John and Yoko: Fusion Confusion

By franco on 10 January, 2008

John and Yoko: Cosmopolitan Japanese
from top left, clockwise
Uni Nori Tempura, Chawan Mushi Shooters
Two’s Company, John and Yoko Menu

I always find restaurants that label themselves as fusion a bit worrisome.

Really, it could go either way. Some brave culinary artists can elevate traditional cuisine to new flavors and textures that none dare imagine. Or sadly, some wayward souls could fall flat on their faces creating food that is just plain inedible.

Yes, I know that most (if not all) world cuisines are essential fusion. Over the centuries, cooks around the world have borrowed techniques and ingredients that are not indigenously their own and integrated them into their own culinary repertoire. Like everything else, food preparation will progress and evolve with the times. Only the delicious survive. The question is what the eating public will embrace as genius and what will they toss aside as another failed (but well-intended) experiment.

Case in point, John and Yoko.

John and Yoko doesn’t hide the fact they are a fusion restaurant or that their concept is not completely original. What they do promise is to bring their guests on a tour of the world’s culinary capitals that innovate traditional Japanese cuisine, giving their diners a taste of Japan in new and interesting ways. It’s a great and intriguing idea but for some reason, my tour took a wrong turn.

The interiors are stylish and modern. Techno music blares in the room. The service staff looking sexy/cool, dressed in black and silver clothing unseasonably warm for this country. You almost feel like you’ve walked into a fancy supper club in London/Tokyo/Hong Kong/ New York. Then your meal begins…

It’s a bit troubling when a Japanese restaurant (fusion or otherwise) serves their green tea from a single tea bag steeping in pot of hot water. More bothersome is fact that your tea still tastes like plain hot water. Maybe it needs another tea bag?

We start our meal with a pair of Chawan Mushi Shooters (P108), each garnished with a steamed shrimp. To be honest, we wanted to try this traditional egg custard because it was supposed to be served in shot glasses. We liked the idea of downing this dish in one go. Shallow? Yes. Cool? We thought so. Sadly unlike the picture in the menu, ours looked like any other chawan mushi served in little, green and blue stoneware cups. It was fine but the presentation was not as innovative as promised.

Next, we have the Uni Nori Tempura (P218). Uni is rolled in dried seaweed, coated in tempura batter, deep-fried and served on a bed of fried vermicelli noodles. This is a dish is one that we enjoyed, mostly because it involved raw sea urchin and deep-frying.

To end our meal, we have the Two’s Company (P228), a small tower made of tuna and salmon tartare surrounded with pieces of toast. A new way to enjoy your tuna and salmon sashimi, we thought. This dish which I imagine does not require much (if any) cooking, was actually undercooked. The slices of baguette were cold and soggy, ruining the experience of this dish. Really, how hard is it to toast toast? Again, what was delivered was not as it was pictured in the menu where the thick slices of bread were grilled, rather than merely toasted.

A high concept, up-scale, Japanese fusion restaurant is great in theory but if the actual taste of the food doesn’t match the marketing or décor then what’s the point?

I applaud the proprietors for their attempt at innovation. The idea of this restaurant will get people through the door but as more restaurants around John and Yoko begin to open will people be satisfied with just cosmopolitan ideas and stylish interiors? God is in the details. In the end, it is always about the food.

PS. Recently, I saw a feature on food from Sumo Sam. I was shocked at how similar it was to John and Yoko’s menu. Hmmm…

John and Yoko
2nd Floor
Greenbelt 5
Makati City
Telephone: (02) 7298698

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  • JANUARY 10, 2008 2:49 AM

    docchef said...

    the owners are the same. Joh and yoko is the upscale SumoSam

  • JANUARY 10, 2008 6:02 PM

    Katrina said...

    I actually wondered why they had to come up with a different name for this restaurant, when they already have Sumo Sam serving the same type of food. I was disappointed with Sumo Sam, so I'm not eager to try John and Yoko. Especially since I will compare it to Omakase, where the Japanese fusion actually works! They have Uni Tempura, too, so next time, just head over there. :-)

  • JANUARY 11, 2008 4:24 AM

    Anonymous said...

    dont try the ramen. the other food in their menu is so-so. omakase is way better.

  • JANUARY 11, 2008 7:36 AM

    joey said...

    Although I'm a die-hard-with-a-vengeance fan of straight up sushi, I'm all for fusion because I have found some great gems this way (Omakase and Wasabi come to does Tyson Beckford)...but soggy toast? C'mon...That's sad.

  • JANUARY 13, 2008 3:54 AM

    Anonymous said...

    sometimes, mall owners ask the merchants to change the name to make it seem new.

  • JANUARY 14, 2008 2:14 AM

    Franco said...

    Hi Docchef,

    Thanks for the info.

    Hi Katrina,

    Hmmm. Honestly, I'm not a really big fan of Omakase. Might be too much mayo for my taste.

    Hi Joey,

    I'm all for fusion too but it's really hard to do it well without alienating those of us who love the authentic stuff.

    Hi to both anons,

    Thanks for the infomation.I think I'm be going to little Tokyo for ramen and soba fix. :) I figured that the Ayala malls were probably requiring restauranteurs to come out with something new or at least, 'sort of ' new. :)

  • JANUARY 14, 2008 3:44 AM

    wysgal said...

    Not a fan of Omakase? How can that be? Give them another chance! =)

  • JANUARY 15, 2008 8:12 AM

    grumpyurbanslacker said...

    oo nga, Omakase is good naman ah :D
    And i thought Sumo Sam is okay din (at least the Shangrila mall branch), albeit kinda expensive.

  • JANUARY 17, 2008 6:05 AM

    Franco said...

    Hi Wysgal and GUS,

    Omakase is fine.

    But really, I like the more authentic stuff. My current Japanese favorite, Hatsuhana Tei. :) Japanese fusion is a bit tricky.

  • JANUARY 24, 2008 8:19 AM

    christine said...

    I haven't read any stellar reviews about John n Yoko yet so I probably won't be going out of my way to try it. I'm a loyalist to Omakase for funky sushi and the drive to Alabang is oh so worth it!

    But on another note, have you tried Cafe Damaso? There's a salad there made with stripes of haw flakes, chewy beef, manggo etc that I loved and plan to recreate at home!

  • JANUARY 31, 2008 3:00 AM

    PAM said...

    I went into this resto because of the name. Upon sitting down and checking the menu, I sense that this is SumoSam by another name. When the waiter confirmed my suspicion, I wanted to run to the exit, but my friend wanted to try it out. It was torture for me because, just like Sumo Sam, everything seemed to be a copy cat of the yummier fusion Japs in Manila (Omakase and a bit of the little Teriyaki Boy)at a higher price. This chain seems to know how food should be cooked, but taste-wise, something is always missing. Sigh. Maybe it's what the market wants. : (

  • JULY 26, 2008 11:17 AM

    Anonymous said...

    John & Yoko is my most favorite restaurant in Metro Manila! Great food! Amazing concept! Hip Design! It offers the cosmopolitan vibe! To compare it to Omakase, is like comparing a Rolex to a Tag! If you can't tell the difference, then (sigh) you are not its market!

  • AUGUST 24, 2008 8:02 PM

    Anonymous said...

    i would like to know if you asked permission from Yoko Ono, the wife John Lennon to use their names for your restaurant business. thank you.

  • AUGUST 27, 2008 4:54 PM

    Anonymous said...

    if you haven't asked permission from Yoko Ono, I would say that John Lennon's spirit will hunt you. Don't use the names of the celebrities for your business without permission because that is illegal. thank you.

  • OCTOBER 6, 2010 9:07 AM

    Anonymous said...

    From Anonymous three posts up "John & Yoko is my most favorite restaurant in Metro Manila! Great food! Amazing concept! Hip Design! It offers the cosmopolitan vibe! To compare it to Omakase, is like comparing a Rolex to a Tag! If you can't tell the difference, then (sigh) you are not its market! "

    Seems like the owner of John & Yoko posted this one HAHAHAHA

    Been to the one at Greenbelt, and while I enjoyed my meal, the remaining five from my table were left disappointed.