It’s an underlying truth that Pinoys now have many choices when it comes to Japanese food. Some friends had suggested that I try out Hanako in Maginhawa, an area of Quezon City considered a foodie paradise. We decided to go there on a Sunday, just as they were ready for the lunch crowd. Given how busy Maginhawa can get, a Sunday daytime excursion would allow us more elbow room and ambiance to enjoy Hanako at its finest.
Hanako is a Japanese name for girls, and has many levels of meaning. The most direct is that it means “flower girl.” However, it can also denote a certain richness or theatricality. I kept that in mind as we walked towards Hanako on Maginhawa.
The First Wave
We started off with drinks and appetizers. The strawberry flavored iced tea was a bit too sweet, but at Php 39, it’s a more than adequate pick-me-up, particularly for those who have a sweet tooth. Since we wanted to start with something light, we ordered the Kani Salad (Php 139), and the Sukiyaki Soup (Php 149). The salad’s generous mix of cucumber and crabstick is a theme we would find repeated in our other orders.
Although the Gyoza is technically an appetizer, we treated it as the first course of our main meal – and with a choice between four pieces (Php129) and two (Php69), I would say that it makes a fine side dish for any of the main dishes. The kuchay, cabbage, and ground meat make each gyoza piece rather heavy for its size, but not too filling. My food partner and I actually had a bit of a disagreement, as I found the wrapper a bit too delicate, while he found it perfect. Taste-wise, I feel that it could have done with more flavors, but then, I tend to prefer stronger flavors whenever it comes to meat preparations.
We will admit to being a bit overkill on the meat, as we shared between us the Katsudon rice bowl (Php169). For those who are used to liempo-like slices of meat, do be informed that in this case, the slices are somewhat thinner, and the breading is the one that is thicker, without turning into intentional filler. As it is, the pork slices are such that they aren’t chewy, with the meat juices absorbed readily by the breading. The sweet onion slices complement the flavor of the meat itself, while the rice is properly sticky – you shouldn’t have any trouble finishing the whole bowl.
To complement the katsudon and gyoza, we also ordered some Ebi Tempura (shrimp, Php229 for five pieces, Php 139 for three). I found the shrimp to be tasty, though certainly other restaurants have bigger shrimp. What made it interesting was that it was fried just right – you didn’t get that “undercurrent” of the cooking oil, really. The batter itself is rather thick in application, not flaky. And for all that, you could still taste that the shrimp itself is the dominant ingredient. For me, given the price point, their tempura is just right, and worth having if you find yourself in Hanako.
No visit to a Japanese restaurant would be complete without trying out their choice maki or sashimi dishes. To that end, I chose Hanako’s Five Star Roll. It had a center of kani and cucumber strips, with a topping made of salmon slices, Japanese mayonnaise, and crunchy salmon skin with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and teriyaki sauce. At Php189, you can actually order it as a meal in itself and though it’s an all-in-one preparation, it wasn’t overwhelming. I will say this, however: you will be fighting with friends for the leftover crunchy salmon skin on the plate.
The Salmon Sashimi (Php239 for eight pieces, Php 149 for five) was, thankfully, not frozen or still had ice crystals when served – a pet peeve of mine with some other restaurants. It would be unfair to compare it to higher-class and more expensive fare, but I would say that if you have an after-dinner craving for salmon sashimi, then Hanako can provide you with a quick fix that won’t disappoint.
Good things come in last
Dessert, in the form of the Meiji Madness (Php119), was a chocolate muffin and vanilla ice cream combination, with chocolate syrup drizzled on top of the ice cream, and chocolate shavings on the side. It came off to me as a mix of the old-style Japanese sweets I see in many anime shows, combined with a bit of modern deconstruction. The cupcake itself was not too sweet, it and the vanilla flavor of the ice cream served as a low-key bed of flavor.
Of all of the dishes I enjoyed in Hanako, I have a sweet spot for the sukiyaki soup. It had the umami aesthetic for me, and that’s perfect, as the soup can function as an appetizer, a full meal, or as a side.
The katsudon pork, too, was a pleasant surprise, as the thin strips of pork in thick breading made for a different textural and flavor experience.
Thinking about the restaurant’s name, and the relatively large servings and rich flavors, Hanako the restaurant definitely lives up to the meaning of the word itself: the experience has a certain richness of flavor and showiness that can certainly translate Japanese sensibilities to the Pinoy scene. And it does this while retaining a certain “space” in the flavor – to allow you to enjoy each flavor component without being overwhelmed by multiple ingredients. At the price point that Hanako offers, their food is a cut above the rest.
If you’re going to try them out, may I suggest that you have the sukiyaki soup and the kani salad as your “anchor” items, and then order as you please with the various maki and sashimi items. Otherwise, the katsudon beckons. You can also choose to order the “half-order” dishes, if you have a small group, or if it’s a solo flight or an informal date.
Do be prepared to spend about Php300 for a meal – an extravagant one will probably set you back around 500 to 600. Of course, after that, you might want to go home and just Netflix and chill afterwards.
Hanako’s U.P. Teacher’s Village branch is located at 99 Maginhawa Street, on the ground floor of the Anytime Fitness building (how, err, fitting!). All across the week, they are open for lunch, and close at midnight. Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Hanako-237792662980910.