Picture a Japanese restaurant. What comes to mind is probably a dojo-esque interior with a few private rooms, each with their own traditional low tables where you remove your shoes. If not, a dingy hidden hole-in-the-wall that happens to serve the best some of the best gyoza or ramen in town. Or for the more fusion styles, maybe torch rolls with cheese or jalapeño with Kanye West playing in the background. But you probably wouldn’t imagine Mr. Roboto.
Open any Instagram story of your South friends and every weekend, one of them is bound to have eaten here. It’s only been open since June, but everyone in the Alabang area has already heard of the new spot at the back of the Sykes building beside Town Center. People are actually starting to travel from up North to try it, too.
Here, you’ll be up for something new: the bright 80’s-music and retro theme that features classic animated robots is a far cry from the traditional low-lit Japanese restaurants with seats at the counter. Even its straight-up English name (taken from the Styx song whose other lyrics like “Domo Arigato” and “Secret Secret” are seen all around) feels unfamiliar when you compare it to all others named with an alphabetic translation of a Japanese phrase.
The millennials behind it
Meet the two who put up this place, also young newcomers to the industry. Dani Ramos and David Mendoza may be related to the folks behind Neil’s Kitchen, but Mr. Roboto is their own project. Dani is fresh from studying abroad at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, and David is an incoming fourth year student at Ateneo de Manila University.
Dani Ramos and David Mendoza
Inspired by the food eaten during their trips to Japan and their general love for Japanese food, Dani and David wanted more of Japanese food in the South (who doesn’t?) while still bringing something original to the table. The modern take on everything – from the food to the decor to the all-women team of cooks in the kitchen – is not what they would consider fusion cuisine, though.
Dani and David wanted to make sure not to Westernize the food, which is why all of the ingredients are still 100% Japanese. Still, Chef Dani (who created the menu) changed each dish up a bit, so that it stays true to tradition yet isn’t what you’d expect. Plus, they’re all made from scratch, even their sauces (hence, the Secret Secret sauces and sushi rice on the menu).
Kani Salad Bomb (Php250)
Nori Nachos (Php350)
Expect the Kani Salad Bomb to become a favorite. It’s like their own equivalent of a spicy tuna/salmon salad, with dressed udon noodles and crispy fried kani balls. The Nori Nachos is definitely good for sharing with your barkada and packs a load of nori chips, kani, tuna, and spicy salmon onto one plate. It’s like healthier pulutan.
Voltes V (Php280)
While the Daimos is mildly spicy and best taken in one bite (as the roll itself apart from the shrimp topping is just rice), the Voltes V is a crunchy mouthful with both fried shrimp and kani, and is also a personal pick among the three.
Shake Nigiri (Php255)
The Shake Nigiri is a personal favorite of David, and is also one of the most memorable rolls on the menu with its pink rice. For starters, not many modern Japanese restos choose to feature nigiri on their menu, and not many people in Manila like to order them because there are only two pieces.
Chef Dani’s modern spin is to serve as much as you would get in a roll to win over our stomachs while showcasing what they really serve in Japan. And with bigger pieces in the same amount as of a roll, why not? The Shake Nigiri definitely catches your eye with the pink rice from the salmon and beets sauce, and it is infused with soy truffle and topped with negi salmon. David claims he probably gained 30 lbs. from the Shake Nigiri. If we could eat here everyday, we probably would, too.
Mr. Roboto distinguishes itself from other modern Japanese rolls that tend to pack too much into one bite. Instead of trying to put all of the good stuff in there, Chef Dani chose to highlight one ingredient in each dish, such as the shrimp in the Daimos roll, and the kani in the Voltes V. At the same time, there’s still a variety in texture and flavor, so that the taste doesn’t outgrow you too quickly. The result? Some very fresh and original rolls. You definitely won’t find the typical California Maki here. Not to mention, the rolls are very affordable!
The best thing about their rolls, though, is that they don’t need any soy sauce. While the saucer was right in front of me, and there was a bottle on every table, it took several pieces of the Voltes V before I realized I wasn’t even dipping. That was, in fact, the goal that the folks at Mr. Roboto had in mind (but it’s totally fine if you prefer it with soy sauce, too).
The bowls of Mr. Roboto look great and taste even better. Chef Dani, like many, believes that you eat with all your senses and looks need not be sacrificed to put all the good stuff in a bowl. They put a prime on plating and their Gyudon even comes on a tray with more Japanese comic strip-like graphics covering it. And it’s perfect to take for the ‘gram—just make sure you take too long taking a flat lay while the dish gets cold!
If I had to go back for anything, it would definitely be the Gyudon. The beef is so rich in taste and juicy to the bite! It’s hard to find beef of this quality at a normal restaurant. They’re not stingy with it, either—you can barely even see the rice.
Sashimi & Tempura Chirashi (Php595)
The generous helpings also go for their Sashimi & Tempura Chirashi, which also comes with rice under all that sashimi. With salmon, tuna, and pickled tanigue slices, you get your share of fresh sashimi with good ol’ ebi fried ebi tempura and kani vegetables, any of which will fill you up.
Either of these bowls will satisfy you before you can even finish them. Most of their bowls are served with egg yolks that you can mix in with the rice; other condiments are available on the table, as well.
Dessert and Drinks
Chocolate Bread Pudding (Php295)
Their desserts are actually their Secret Secret gems, as Dani originally studied to be a pastry chef at Le Cordon Bleu. Most people head out after ordering too much of the mains at Mr. Roboto, but you’ve gotta try what you’re missing out on.
Bread pudding may sound like a meh dessert to most but if Chef Dani can whip up some great ideas for Japanese dishes when it’s not even her field of study, you better believe how well she can craft within her area of specialty. The bread pudding is so rich, moist, and addicting. The candied bacon bits and ice cream pair so well with the hot and chocolatey pudding slices that are of serious fudge-texture level. It’s definitely recommended and good for sharing.
Although they have yet to release their drink menu, you can already order one of their cocktails called the Sojukult: a mix of Yakult and the Korean drink soju. Chef Dani decided to serve one of her favorite drinks, which is definitely nostalgic but a great combination. It doesn’t taste too strong (and it isn’t meant to be) and it’s what you’d order for the great taste rather than the hit.
Mr. Roboto has only been open for a month, but lines are already piling up on weekends. They have also got something cooking exclusively for their Instagram followers. Watch out for their Secret Secret Menu available in a few weeks!
Though it may look like it, Mr. Roboto isn’t just a place for the millennial crowd. While high school and college kids flock here for lunch and weekday dinners, it’s also a place where you can spot nostalgic parents explaining the robots and 80’s songs to their kids on Sundays and where couples spend their Saturday night dates. It’s a place for almost any occasion, the most important of which, is for you to just have some good Japanese food done well.
Open from 11am-2pm and 5pm-9pm from Sunday-Thursday, and until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays
Ground Floor, ATC Corporate Center, Madrigal Avenue, Alabang, Muntinlupa