ONE of the most frequented stations in any full-fledged buffet is the Japanese station, where all-time favorites, such as assorted sushi, sashimi and maki, Miso Soup, Ebi Tempura, Chicken Teriyaki, Tonkatsu, Gyoza and Sukiyaki, are staples. This is why no international buffet—or Asian buffet, for that matter—is ever complete without a Japanese station.
If you are like me, who willingly and happily skips Crispy Pata, Roast Prime Rib and Foie Gras so I will have more space in my tummy for Japanese dishes, then an all-Japanese buffet like Sambo Kojin’s should be perfect indeed.
A concept that the Villavicencios (the family behind such successful restaurants as Kamayan, Saisaki and Dads) turned into a business venture about seven years ago, Sambo Kojin is a Japanese buffet restaurant named after the six-armed fire god in Japanese mythology. It combines everything that diners would look for in a Japanese restaurant.
First and foremost, it is a yakiniku restaurant, so every table has a yakiniku or smokeless grill, where diners can get meats and seafood, grill them at their leisurely pace, and enjoy bites in between animated conversations. Sambo Kojin prides itself in offering only high-quality U.S. marbled beef, marinating the thin, chilled slices with salt and pepper, teriyaki sauce, and miso garlic blend. There is also a wide range of fresh fish and seafood that’s perfect for the smokeless grill, including salmon and shrimps. Right beside the yakiniku smokeless grill on each table is a tray of sauces—Ponzu (Japanese soy vinegar), Sesame Oil with Salt and Pepper, Teriyaki (sweet Japanese soy), Takumi (miso teriyaki), Spicy (Korean spicy paste), and Sambo Kojin Sauce (house specialty)—so diners can cook and enjoy their grilled food the way they want to and at their own pace, too.
The ingredients for the yakiniku grill are kept in a refrigerated display area so they stay fresh and bacteria-free in their raw form. So is an assortment of sashimis, sushis, makis, temakis and other rolls kept in a wide refrigerated display area so they do not deteriorate in quality and taste.
For diners who do not wish to cook too much when they dine in, Sambo Kojin’s buffet presents an entire spread of cooked dishes in the different cooking stations. There is Ramen, which can be prepared a la minute for diners who take comfort in a bowl of hot, flavorful soup with noodles and all the works. Then there is Sukiyaki, whose soup is just as flavorful, complemented by the tender, melt-in-the-mouth strips of thinly sliced beef, mushrooms, egg and green vegetables.
There is Katsu (breaded pork), which spawned a number of Katsu specialty Japanese restaurants in recent years. Sambo Kojin’s version is tender, layered and freshly cooked so that the golden outer layer has a nice crisp to it. Diners can have their Katsu with the works—cabbage salad with sesame dressing, and pounded sesame seeds—for that total Katsu dining experience.
Kamameshi Rice is also available just the way they should be served—in traditional kamameshi bowls.
Takoyaki balls are cooked in batches, so diners can have as much as they want.
There is also a live station for tempura, so fresh batches of ebi (shrimp), kisu (asohos), ika (squid), eggplant, sweet potato and onion tempura are available all the time. Perfectly done, too, because the Saisaki group has long mastered the art of cooking tempura.
Gyoza (Japanese dumplings) is not just the traditional Pork Gyoza at Sambo Kojin. The creative chefs have come up with interesting variations, such as Ebi Gyoza and the Korean-inspired Kimchi Gyoza.
Speaking of Kimchi Gyoza, it is not the only dish that is inspired by Korean cuisine. Sambo Kojin now serves not just Japanese dishes but also the best of Korean cuisine. It is basically a Japanese yakiniku and Korean barbecue place now.
Starting with Korean barbecue, the restaurant now carries the most popular Korean dishes on its buffet menu, starting with Yongnyam Dalg Jin (Korean Fried Chicken). Twice fried for the ultimate in crispiness, Korean Fried Chicken comes in three variations at Sambo Kojin—Original Korean Fried Chicken, Spicy Korean Fried Chicken, and Sweet Korean Fried Chicken—in leg, wing and drumette parts. The difference, really, lies in the glaze. The good thing about having all these variations present on the buffet table and positioned side by side is that diners can actually get to try them all in small portions (probably all drumettes or all wings) before deciding which variation they really like and get a more substantial portion of that afterwards or in their next visit.
Also worth trying are Bibimbap (Korean rice meal) and Beef Bulgogi, not to mention Pajeon (Korean pancakes) and Chapchae (stir-fried glass noodles). Not to be missed are the Banchan, or appetizers, that Koreans love to have with their main meal.
The Korean component of Sambo Kojin is an offshoot of the huge following that everything Korean, including Korean cuisine, has been commanding in recent years. So the Sambo Kojin team went to Korea to take short courses in Korean cooking to keep the flavors as authentic to traditional Korean cuisine as possible.
But just when you think the strength of Sambo Kojin lies just in its Japanese and Korean savory dishes, the desserts start commanding the attention of diners. The dessert spread is an entire buffet by itself, with lots of whole cakes, bars and slices, tarts, verrines, and mousses to go with gelato and soft-serve ice cream. Diners enjoy dessert so much that they have been asking to buy whole cakes from Sambo Kojin lately, the most popular of which are Fraizier, S’mores, Apple Tart, Triple Chocolate Mousse, Green Tea SansRival, Lime & Mango Cheesecake, and Checkered Cake.
Make a little more room in your tummy for the Mango Trifle, Key Lime Pie, and Pots de Crème (vanilla flan topped with granola crumble and glazed fruits).
The No Leftover Buffet price at Sambo Kojin is Php499 for Lunch from Mondays to Fridays, Php599 for Dinner from Mondays to Fridays, and Php649 both for Lunch and Dinner on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
(Sambo Kojin has branches at EDSA Greenhills-Mandaluyong City, Eastwood Citywalk, West Avenue-Quezon City, SM Megamall, SM Southmall and SM Fairview.)