The Origin of Sugi


October 6, 2017 | BY Shauna Popple Williams

Philippine Tatler talks to the minds behind this longstanding culinary gem


Nakamura at work

For 34 years, Sugi has remained a constant, not only for the Makati corporate crowd, but also for big family get-togethers and nostalgic catch-ups. Priding itself on excellent service, many of its staff have been with the establishment for over 15 years and as such, treat many of the Sugi regulars like family.


Salmon Aburi Maki

Founded in 1983 by four friends and business partners, Eduardo Lim, Jesus Cabarrus Jr, Chito Madrigal and the establishment’s original chef, Toshi Yoshida, Sugi opened its doors in the original Greenbelt complex in Makati. Later on in 1993, Sugi opened its second branch in Greenhills, which had a successful run of 20 years before closing its doors in 2012.

In 2002, when Greenbelt 2 saw completion, the much-loved restaurant relocated its foodie following to its current location. Today, Sugi is still a family-run business with Charrie Lim (sister of Eddie) at the helm together with and General Manager Ines Cabarrus-Habayeb (daughter of Jesus), who handles its day-to-day operations as well as marketing and social media efforts.

Sugi’s menu, which specialises in authentic, traditional Japanese cuisine has changed but a little since its inception. Customers can expect to find classic dishes such as assorted sushis and sashimis, tenpura, teppanyaki, grilled gindara and sukiyaki.


Ines Cabarrus-Habayeb


Ebi Tempura

Its Executive Chef Masahiko Nakamura, who hails from Kanazawa, West of Tokyo, came to Manila in 1993 and then later joined Sugi in 2000. Nakamura, who wants to present diners with simple food that is familiar and traditional describes Sugi’s bill of fare as “back to basics.” 

Though he is mainly inspired by dishes that he loves and grew up with, he does add some Filipino flavor profiles to his recipes. For example—serving a Sukiyaki that might have a slightly sweeter taste, or using ‘liempo’ in a lot of his dishes.

To keep the wheel turning, Nakamura creates a monthly menu featuring four new dishes. Sometimes these dishes are so well received that they become permanent menu items! Case in point: The salmon aburi maki, poke bowl, and chicken amiyaki for instance all started out as monthly guest stars, and are now best-selling mainstays.

Nakamura is a self-described simple man and his favourite meal is a solid tonkatsu or chicken karaage with a sunny side up egg and rice, with some sashimi on the side. When at home, he often cooks noodle dishes for himself but when cooking for others, you’ll always find his favourite ingredients pork, onions, miso paste, soy sauce in the mix.


Preparing Chirashi

_MG_5266.jpgAssorted Sashimi Take

Says Cabarrus-Habayeb, “I believe what really sets us apart from other Japanese restaurants is our commitment to consistency and excellent service. One regular guest just told me that: “Sugi is the only place I can come to where I know exactly what my meal is going to taste like. It is perfect every time, and it’s something I crave.” Our diners here are generational—guests that have been coming since they were children, now come here with families of their own. Some families come as regular as once or twice a week!”

IMG_2417.JPGStill as popular today as it was when it first opened, Sugi has outlived the trendy and the newfangled. Shares Cabarrus-Habayeb, “Perhaps the biggest challenge is staying relevant in the rapidly evolving restaurant scene here in Manila. There are so many new restaurants! But I think we meet that challenge by staying true to ourselves and remaining consistent with our food and service quality. We have seen many restaurants come and go, and we are still here after 30 plus years. We are people’s go-to place for “Japanese comfort food,” and that’s how we make our guests feel when they come here: comfortable and at home.”