What I’d gathered from years of eating in sushi restaurants whenever the craving struck (which happens once a week, honestly), is that making sushi is truly an art form. The meticulous knife techniques, the understanding of what flavors work together, and the careful assembly all come together to create one of the most recognizable dishes in the world—a true testament to the skill of the chef who prepares it.
It’s no surprise, then, that when Radisson Blu Cebu decided to open a Japanese restaurant in one corner of the lobby, finding a chef was the most important item on the agenda. “We had ‘auditions’ for the chef,” marketing communications manager Lara Agua tells me as we settled into our seats at the restaurant’s only long table. “Chef Jeff,” she continues, referring to Chef Jeff Yalung, who ended up at the helm of SUSHISAKE, “flew in from the Middle East and cooked for the management. When they tried his sushi, they knew that he was it.”
Hailing from Nueva Vizcaya, the chef is soft-spoken, but his passion and mastery of the craft is evident as I ask him about his creations. “It’s the sauces and the marinade,” Chef Jeff answers when I ask him about what sets his sushi apart from the many other variations in the city. “They’re all my own recipe. I really think about what goes well with the fish, so that all the flavors come out.”
With ten years of experience in international hotel brands in Ras al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, he had started out as a sous chef who had worked closely with the sushi chef in the kitchen. When the itamae left, Chef Jeff asked to take over the position. Since then, he continues to take inspiration from the cities he’s lived in and the dishes he’s tried, bringing them together to create his own unique take on the Japanese favorite.
The glowing introduction had gotten me especially curious about the sushi. Chef Jeff brings out a selection of makimono rolls to the table, some of which had become fast crowd favorites and the others off-menu specials. “The menu is actually very limited, so when you’re here, ask me for the specials,” Chef Jeff reveals.
“Depending on what we have, we can create something different for you.”
A specialty that’s on the menu, though, is the Dynamite Roll—the roll features tuna, salmon, and white fish fried with tempura batter, all topped with creamy crab and finished off with a flame torch, which presents an interesting combination of flavors and textures that make every bite seem better than the last. Other specialties include the Surf & Turf, an ebi tempura roll wrapped in beef tenderloin and topped with a savory sauce and tempura flakes, and the Special California Roll, what seems like an overflowing version of the staple maki.
The sushi and sashimi presentation of the Chef’s Special can only be described as a work of art—served in a bowl, the sashimi slices are tucked into a circular ice sculpture, each hand-shaped and kept in the freezer overnight, while the sushi sits on a bamboo mat over the crushed ice.
Of course, the other half of the name is Sake, and the restaurants serves up a selection of sakes that are meant to be enjoyed with your food. A waitress came with two varieties for us to try out, but it was the Gekkeikan Sparkling Sake that stood out for its fizzy, slightly sweet taste that complemented the stronger flavors of the fish.
As soon as we finished off the last roll, a trio of desserts arrived—the Sesame Seed Panna Cotta and Coconut Ice Cream, the Mochi Ice Cream, and the Yuzu Tart with Sake Meringue and Green Tea Ice Cream. The combination of tart, sweet and tropical flavors made the selection as much of a palate cleanser as it was to wrap up the meal. “The desserts are prepared at Feria, but only served here,” Lara explains.
With sophisticated modern interiors, the 21-seater SUSHISAKE is the latest addition to Radisson Blu’s dining selection. “We had to think about the cuisine that we wanted to serve, something that would appeal to locals and the tourists coming in,” Lara continues. In the end, the influx of Japanese visitors spurred them to create a dedicated Japanese restaurant. “There was always the Japanese section of Feria, but this gives us the chance to offer a more authentic, more premium selection. Plus, Cebuanos really love sushi,” she adds.
There’s certainly more to love about sushi here. Chef Jeff was right—his sauces and marinades really do make all the difference at SUSHISAKE. By adding different degrees of flavor to the fish and other ingredients, he ensures that everything coming from the restaurant’s open kitchen is a celebration on the palate and, if I may, a work of art.
Radisson Blu Cebu,
Serging Osmeña Blvd. corner Juan Luna Ave., Cebu City
(032) 402 9900