though, so I had two sticks of the bacon wrapped chicken livers (P75). Well-recommended to fellow chicken-liver lovers.
The less innards-inclined though can find more comfortable fare in the Chicken Thigh (P100) and Wagyu Beef (P350) sticks.
Here for dinner? Dinner options abound (as 10 Ronin is only open 4 p.m. onwards).
The bestselling donburi silog, the Ronin U.S. Beef Tapa Gyudon, is a bowl full of yum for only P195. Thinly sliced beef seasoned with tapa seasoning (leaning towards the sweet side of things) with a fancy 65 degree egg and pickles over rice is a lovely thing to have when it’s raining outside. If you’re apprehensive about everything I write here and still magically find yourself in 10 Ronin, order this and I promise that you won’t be sorry.
Ramen is another dinner option, and this is where 10 Ronin pushes the envelope the most in terms of that fusion label.
“We’re very proud of our ramen,” said chef Mark Custodio, who helms the 10 Ronin kitchen.
Filipino soups are made with ramen in mind. The long simmer, the addition of ingredients like miso, the melt-in-your mouth pork, and the standard curly noodles are some of the things that they adopted to make their ramen, but flavor-wise, these are Filipino soups.
The Spicy Miso Chicken Tinola Ramen (P165) wasn’t overly spicy and the miso was almost a forgotten backnote to the more predominant flavor of chicken and ginger.
The most accessible of the lot is the Beef Nilaga Ramen (P195), which has a sweet broth, thanks to the addition of sweet corn.
The Bacon and Grilled Adobo Cha Siu Shoyu Ramen (P195) had delicious pork and bacon, but left me perplexed looking for that vinegary adobo taste. A sip of the broth alone though tasted of soy and garlic, which validly would be how some would like their adobo to taste like.
My pick among 10 Ronin’s ramen options is the Spicy Kimchi Sinigang (P195), which had shrimp, and was invigoratingly sour, especially good on that rainy night. The kimchi didn’t particularly impart any fermented taste, although it gave a pleasant twinge of heat at the end of a sip.
To cap off our meal, we were served matcha desserts. And while most of the people in my table liked the Matcha Cake, I found myself finishing the Matcha Tiramisu, which didn’t predominantly taste of coffee and had hints of white chocolate and a light green tea flavor. I found it creamier than the other dessert, and so it gets my vote.
10 Ronin is not the type of place that you pass by and then decide to eat at. Much like its sister restaurants, once you know of it, it’s a place that you purposely go to when you’ve got a hankering for its particular blend of budget-Filipino fusion style food.
And so, if it’s late and night and you find yourself craving for some Japanese-Filipino food, you know where to go.