When strolling in Salcedo neighborhood, drop by this izakaya that you can afford every day

Restaurateur Kian Kazemi expands his portfolio to include Japanese food (and drinks) with Izakaya Hamachi.

Kian Kazemi—former television celebrity and now successful entrepreneur—possesses a contagious energy that is so electric you cannot help but be excited with him.

Kazemi started with Persian restaurants (Persia Grill, Kite Kebab Bar) and they are still thriving post-pandemic, thanks to his tenacity and a strong support system. His father is an Iranian immigrant who has done quite well for himself, making his fortune through trade and real estate, and Mrs. Kazemi is a lovely Ilongga that raised their brood to be just as industrious (and charming) as she and her husband.

From the time I first met him, Kazemi’s been an unstoppable force with unlimited energy, and he is putting every ounce of it into widening the scope of his empire and supporting his growing family. “We’re having baby number four,” he shares, wide-eyed.

Perfect timing, then, that he has just launched his latest venture, Izakaya Hamachi, along Tordesillas Street in Salcedo Village. Unlike his other restaurants that he operates with the rest of the family, this neighborhood Japanese restaurant is something he runs with his wife Nicole. It does have that mom-and-pop vibe, with Kazemi designing the small space and supervising the renovation from top to bottom. Everything he could take on, on his own, he did knowing that every centavo he saved counted.

“I want to make ROI by end of the year,” he points out, “and it’s possible. Some people think that you make your money back through sales. No, you keep your construction costs low and watch your overhead. That way you make your money back right away.”

While Kazemi can get very technical, this businessman is all heart giving credit where it’s due. Their laser-cut aluminum logo was his design, executed for free by their metal frame supplier. “He is working with my dad on the hotel we’re building in Palanan, Makati,” he explains. “That’s quite a big project, so this logo for the restaurant is a gift.” Their ceramic plates and bowls were accumulated by his mom over the pandemic, a reselling online business she ran from home to keep her occupied. Whatever savings Kazemi gets he spends elsewhere, including the intricate woodwork attached to the ceilings that also hold some of their all-Japanese beverages.

He also invests heavily in their ingredients, some of which are flown in periodically from Japan, as well as the Japanese food consultant he hired early on to school him on the non-negotiables. Their sashimi-grade seafood is never frozen, which is why the imported hamachi is only available until they run out and the fresh shipments arrives. For now, they only serve four kinds of raw seafood— hamachi, of course, tuna, salmon, and uni— to ensure the quality of their supplies. We did catch some good collar that they simply grilled and traditionally served with some grated radish and calamansi on the side. It was a lovely starter with the rest of the sushi that included a sweet uni gunkan and some spicy salmon maki.

The izakaya menu is as concise as it should be, offering dishes that are easy to prepare in their tiny yet efficient kitchen. Special mention goes to their exhaust that works so incredibly well diners do not leave smelling like grilled fish and Kikkoman. Makes you wonder where they grill their juicy yakitori and deep-fry the tempura and assemble their hearty rice bowls, but yes, they prepare them all within that 70-square-meter space that already includes the al fresco terrace.

Kazemi is proud of their friendly price point, a product of his healthy relationship with suppliers, no doubt, as well as some diligent costing on his end. “I really would rather keep my prices reasonable and have people visit often,” he admits. “There are some good Japanese restaurants in Makati but really, how often can people afford to visit them? Once a month? Once in a while? Our customers do not think twice about coming here twice or thrice a week.”

That is great news to people who love their US chuck eye steak that they serve on a hot plate, still rare and made to sizzle according to your preferred doneness, with copious amounts of butter and sweet onions. Their fried chicken wings, marinated in sake, is also a highly addicting option dipped in sriracha mayo. Their Japanese consultant advised against serving takoyaki, but Kazemi loves the stuff and so the boss in the end prevailed, serving a premium version of the street food with huge chunks of tender octopus.

These are best paired with any of their cold beverages that Kazemi has kept on-brand by offering only Japanese products, as to not compete with his Kite Kebab Bar next door. Guests can choose from an assortment of beer, sake, and Japanese whisky to round off the edges after a stressful day.

There are ice cream bars for dessert, but we simply opted for UCC pour over coffees to end lunch. The crowd has thinned out, with most of them returning to their offices and a couple of neighborhood lolas taking the leisurely stroll back to their well-appointed apartments for mahjong or siesta. I can visualize taking my family here for a casual dinner accompanied by cold Sapporo pilsners, or even a quick post-event meal when the influencer-sized canapés were not enough to soak up the Prosecco (you know I know what I’m talking about). I’m excited to return to Izakaya Hamachi because I know, deep in my heart’s belly, that it’s a good idea.

The new lifestyle.