Japanese food is not particularly hard to find in Manila. Every neighborhood and mall here seems to have a handful of local joints that serve up staple Japanese dishes such as ramen, sushi, and rice bowls. On the other hand, authentic Japanese food requires some digging in Tagaytay. If you’re looking for fresh and organic Japanese food that’s worth getting up off the couch, Aozora Japanese Cafe + Bistro in Tagaytay City is waiting.
Perched on the roof deck of Domicillo Boutique Hotel, AOZORA is actually the first ever Japanese restaurant in Tagaytay. When translated to English, Aozora means “blue sky,” and this makes perfect sense as soon as you see the amazing bird’s eye view of the city and the Lake Taal under the blue sky.
We traveled almost three hours to try their best-selling dishes last Sunday and we were heartened to taste Chef Seiji Kamijo Kamura’s specialties. The cooking was satisfying and approachable. Speaking of which, let’s get into it!
Review of Aozora Japanese Cafe + Bistro (Aguinaldo Highway, Tagaytay City)
It’s now the start of rainy season in the Philippines. When temperature is elevated, maybe take a cue and elevate your dining and drinking spot, too! The roof deck where Aozora Japanese Cafe + Bistro is located grants you access to a casual, informal and cozy lounge with soft couches to relax on.
This place also opens up to high-rise views of vistas and astounding nature. Be careful not to lean out over too much or get nearer to the edge of the building, since there’s no glass or wall that can save you from falling down below but strings so fine I don’t trust. Whoops.
Inside the restaurant, the setting is Japanese chic, with quiet and cozy interior offset by interesting lanterns covered with Japanese paper. Conceptually designed by Budji Layug, Aozora’s decors feature neutral tones and cement-washed walls complementing warm-wood fixtures. A sleek bar serving different kinds of alcoholic beverages is a nice addition to the casual yet trendy setup, attracting a mix of locals and out-of-town visitors. What I found somewhat obstrusive though were the two large posts in the middle of the dining area.
This place can host as a good venue for birthday parties, wedding reception, and other events. Accommodation is up to 100 guests considering both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Service was solid and friendly. I mostly appreciated staffs telling us the dishes plus their brief descriptions upon serving on the table. Especially since the restaurant is only two months old, it’s a kind gesture and a good move to introduce recommendations on the menu.
When it comes to adding a twist of the Filipino cuisine to Japanese, bulalo may prove to be just the ticket. With soup base made with bulalo (beef shank), Aozora Ramen (PhP 295) had a whisper of bone marrow bringing an extra dimension of flavor different from your usual bowl of Japanese ramen. These noodles were imported from Japan and it’s the type that don’t get mushy or thick even after sucking up all the broth. Supported by a simple and savory combination of egg and corn kernels, it’s a mighty “cold-weather” soup that’s a must-try when in Aozora.
The Rainbow Maki (PhP 320) platter consisted of tuna, salmon, tamago, and shime saba (Japanese pickled mackerel) maki that were all incredibly fresh. I guess it’s the way rainbow maki is supposed to be—presented with colorful toppings of rich flesh plus soft white rice making up for balanced, subtle, and restrained tastes. Yummy!
Made up of sauteed mixed vegetables with crunch factor and pork, Yasai Itame was cooked nicely but was nothing special. It’s a simple dish that may be able to cure a hangover.
Crowd-pleasing cuts in dainty portion, Pork Belly Yakiniku with Veggies (PhP 390) were coated in a sweet and salty marinade, similar to its Korean predecessor, kalbi or bulgogi. It somehow had a barbecue taste that’s hard to beat. These thin pieces of pork belly were more like jerky, the kind that will make you smack your lips and make you smile. 🙂
Yakisoba was another hit. The noodles were chewy, wonderfully seasoned, and firm.
Mango Tempura Ice Cream (PhP 180) was a delight. The batter was just a bit too thick but still good. Ultimately it had a crispy golden crust that sealed in the mango bursting with flavor beneath. Light and creamy, a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce on top came as a lovely accompaniment.
Kalamancello, an organic drink with 30 percent alcohol, had the zesty essence of calamansi rinds infused into a vodka base. It tasted like sweet lemon or dalandan but more tart, sour, and acidic like lime mojito.
We also tried Aozora’s signature iced tea. The Aozora Iced Tea (PhP 120) was made with lemongrass, pandan, honey and mint leaves. Albeit thirst-quenching, the pandan taste was too strong, concentrated and overpowering and it’s not a wow for me. Anyway, I still commend the creativity that went into its making. This is best recommended if you like to give your taste buds a thrill.
To clear our palate and help with digestion, Key Coffee (PhP 95) was served but we had to wait for a while for it to brew. The taste, aroma, and body of the coffee were absolutely inviting. Apparently, it’s the No. 1 Coffee in Japan.
Price for Value: ★★★☆☆
With its sharp aesthetic, iconic setting, professional customer service, and appealing roster of Japanese food, Aozora Japanese Cafe + Bistro in Tagaytay is a great date spot by any standard. With its presence, there’s plenty more fun now when visiting Tagaytay for a short day tour. Get ready to be served with classic Japanese fare that’s enjoyable, however this obviously comes at an exquisite price. Itadakimasu! 🙂
Thanks to Aldous for organizing the event and Ms. Christine Arriola-Villongco for having us!
Operating Hours: 7:00AM – 10:00PM daily