follow us on

Meet Cebu's Most Exciting New Japanese Restaurant

Koshima By Nonki is a fresh take on a 20-year-old brand

Ask someone from Cebu where to have sushi and sashimi and chances are they’ll direct you to the nearest Nonki Japanese Restaurant branch.

Nonki Japanese Restaurant has been a fixture of the Cebuano food scene since the first branch opened in Mandaue City back in 2004. Founders Akira and Maria Ligaya Machida thought of it as a comfortable Japanese izakaya where guests can come to eat and drink. Nonki became the go-to restaurant for donburi, teppanyaki, sushi, sashimi, with a round of sake and highballs to go with them. Nonki does mean carefree in Japanese, and this was the sort of dining experience one can get here, especially during those days when this cuisine was intimidating and not as common as it is today.

15 Must-Try Mexican Restaurants In Manila 2024


15 Must-Try Mexican Restaurants In Manila 2024

Junichi Machida, second generation owner of Nonki, recalls having Japanese expats from the economic zones coming in after their shifts to close the first Mandaue branch at 2am.

But from that first branch, the Japanese restaurant expanded outward from Cebu to Tacloban, Bohol, and even as far out to Davao.

After 20 years, the Machidas found an opportunity for Nonki to grow in a different direction with their new branch at the NUSTAR Resorts & Casino.  The integrated resort wanted local brands and concepts to set up in the retail area and the upper food court.

For the food court, the Machidas had a quick service kiosk in the form of NONKI Express.

For the NUSTAR retail area, they really were just planning to open another regular branch. But since they were going to be situated alongside ultra-luxury brands, the NUSTAR team asked if they could make a different concept for the space. 

And that different concept was Koshima by Nonki.

Koshima is named after an island south of Japan as a nod to Southern Road Properties where NUSTAR is located. It used to be an island before it was reclaimed for mixed use development.

 The Mashidas positioned Koshima as their way of giving Cebuanos an elevated Japanese dining experience. Right from entering the space, there’s this calm from what feels like a modern Japanese teahouse with solid wood furnishings compared to the izakaya feel of the original branches. Right down when I got seated, the Tsuru (origami crane) chopstick holders were an elegant touch.

Tsuru chopstick holders | Jeeves De Veyra

The menu is Kansai region inspired with dishes using dashi, that umami seaweed component most familiar in miso soup. There are more entrees and varieties of sushi, sashimi, and wagyu. They even have an Omakase option where the chef in residence would just prepare what he could based on the ingredients he has that day.

A chef at Koshima showing off the fresh ingredients of the day | Koshima Japanese Restaurant's Facebook account

What I found most unique was their use of red vinegar in their sushi. Junichi did say that in the past, sushi with a bed of brown rice red vinegar was more common. Using white rice became popular  because it looked better.  I just had to get a taste of the rice and found it had fermenty and slightly fruity notes that did go well with fish and aburi beef.

Red vinegar rice sushi | Jeeves De Veyra

The bar on the corner also features more premium sake and shochu than regular branches. These bottles range from top-shelf Junmai Daiginjos to punchier white Nigoris.

Junichi shared that for Koshima, he wanted to showcase sake. But the thing is, the local market wasn’t ready for the subtle flavors of sake. One way to educate the market is through sake pairing dinners such as the special one prepared for the Cebu Food and Wine Festival.

The featured sake for the Cebu Wine and Food Festival dinner | Jeeves De Veyra

For the ten-course dinner, Junichi jokes that he’s subbing sake for wine in his own mini food and wine festival showcasing unique entrees from the Koshima’s menu. While guests can have this no drinks, the best way to enjoy this meal is to get the sake pairing.

I thought that the best representatives of Koshima’s Kansai cuisine are the Asari Osuimono - clam in clear soup that was one of the starters, and the Odamaki Mushi – chawan mushi fully loaded with goodness from the sea in the form grilled eel, scallops, and shrimp. Both dishes had that umami from the dashi that did make an impression.

The platter with sashimi and sushi did meet my high expectations of Koshima. In my opinion, the star of this plate was that aburi beef sushi with that red vinegar rice nicely complementing the stronger flavors of torched beef.

The Tai Chiri Mushi was a pleasant surprise. This is steamed sea bream that was creamy and flaky, with tofu and vegetables in a light sauce. For what seemed like a delicate dish, it was quite filling.

Sea bream | Jeeves De Veyra

My favorite pairing is the grilled eel course. Grilled eel is served two ways, shabayaki - simply grilled with a dab of wasabi and a sprinkling of pink Himalayan salt on top, and kabayaki – teriyaki like sauce. Nigori, a cloudy white sake with strong flavors paired well with the meaty eel.

Grilled eel | Jeeves De Veyra

The beef course was the Gyu Tataki, a salad with rare but tender slices of beef in light Japanese steak sauce.

Gyu Tataki | Jeeves De Veyra

Octopus and prawn kamameshi rice is served at the end of the meal. But, guests can request for the rice to be served at the beginning of the meal.

Kaisen Kamameshi | Jeeves De Veyra

Save some sake for the dessert! The pairing for the matcha terrine - think of a rich thick matcha gelatin - some Genmaicha with Matcha, but personally I’d save some of the sake to sip along with this.

I’d say Koshima by Nonki fits right into this section of the NUSTAR Mall. It’s cozy calm vibe is a nice respite from a day’s worth of shopping around its bougie neighbors. Have a bite from their selection of Japanese eats then head out for more shopping.

Koshima by Nonki is inside the NUSTAR retail area | Jeeves De Veyra

Koshima by Nonki |  2/L NUSTAR Mall | Open 10 AM to 10 PM (Mondays to Thursdays),  10 AM to 11 PM  (Fridays to Sundays) |  Reservations required |  Call (0917) 189 5163 | IG: @koshimacebu |

Lead photos: Koshima by Nonki | Photos by Jeeves De Veyra