Greenbelt 3 (or GB3 to most locals)…it was the mall that redefined what a mall should be. When Ayala Corp opened the mall some time in 2002 (if I remember correctly), every other mall in the Philippines suddenly looked ugly, or hideous, in comparison. Malls used to be air conditioned boxes that enclosed shops and restaurants, where shoppers were separated from the rest of the world by thick walls and small doors, but not GB3. The mall, an expansion of the Greenbelt complex which has been around since the 80’s, was anything but an enclosed space. A large part of the building was open air or “al fresco”, so to speak, and those bits that had to be airconditioned were covered with expansive glass walls that let the shoppers see the world outside. Adding to the “natural” feel was a beautifully landscaped garden right infront of it, built around the decades old Greenbelt chapel and punctuated by a man made lake. It was the actual, standing realization of the phrase “shopper’s paradise”.
When it opened it’s doors to the public, GB3 was an instant hit – the ultimate “talk-of-the-town”. Other, grander and more recent projects like the Mall of Asia, the Resorts World complex, and Ayala’s own Trinoma opened with as much fanfare, but none could capture the imagination the way Greenbelt 3 did. It was more than just a mall…it was a park, and a place where space-deprived Metro Manila residents could imagine themselves dining by the garden. Though it doesn’t have that many shops as the larger malls in the country, I still would not hesitate one bit to say that Greenbelt 3 is the most appealing mall I’ve seen anywhere, and I really mean anywhere.
By now the formula of Greenbelt 3 has also been applied elsewhere. The developer’s recent projects such as The Terraces at Ayala Center Cebu, Marquee in Pampanga and Abreeza in Davao follow the same styling as Greenbelt 3, and even the Greenbelt complex has further expanded, with addition of the equally stylish but more snobbish Greenbelts 4 and 5. However, no one could dispute the fact that the trend started right here at GB3. It was the one that made people realize that shopping centers don’t need to look like shoe boxes (no pun intended to the other mall chain previously known as “shoe mart”.
Though GB3 has been around for some (or, okay…a long time), I would have to admit (with some bit of shame), that I haven’t tried all the restaurants there yet. Until very recently, one of those “untried” places was a small Japanese restaurant called “Nanbantei”.
For some reason, I tended to stay away from this place, like a magnet facing another on a similar pole. Perhaps it’s because the small place it occupies exudes an “elitist” or “outrageously expensive” feel, or perhaps it’s because it looked and felt too traditional from the outside, or perhaps the name “Nanbantei” just sounded so darn intimidating, but whatever it is, it took almost a decade before I finally got to try.
As it turns out, Nanbantei is an interesting little restaurant that I shouldn’t have missed out on for such a long time. It’s quite different from all the other mall-based Japanese restos that I have been too, and though it’s not cheap enough to be a regular destination for wage earners, it does not leave you begging for a ride home after dinner either. Its menu does not have the usual donburi, tempura or teriyaki that you would find in the “Teriyaki Boy” genre. Instead, their menu revolves around “yakiniku”, or japanese barbeque to most Filipinos.
On our first and only visit so far, we had tried three yakitoris – beef (Gyu-Maki), chicken (Tsukune) and the Pork Garlic Yaki. The Tsukune was good, but nothing to special – pretty much what a good chicken meat ball should be, and that’s it. The Pork Garlic Yaki was bit more to my liking, like a meatier, more filling, more aromatic make-over of the usual bacon. My favorite though was the beef. They didn’t ask how we wanted it done, but when it arrived in our table, it was cooked exactly how I wanted beef to be – a little bit on the medium side, tender, juicy and with just the right amount of redness on the meat.
For dessert, we had the mango maki (a seasonal dish) which tasted more like the Filipino “suman” than any kind of maki (and it came with chocolate sauce), plus a serving of coffee jelly courtesy of a credit card promo. The coffee jelly was faithful to its name, and might therefore be a bit too strong for non-coffee drinkers. For coffee addicts like me though, it was lovely.
Overall, I find Nanbantei an interesting “must-try” for people who appreciate yakiniku, or Japanese food in general. True to Japanese tradition though, the food is presented in a rather “minimalistic” manner, and doesn’t come in overflowing servings, so it may not be a place for a real hungry tummy.
* Photos taken December 2011, with Panasonic Lumix LX5