What was once a sari-sari store in Poblacion is now one of the happening places in Makati. Owners Melvin Viceral and Franco Ocampo used to go to El Chupacabra a few doors down—back when the setup was just a few tables on the street and before the blossoming of Poblacion as a nightlife destination—and buy cigarettes from the sari-sari store. “Chupacabra was getting popular and there was a waiting line,” Franco recounts. “People were waiting outside, and we would wait here. We’d sometimes have a beer here. And we thought, imagine if we can get the spillover from there,” he laughs. It took two years of convincing the store owner, now their landlady, to give them the spot so they could use the space for a bar. Their persistence paid off, and they put up Tambai.

Within a year of opening, they expanded inward to include an air-conditioned room where anyone can play their music via a bluetooth speaker. “People still prefer to hang out outside, though,” Melvin says. Apart from the unpretentious ambiance of Tambai, it’s the people who go there who bring the place to life. Melvin and Franco still make tambay at Tambai, and they love hanging out there. “Through the years, you get to meet very interesting people,” adds Franco. “I hope that we’re a place that attracts interesting people.”

This no-frills concept has grown into Tambai Alley, which now houses three other establishments. Let us walk you through one of the most happening places in town.

Tambai Alley

Tambai

Operating hours: Monday to Sunday, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Kitchen closes at 12 midnight.
What to eat: Beef Rib Finger Lakitori, Gizzard, Chicken Leg Yakitori, Soshallots
What to drink: San Miguel Pale Pilsen, Sake, Barik Lambanog
When to go: When you’re in the mood for a relaxed hangout at a casual bar with yakitori-inspired food, cold drinks, and great company.

Tambay, which means to hang out, is something that the owners like to do. So it makes sense that they named their bar after one of their favorite activities. It’s a casual place to have good food and drinks. “I love yakitori and Japanese food,” shares Melvin. “So I decided we’d do barbeque, which is easier because we have a small area.” It brought the street to life and attracted a crowd that was looking for something different. The hole-in-the-wall aesthetic, the casual feel, good food, laid back vibe, and cheap beer of Tambai steadily drew a clientele of foodies, friends, office workers, and people who live in the area, many of whom are now regulars who have seen the place bloom and now also frequent the other establishments beside it.

Barik Lambanog

Their menu, which includes a range of yakitori and fried sticks like Beef Rib Finger Lakitori (big stick), Quail Egg and Bacon, Japanese Sausage, Chicken Gizzard, and Soft Shell Crab and Soshallots (deep-fried shallots with sriracha mayo), was set up by Chef Jerome Valencia.

Yakitori

It’s usually where people drink beer, but they added Japanese whisky and sake as well (served in a little glass can). They now offer Barik Lambanog, which is gaining popularity in their customers. “It’s new, you can share it, the packaging is nice, it doesn’t really give you a hangover, and it’s easy to drink,” says Melvin. Whatever you do decide to drink, you’re sure to have a great time.

Ebi10

Operating hours: Mondays to Sundays, 6 p.m. till late
What to eat: Jumbo Shrimp Tempura, Uni Shiso Nori, Bird’s Nest, Bacon Yakisoba, Nutella Banana Tempura
What to drink: Sierra Madre Wheat Beer, Japanese beer, Sake
When to go: After a late night of drinking, or if they just wanted some good fresh tempura.

 

Tucked at the end of alley is something you can add to the list of great places to get your late-night munchies fix. Ebi10 is your hole-in-the-wall tempura spot in the heart of Poblacion. Marco Viray—who co-owns Ebi10 with his siblings, Joey and Celine—was inspired by their recent trip to Osaka, where they ended up in a tempura bar. “We have a similar setup,” Marco says. “Where you order your tempura by the piece, and freshly fried in front of you.” The menu was made in collaboration with Chef Alec Santos, and their mom Jeangay, who has been in the F&B industry for decades. You can choose from a variety of tempura favourites like Agedashi Tofu, Asohos (fish), and Eggplant, plus unique tempura items like Pork Stuffed Mushrooms, Scallop Nori, and Soft Boiled Egg. We recommend you try their Jumbo Shrimp Tempura (Pro tip: they serve it with the tempura shrimp heads, which is a great pulutan option), Uni Shiso Nori and Bird’s Nest, their spin on a mixed vegetable tempura, served with a marinated egg. Trust us, you will not want to order just one piece.

What’s great about their tempura, apart from the high-quality fresh seafood and the reasonable prices, is their unique batter. It’s a secret family recipe and made fresh daily. “We put the tempura into the fryer and we also splash the batter,” Marco shares. “So that way it sticks to the outside, making it crunchier on the outside.” They even have dessert tempura. Their Matcha Ice Cream Tempura sounds good, and the Banana Nutella Tempura is like a fancy turon upgrade.

Aside from tempura, they also offer Bacon Yakisoba, Ebi10 Chahan, gyoza, and various rolls and sashimi.

Bacon Yakisoba
Ebi10 Chahan
Jumbo Shrimp Tempura (Pro tip: they serve it with the tempura shrimp heads, which is a great pulutan option)

Eating all that yummy food will make you thirsty, and beer is great with fried food. Ebi10 offers Joe’s Brew beers, as well as staple Japanese beers like Asahi and Kirin. Marco recommends a wheat beer, like Sierra Madre Wheat Beer or a lager, like Sapporo, that pair wells with seafood. They even have a stout, Meet Joe Black, that you can drink with the dessert tempura. They also have sake, of course, and for those who want to abstain, you can get iced tea or Joe’s Brew King’s Fool Ginger Ale. There’s also the option to order a cocktail from Kampai upstairs and have it with your meal.

Bird’s Nest
Uni Shiso Nori
Asohos (fish) Tempura

Since there isn’t a lot of space, Ebi10 can get packed, especially during the weekends, when people are peckish after some drinking. This is not a place where you can linger too long with your friends, but it’s great stop for a satisfying deep-fried bite. We recommend going there early if you want to beat the post-drink crowd.

Joe’s Brew Craft Beer and Sapporo beers

Wantusawa

Operating Hours: Monday to Sunday, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.
What to eat: Raw, Baked, and Fried Oysters, Grilled Prawn Laksa, Crispy Tawilis, Braised Short Ribs
What to drink: Sauvignon Blanc, Roku Gin and Tonic, Konishi Sake

When to go: When you’re hankering for the freshest oysters in town in a quaint bar.

Who knew that Poblacion would be the place to get the freshest oysters in the city? Wantusawa, a play of the phrase “one to sawa,” which is an idiom for “end until late” (as in, start at one and end until you get tired or bored), is the oyster bar concept and labor of former executive sous chef of Shangri-La Christine Zarandin. Philippine oysters take center stage and are flown fresh from Aklan daily and served raw, baked, and fried. “I wanted to put up something that would highlight Philippine oysters. They are so good. Of course they’re good because they’re the freshest. It’s the freshest oysters that we can get here. How can it not be better than else that comes to this country? Nothing will come to this country as fresh as these oysters.” Christine declares. It takes just a few hours for the oysters to get from Kalibo airport to the restaurant. Can’t get fresher than that in Manila.

She gave up the hotel world to pursue her dream to put up her own place. Her 18 years of training in some high-profile kitchens are distilled into a small menu of select items that is sure to make you keep coming back for more. You can see the magic happen if you’re lucky enough to score a seat on the bar overlooking the open kitchen. Apart from the main star, oysters served raw, baked, and fried, they serve Grilled Prawn Laksa, a rich and flavorful coconut soup over egg noodles and plump prawns perfect for post-drink eating or when you want some the comfort of a hot bowl of coconut-y spiced goodness. Their Crispy Tawilis are great for munching over beer and Braised Short Ribs are lip-smackingly good. And you can enjoy your meal with Sauvignon Blanc, Japanese gin (which you can have with tonic), and sake, all of which go perfectly with oysters.

Aklan Oysters
Oysters

Crispy Tawilis

The quaint oyster bar uses space effectively, opting for long bars across the open kitchen. There’s even a small bar to accommodate guests outside, as it does get packed. Wantusawa is perfect for oyster lovers and people who want to have a great meal while in Poblacion.


Kampai

Operating Hours: Monday to Sunday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
What to eat: Order from any or all of the establishments downstairs.
What to drink: Japanese Whisky, Local Beers, Cucumber Wasabi Martini, Furikake Whisky Sour
When to go: When you want to hang out at a cozy neighborhood bar to get your Japanese whisky fix and drink tasty cocktails without breaking the bank, and check out DJs playing intimate sessions (Thursdays to Saturdays), Wasake Wednesdays (sake bombs for less than P100), and Vinyl Nights twice a month.

Kampai is the bar located on the second floor of Tambai Alley and can be accessed through a glass door between Tambai and Wantusawa. The stairs bisect Kampai, with two sitting areas and two bars which can be separated with sliding windows, but are often taken down to open the space up to the crowd. “It’s a place that developed organically,” shares Lee Watson of ABV, one of the brains behind this concept. “It slowly evolved into what it is. I think it’s the neighborhood. I don’t think you overdesign places here. That’s kind of the character of this neighborhood, and it’s worked for us. It’s like one of those bars where every time you walk in it looks a little different. The art gets moved around a little bit, new knickknacks might go on the shelf, bit by bit it evolves over time.”

The stairs heading up to Kampai

Kampai is barely a year old, and is fast becoming a Poblacion party place, so much so that they’ve had to turn people away during peak hours. They have seasoned DJs playing intimate sessions from Thursdays to Saturdays, Wasaki Nights (Sake bombs for less than P100), and Vinyl Nights twice a month, plus regularly invite other bartenders to have guest shifts behind the bar. They don’t serve food, but you can order snacks from any of the establishments downstairs and enjoy them with drinks at Kampai.

Speaking of drinks, Kampai has a great selection of Japanese whisky and a wide variety of spirits on their shelves. They also serve some tasty cocktails, which mix Japanese elements with classic cocktails developed by Lee and Vanessa Rabadon from Luna Bar in Shanghai. Whether you’re a newbie getting the hang of cocktails or an experienced drinker who wants something new, there’s something behind the bar for you.

Furikake Basil Whisky Sour Made with bourbon, basil, sugar syrup, egg white, and calamansi, garnished with furikake and basil, this whisky sour with a Japanese twist is a mix of savory and freshness. Tip take a sip as you breathe in; it opens up both the sense of smell and taste. The savory flavors roll on the tongue and the drink finishes with a hint of basil.

Furikake Basil Whisky Sour

Cucumber Wasabi Martini This Japanese-inspired martini is made with gin, wasabi paste, cucumber strip, calamansi, egg white, garnished with fresh cucumber and black sesame seeds. Don’t fret. The wasabi isn’t the star of this drink, it’s merely a subtle accent. The cucumber gives the cocktail a cooling, fresh quality that makes it easy for it to glide down your throat and finishes with the subtle hint of the wasabi heat.

Cucumber Wasabi Martini

Kampai is a bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with touches like the cobbled steampunk Japanese armor and some Japanese-inspired paintings. It is almost homey, and the vibe is cozy and intimate, even if the place is packed. The crowd tends to swing a little on the young side, but titos and titas will still enjoy having a few drinks here (you won’t feel like you’re chaperoning your niece, promise).

Plans for Tambai Alley are not yet done, as Melvin is set to get the last unit in the alley as well. We can’t wait to see what they will add to this great selection of eating and drinking places, and how it will fit into the evolving Poblacion nightlife.


Photos by Star Sabroso Assisted by Chiin Gandia

Chrysmas is your go-to gal for all things involving alcohol. She maneuvers her way through the Metro's traffic in her black boots and fishnet stockings, scouring places where one can indulge one's self in libations of all kinds. From Poblacion to Pasay, Malate to Makati, Tagaytay to Taguig. Ask her where to go to get your choice of poison and chances are she's already there holding a good stiff drink in one hand and a pen in the other.

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