Dec 102014

Toro Onigiri beautifully topped with foie gras, negi, and balsamic maple syrup, but we all agreed that it could do with less rice! (Photo by Jin Perez of Jin Loves To Eat)

I was actually trying to time this article to come out on Dec. 10. (You’ll find out why in a bit). But unfortunately, that date falls on a Wednesday, and our Philippine STAR food section comes out on Thursdays.

My “Love Food!” group and I first visited 12/10 in October when it first opened. To be honest, while a lot of people want to be first in breaking a story, I’ve had several disappointments from writing about restaurants that were great in the beginning, but continued to deteriorate over time. So I decided to wait and observe for general feedback. From real-life recommendations — “Have you been to 12/10? It’s great!” — to Instagram posts from returning clientele, the overall feedback was positive. It was time.

Tucked away in a nondescript neighborhood in Saguijo, 12/10 is located in a converted residential bungalow. The interiors, a collaboration with Serious Studio and Restock, are really — for lack of better word — cool, a slightly modern industrial feel of steel and wood, dressed with paintings (both framed and directly on the wall) and paper cutouts, which the owners describe as “an expression of ourselves.”  There is a gorgeous long bar where you will notice that the folks behind the bar — as well as the servers — are so young! Even the bathroom has some eye-catching (literally) décor.

The owners are Thea de Rivera and Gab Bustos, also known as The Girl (Thea) + The Bull (Gab), which is their restaurant in BF Homes. They named this one 12/10 as a tribute to their anniversary date, Dec. 10.  “12/10 is a non-traditional Japanese izakaya,” shares Thea. “We wanted to embrace the whole izakaya concept, but at the same time we still want it to be very personal and different. Even if 12/10 uses a lot of seafood and Japanese ingredients, we don’t want to claim it as an authentic Japanese restaurant. We always make it a point to let our customers know that we’re a non-traditional Japanese izakaya. Our dishes are still very chef-driven. Most of our ingredients are sourced locally.” The menu was conceptualized by Gab and when he’s not around, Jessie Roasa works as his extension in the kitchen.

While izakaya means “little plates,” our Love Food group wanted to try everything, so we ordered the entire menu x3, kind of like creating our own degustation (which we later found out is part of what Thea and Gab had in mind). Our unanimous favorite was the Raw Tuna Salad (P240), soft tuna mixed in with kyuri, yuzu kosho, maple syrup, ebiko, shichimi and nori — a lot of great textures and flavors of delicately sweet, salty and even umami, all in one — that’s absolutely fresh at the same time.

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We also enjoyed the Blowtorched Salmon (P280) topped with uni, caviar, panko, nori, ponzu, sea salt, served on a shiso leaf; Chicken Wings Karaage (P260) drizzled with fish sauce caramel and topped with fish roe — another combination of sweet and salty flavors; Korean Fried Chicken (P295) served with charred eggplant, gochugang, sesame, shiso, and lime; and Toro Onigiri (P410), beautifully topped with foie gras, negi, and balsamic maple syrup — also the most popular one on my Instagram feed. But you know what? Order the entire menu. The servings are really small, and most of them are delicious, anyway; you’re sure to find something to your liking. (We just weren’t too crazy about the Chicken Skin with Enoki).

Cocktails are classic and straightforward, but I like that they are already giving guests an option to choose their liquor bases. For example, for the Old Fashioned, a more basic base like Maker’s Mark is priced at P280, versus the more premium Elijah Craig, which is priced at P370.

Some people have observed that 12/10 has similarities to Yardbird and Little Bao in Hong Kong. Explains Thea, “Our experience in both Yardbird and Little Bao actually inspired us to create a similar environment here in Manila, where it’s really more of an entire experience — from the service, to the music, to the branding and all the other small details — rather than just filling your stomachs with food.”

Their goals and dreams are simple, like wanting to introduce a “new and memorable dining experience in Manila,” but very well executed. And the most impressive thing is that the owners are only in their very early 20s — Thea is 23 and Gab is 22! How’s that for inspiring.

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12/10 is located at 7635 Guijo Street, San Antonio Village, Makati, open Mondays to Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. They don’t take reservations, but for more information, contact 0915-663-2823, visit their Facebook page at or Instagram at @twelvetenph.

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