Don't Take Photos at This New Japanese Restaurant in BGC
The owner, Charlie Paw, caught us in the middle of our pre-meal phone photography ritual. “It’s really best when it’s hot,” he says, repeating with extra emphasis the first thing he told us when we entered the threshold.
After a sheepish grin and a few more sneaky snaps, we dug in. Even with today’s social media obligations, food is still best enjoyed fresh from the kitchen, but Charlie’s insistence especially makes sense in a place like Kushikatsu Daruma. The premise? Deep-fried skewers with tonkatsu sauce stationed at every table. The words “No Double Dipping” are spread throughout the restaurant in shouty banners. In person, they’re gorgeous golden nuggets that you can tell are light and crispy even before taking a mouthful; side by side through a screen, they’re monotonously brown. A meal more utilitarian than decorative.
The daruma doll is the theme of the brand. Often seen in business establishments, it represents determination and good luck. One eye is painted with a goal, while the other is painted once the goal is achieved. The doll is also reminiscent of the restaurant's chairperson, Ueyema (second photo).
Kushikatsu Daruma was founded in Osaka in 1929—well before digital anything and clearly appearances weren’t the concern. The idea is incredibly simple: There’s only one type of sauce, one type of breading (both are imported from Japan) and a whole variety of fillings. According to Charlie, the light-hearted guys in Osaka gave them freedom to fill it with whatever they want, "as long as it works." You have the requisite potato croquettes, leeks, chicken meat balls (tsukene), prawns, chicken, pork loin—all beautifully seasoned on their own despite the uniformity in their appearance. The cheese camembert is the shining star of the lot.
Orders are preferable done in sets, but the skewers come one at a time, so that everything could be consumed right off the fryer. You can also get options like corn, offals, cherry tomatoes, and sweet potato, in single-stick orders.
What's amazing is that everything still tastes different from each other.
We ask Charlie what would happen if anyone dared to double-dip, but he shrugs it off, quite resigned to the fact that most people often do the reverse of what they're told. It's essentially street food taken to a more comfortable setting that we can imagine the barrage of tusok-tusok jokes it's going to inspire.
The most premium ones aren't even on the menu yet. Charlie grins at a future of sticks of cheese and jalapeño, giant oysters, and juicy foie gras. The latter, which he already teased, is a beautiful display of balance: with the extremely light breading giving texture to that bite-sized taste of heaven.
It’s rather refreshing not to worry about the angles, the lighting, and the filter; all you have to be concerned about is the most efficient way to dip the stick into the sauce. It's a surprising approach from the group that brought on the Instagram-beckoning Fowlbread, Bad Bird, and Freezer Burn—trend-setting restaurants that created such spectacles of food, it felt a shame not to preserve it digitally.
Classic Kushikatsu, Prawn, Chicken Breast, Chicken Ball, Potato, Pork Loin, Leeks, Fish Cakes, Camembert
But when it comes to what's in, Charlie and his enterprising team have always been one step above the rest, and we guess that this year, with everyone else pampering and preening their dishes to over-the-top flamboyance, we've uncovered what the game is really about: substance over style.
Kushikatsu Daruma is at 2/F Uptown Mall, Uptown Parade, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.