The facade of Banzai at SM by the Bay. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – Actor-businessman Marvin Agustin and his partners in the High Jap Group have unveiled their most ambitious project to date as they continue to expand their restaurant empire.
Banzai, located at the SM by the Bay in the Mall of Asia complex, is a 1,300-square-meter themed buffet restaurant that offers a wide array of Japanese favorites as well as bits of culinary entertainment.
Banzai's "teppanyaki theater." Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Dubbed “The Great Teppanyaki Theater,” Banzai, which can seat up to 500 guests, features teppan chefs whose cooking skills includes juggling knives and putting up fire shows.
Although knife-juggling teppan chefs aren’t new anymore – the global chain Benihana, which used to have a restaurant in Manila, was built around showmen-chefs who perform tableside for guests – Banzai’s dining area is dominated by a large teppan station where several chefs put on a show with synchronized movements and music.
In addition to these chef-performers, Banzai will also have cosplayers during the weekends, as well as entertainers dressed as sumo wrestlers and ninjas parading around the restaurant.
Diners can don costumes and pose for photos at the trick art gallery. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
The fun doesn’t end there. Banzai also has a “trick art” gallery, which now has three large paintings for “selfie” addicts and photo opportunities. It even offers costumes like a sumo fat-suit and several Japanese head gear, which guests can wear when posing against these artworks.
Sumo Sam success
The opening of Banzai is recognition of the success of Agustin’s High Jap Group, which started with the opening of the first Sumo Sam restaurant at the Shangri-La Plaza mall that has since expanded to 28 outlets across the country.
Other restaurants developed by the High Jap Group include Dekada (Filipino) and Balboa (Italian), but Japanese cuisine seems to be its specialty. Apart from Sumo Sam, it also has John and Yoko, Kurosawa, Akira and now Banzai.
According to Ricky Laudico, one of the partners in the High Jap Group, it was SM that offered the space to their group to open a Japanese buffet restaurant to complement Vikings and Buffet 101.
During a recent lunch event to introduce Banzai, Laudico said they were encouraged by the success of Akira at Shangri-La Plaza, which specializes in teppanyaki.
A chef works the teppan grill. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
“Sushi, you can have every day. You find it everywhere in the streets of Tokyo, also ramen and tonkantsu. Teppanyaki, parang high-end siya. So we said teppayanki will be the highlight of the buffet,” he explained.
But while the teppan chefs, who were even trained abroad, are in the spotlight at Banzai, the real culinary stars of Banzai are its two Japanese in-house chefs. During the visit of ABS-CBNnews.com, one of them was manning the sushi station.
Describing them as “very strict,” Laudico said the two chefs agreed to work only “if it’s the right Japanese ingredients.”
What to get
Banzai’s buffet includes Japanese staples from salads to desserts, including live stations preparing favorites like tempura, takoyaki, tonkatsu, gyoza and ramen.
The different buffet stations. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Laudico said guests can simply help themselves with the buffet spread or have the food prepared exactly to their liking. For instance, guests can just select a ramen variant from several on offer or “build their own” using the various ingredients available.
Among the many dishes on offer, the sushi and sashimi stand out not only in terms of quality but also in terms of variety, which include the trendy aburi sushi, which are blow-torched before they are served to the guests.
Several varieties of sushi. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
The teppan also deserves attention not just because of the chef’s showmanship but with the ingredients. Steak lovers will surely this.
The tempura too is recommended with the large prawns and clean batter. Laudico noted that Filipinos have become more sophisticated in their dining choices. “People now know a good tempura from a bad one. That’s why it’s tougher for us now. We really have to give our all,” he said.
“Our tempura now is 10 times better than when we opened Sumo Sam,” he added, attributing this to the availability of better ingredients and “having Japanese chefs who would know tempura better.”
Banzai’s buffet, which also includes unlimited beer, is priced at P699 for Monday to Friday lunch, P899 for Monday to Friday dinner, and P1,088 for Saturday, Sunday, and holidays, inclusive of service charge. Buffet price for children below 4.5 feet is P499, while children below 3.5 feet can avail of the buffet for free.
As an opening treat, it is running a Power Lunch promo that offers a 15% discount from Monday to Friday until June 30 to employees of any company or students of any school with valid IDs.
BDO Credit Card holders can avail of the “Buffet Now, Pay Later” plan running until December 31. For a minimum single receipt purchase worth P3,000, BDO Credit Card holders will get a zero-interest, three-month installment payment plan.
Yakiniku. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Meanwhile, the restaurant will offer free lunch or dinner to mothers in a group of four, on May 11, Mother’s Day. Mothers may bring along their husband, children or other relatives to form their group of four. Only one mom per group may avail of the free buffet.
Despite the pricing strategy, Laudico doesn’t see Banzai as competition for its other restaurants, like Sumo Sam, which has an outlet at SM Mall of Asia. Since Banzai opened three weeks ago, he reported that sales of Sumo Sam were not affected, even as customer traffic in Banzai has been constantly improving.
Laudico also doesn’t expect the buffet trend to wane just yet.
“There’s a market for buffet. We’re getting a lot of office people, families, kids. It (buffet) has become the go-to restaurant for Filipinos,” he said.