Originally located along Polaris Street, Nanbantei eventually moved its first branch to Greenbelt 3. It then expanded into Bonifacio High Street, before opening its third branch at the Alabang Town Center just last week. The restaurant's name comes from nanban ("foreigner") and tei ("rest house" or "tea house"), denoting it as a place where guests can hang out and chill.
Indeed, Nanbantei's signature dish is yakitori ("grilled chicken"), which is commonly eaten by office workers in Japan when they're too busy to cook food on their own. The restaurant also offers kushiyaki, which is cooked like yakitori except it uses meat and vegetables instead of poultry. Whether these dishes — and, more importantly, Nanbantei itself — live up to expectations is what we'll find out next.
Admittedly, Nanbantei doesn’t look that impressive from the outside. Other than the distinct blue-and-white logo above the entrance, there's nothing about its exterior that pops at passersby. However, as the old saying goes, appearances can be deceiving.
Inside, Nanbantei looks like a combination of a fine dining restaurant and an izakaya, or Japanese gastropub. It has tables and chairs for groups, as well as individual seats lining an open bar, where you can watch the staff whip up your orders in real time. If you like J-pop/anime songs, you'll be pleased to know that Nanbantei plays these as background music.
Overall, Nanbantei has a cool, laidback ambience. The warm lighting gives it an intimate atmosphere, while the glass entrance gives a good view of the Greenbelt complex outside. It's the kind of place where you can unwind by yourself or with friends, and it'll be okay either way.
Once you sit down, the staff will serve you namayasai as an appetizer. Basically, it's an assortment of vegetable sticks that you can dip in miso sauce, which is surprisingly good. Also, you'll be given a wet towel to wipe the yakitori grease off your hands, as well as a folded feedback form where you can write comments about your experiences with the restaurant.
Since grilled dishes are Nanbantei's specialty, we decided to order two types of it: the pork yakiniku and the muru kai.
To complement our protein, we had onigiri, or rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed. You can have it filled with either salmon, pickled plum or bonito flakes.
For refreshments, we had bottomless iced tea and coffee jelly.
Meanwhile, the coffee jelly tasted exactly as you'd expect it to. Apart from the vanilla ice cream's sweetness complementing the jelly's bitterness, there's nothing really special about this dessert. Not that it matters: Nanbantei is a yakitori restaurant, not a dessert parlor.
It should be noted that, even though we ordered only five items, the total bill racked up to only a little over Php500 including service charge. That's definitely not something you can say for most Greenbelt restaurants.
As you'd expect from a Japanese establishment, the service exceeded expectations. The waiters were alert and friendly, and they checked up on us every now and then to know if we needed anything. Plus, the food was served relatively fast, so there's almost no time to feel hungry at Nanbantei.
Also, Nanbantei's staff went out of its way to make sure we had the best dining experience. Aside from greeting us with the customary "Irrashaimase!" at the entrance, they also wrote Arigatou! (Thank you!) on our receipt before we headed out. Now that's something worth coming back for.
Compared to most restaurants in Greenbelt, Nanbantei is simple, unpretentious and budget-friendly. Granted, they need to work on upgrading their servings, but you can try most of their menu items and still keep your wallet intact. If you want to try an affordable Japanese dish that isn't sushi or ramen, give Nanbantei's yakitori a try.
Address: 3/F Greenbelt 3, Esperanza St., Ayala Center, Makati City
Opening Hours: 11:30 A.M. – 2:00 P.M., 5:00 P.M. – 11:00 P.M. (Monday – Saturday), 11:30 A.M. – 10:00 P.M. (Sunday)
Telephone Number(s): (+63 2) 757-4130, (+63 2) 757-4131