Yayoi is the authentic teishoku experience
You must have left a couple of brain cells at home, because as soon as you sit down at the end of the banquet-style table of Yayoi, a new Japanese restaurant in SM Megamall, whose draw is teishoku-style dining coupled with iPad-automated ordering, you triple-press the tablet’s home button and lock yourself out of the experience. Thankfully, a Japanese attendant senses the disruption (or dumbness) and inputs the security code, and just like that, you’re back in the game.
Yayoi follows a meal concept derived from the Japanese word “ichiju-sansai,” which refers to a traditional dinner of one cup of rice, one cup of soup, and three dishes. The restaurant, in particular, revolves around teishoku or set meals with, of course, (everyone’s favorite carb) rice, a bowl of miso soup, and a combination of main and side dishes. In short, a lot of food.
Earlier, a gentleman whispered the teriyaki hamburg in your ear, and so your finger hovers over the touch screen and settles on the proper tab to find it. There are pictures. It is easy. Aaaand you tap-tap-tap, ordering, in an instant, the full set plus a glass of iced coffee.
The setup is certainly novel and, more important, efficient. Ordering an entire meal all at once dispenses of the ritual of figuring out what soup, appetizers, and mains go together. Doing it via a tablet also eliminates the variableness of humans. How many times have you been hobbled by a server who was too busy or too slow or too, well, unhappy to fully assist you in your feeding time? Now it’s all on you and your fickleness (should I get the breaded or the golden-fried pork loin?), but once you’ve made up your mind, getting your food from kitchen to table (and then to your tummy) will be quick.
An animated icon of a chef stirring a bowl appears on the screen to let you know that the real cooks in the kitchen are preparing the hamburg. In a blip, while you are exploring the menu for more things to try (you can add to your order anytime), the digital cook changes into a steaming bowl—which means it’s done. And then, it is here.
A big tray laden with your feast is placed in front of you: the hamburg (like a Salisbury steak, but better) is fat and warm and soaked in tangy-sweet teriyaki sauce; the bowl of salad is a counterpoint to the savory slab of meat; and the miso soup is delicate and clean.
Tatsuo Shio, president of Plenus Company Limited, the prolific food group that brought Yayoi to our shores (with help from local partners, John and Jacqueline Gobing and Yvonne Yao), remarks how Filipinos consider sushi, ramen, or tempura as the primary elements of Japanese cuisine, when these are “a completely different meal.” He continues, “Sushi and tempura, we don't eat as much. Teishoku is something that the Japanese actually eat day to day.” So order what they’re really having in Tokyo, Ishikawa, Aichi, or Kyoto in the over 300 Yayois all over Japan. Shio recommends the chicken karaage, his favorite, and the Mix Toji Teishoku, a symphony of breaded pork, fried shrimp, and beef sukiyaki.
Tororo Nabe Teishoku
Teriyaki Hamburg Teishoku
Mix Toji Teishoku
Back at the table, you witness Yayoi’s speed again. The lady beside you orders her dessert, the ohagi, and as soon as she removes her finger from the touch screen, a server materializes to take away her tray and report that the dessert is ready. Would you like it now? The sticky rice ball coated with azuki beans looks like gooey mass of goodness, and your seatmate describes its flavor as a “red bean-slathered suman.” She is a poet.
The lady across from you is polishing off an impressive-looking set that came with a laminated note—instructions. It must be the hitsumabushi, the grilled eel, which you discover can be consumed in different ways: as is, flavored with condiments, or in a pool of dashi broth. That’s probably the most difficult decision you’ll make in this chill eating experience. Maybe next time.
Yayoi is at 3/F Bridgeway, Building B, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City; yayoi.com.ph.