Since it opened its doors in 2012, Buddha-Bar Manila has elevated cosmopolitan dining to a whole new level with its rich serving of tantalizing Modern Asian cuisine. The brain-child of visionary restaurateur Raymond Visan, Buddha-Bar Manila carries with it the sophistication and world-class service that the Buddha-Bar international franchise is known for.
Exclusive, jaw-dropping events are also some of the hallmarks of Buddha-Bar Manila, and bringing in the intentionally acclaimed Masato Show featuring world-famous Sushi Chef Masato Nakabayashi last July 5, 2014 was one of the many amazing events they hosted this year. The spectacular culinary event showcased the artful display of turning a whole tuna into fresh sushi and sashimi creations while a crowd looks on, highlighting Chef Masato’s excellent knife work as well as this spectacular array of sushi knives!
Chef Masato Nakabayashi’s culinary journey began in a seaside town back in Japan, honing his skills with local masters. Now the resident Sushi Master at Buddha-Bar Paris, his unique and inventive sushi creations helped establish the distinct Buddha-Bar style. And now, it was Manila’s turn to witness Chef Masato’s creative flair.
The other star of the Masato Show was a monster 40-kilo tuna flown in from General Santos City -the fishing capital of the Philippines. I remember a friend of mine whose family business revolves around fishing in Gen. San sharing something interesting with me – the gigantic tuna that the Japanese auction out at Tsukiji isn’t caught in Japan, but flown in fresh from Gen. San! The best ones get sent to the Japan, the second best picks go to the US and Europe, while the rejects – well, we all know where they go.
Chef Masato worked methodically, taking the fish apart head first, then the tail, and then finally filleting the gigantic tuna into four big slabs, while the sushi chefs behind him worked on picking out the bones, removing the skin, and cutting each fillet up into long, manageable strips while another group of sushi chefs worked on plating the first dish that was to served to the crowd.
The first plate that came out was a duo of fresh Tuna Tartare and Seared Tuna. The nuttiness of the sesame-crusted seared tuna went nicely with the wasabi it came with while the tartare was sweet and creamy. One could really appreciate the texture of the fresh tuna in both tasting portions – firm with a little bit of a bite, allowing you to savor each bite for longer before swallowing and waiting in giddy anticipation for the next plate to come out.
Chef Masato’s knife skills are mesmerizing to watch. To the untutored, a little ball of rice with a slice of raw fish on top may look like a simple affair, but there is so much more to it than what meets the eye. It takes years to master the art of slicing the fish just so and cutting sushi at just the right size and just the right angle. Even the amount of sushi rice one pairs with the fish, has to be just right. Too much and it will be more than a mouthful; too little and it will be overpowered by the fish; too much pressure and the ball of rice will be hard; too little and the pellet will fall apart. Master Chef Masato makes it look so easy.
With that being said, Buddha-Bar’s Signature Rolls and Classic Nigiri were little words of art. The Crazy Spicy Maguro has a nice heat with it being too overpowering, yet one could still appreciate the taste of the fresh tuna wrapped inside and on top of the sushi rice. The Pink Lady was a hit at the table – a tempura roll with what looked like sweet ground up salmon on top. It was so light, it looked like powder almost and the little pieces just melts in your mouth. The pieces of Salmon Sushi, Tuna Sushi, and Red Snapper Sushi looked absolutely perfect – with the perfect-sized ball of rice underneath the perfectly cut fish in just the right length for you to pick it up with your chopsticks without it falling off or the rice falling apart, each piece eaten the right way – in one big bite!
Watching on as the sushi chefs proceed to de-bone and slice the fillets of the once gigantic tuna, I marveled at the special sushi knives used for this occasion, like the yanagi, used to slice boneless fish fillets into sashimi and toppings for sushi, its graceful, thin blade cutting beautiful slices in one long, drawing stroke.
My favorite dish of raw fish that night was the Salmon Skewers with Kobayaki and Chili Oil Sauce. The little skwers of fresh salmon already tasted sweet with the mildly spicy chili oil offsetting the two different flavors. I wish Buddha-Bar Manila would put this on as a permanent staple on the menu – this would go well with their Pineapple Spicy M cocktail, a zesty concoction of fresh pineapple, pineapple syrup, pineapple liquor, and vodka infused Thai chili. That wasn’t on the menu that night though, so a glass of Sparkling Sake had to suffice.
Ending the night on a high note, Chef Masato served up two plates of sashimi done two ways – the New Style Tuna Sashimi with Black and White Sesame Dressing and the Wasabi Ebiko, another sweet vs. spicy play on flavor. The tuna sashimi with black and white sesame dressing gave a subtle nutty nuance to the fresh tuna slices, while the wasabi left me with a rather strong heat that traveled up from my mouth to my nostrils.
After over four hours of hacking, cutting, slicing, and dicing, there 40-kilo tuna was reduced to skin, bones, and leftovers for stock, while the master chef is finally done. After a long applause and a few photos taken with guests for posterity, the humble chef cleans his knives and slowly packs them away one by one. That was it. That was the end of the Masato Show. I left Buddha-Bar with a new found respect for the art of preparing sushi – it takes more than just a piece of fish and a sharp knife. Like mastering a martial art, it takes time, patience, and perseverance to get it right and have it done beautifully. And to be a master chef, you have to get it right and make it look beautiful every single time.
Buddha-Bar Manila is located at Picar Place, Kalayaan Avenue, Makati and is open from 11am – 2am Monday through Thursday, 11am – 3am on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11am to 12am on Sundays. For inquiries or to reserve a table, please call +63 2 856 6859 or +63 2 856 6719.