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Cream of the delicious crop of 2017

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By CJ Juntereal

For Filipino food lovers, 2017 was a pretty exciting year that saw the opening of a huge variety of restaurants. And 2018 promises to be the same. The number of restaurants can be bewildering and if one isn’t careful, the calories eaten will far exceed the number of restaurants that are truly worthwhile.

Everyone has their own favorites, these are mine, a list of restaurants that should not be missed in 2018, if you haven’t already eaten there.

  • Exploding flavors Lobster fried rice at Discovery Primea’s Flame restaurant

  • A World of flavors Chef Josh Boutwood’s Surf and Earth with squid, cucumber, and cosmo flowers

  • Meaty goodness Chef Boutwood’s Time with home-cured lamb, Brie mousse, and sour dough bread

  • A sip of the best Chef Luis Chikiamco’s seared foie gras with a delicate sinigang broth that cuts through its richness

  • Time for bread Panaderya Toyo is changing the bread landscape


The Test Kitchen

The 20-seater reservations-only restaurant is a showcase for Bistro Group Corporate Chef Josh Boutwood’s prodigious talents. The menu changes daily, and Boutwood serves guests a six to eight course meal. Multi-course menus are almost commonplace these days, but what sets Boutwood apart is the deft touch with which he puts flavors and ingredients together. He rarely uses more than a few ingredients on each plate but each dish offers up a world of textures and flavors. A few examples include a dish of tender squid ribbons, lightly pickled cucumbers, an oil infusion, and browned butter breadcrumbs; paper-thin slices of cured leg of lamb, brie mousse, and crisp sourdough bread; a dish that reminded me of my grandmother’s arroz caldo, except that it had no chicken in it, just a most intense chicken broth infused heritage rice, leek oil, and other ingredients I no longer remember, only the taste lingers in my memory. Boutwood serves the courses with an explanation given in Boutwood’s rapid-fire delivery and British accent. In 2018, he will be opening Savage, a restaurant that goes back to the basics—cooking with no technology, just a grill and an oven.

Flame

Flame, Discovery Primea’s signature restaurant, has finally come into its own. For a while, it couldn’t decide whether it was a steak and grill restaurant, or one that served other dishes. But executive chef Luis Chikiamco is finally cooking the food that is his forte—Asian-inspired with a smattering of classic technique. The result is flavors that sometimes explode in your mouth, and at other times slide through with an elegant subtlety. He serves pan-seared foie gras paired with a subtle sinigang broth and crisp green kangkong leaves as a starter course. Lobster fried rice served in a takeout box explodes with sweet, spicy, and salty flavors, while a sea bass dish is served simply steamed, its flavors enhanced by house-made XO sauce, a Hainanese chicken style rice, and steamed bok choy. Steaks and grills are still on the menu, but it is the Chikiamco-style dishes that truly sing.

Panaderya Toyo

The much-whispered-about by bread lovers Panaderia Toyo has finally opened. The modern panaderya is the baby of Toyo Eatery’s Jordy Navarra and Richie Manapat, the genius baker behind Toyo’s legendary tocino bread and purple rice sourdough bread. You can tell a bakery is filled with passion when you can see the bakers high-five with glee as they watch bread rising beautifully and baking to a luscious golden brown in the oven. The panaderya also serves light meals, generally breads with a variety of creative spreads, and sandwiches. Make sure to try the pandesal which is three times the normal size, has a knotted shape with a crackling exterior and soft but chewy interior. The taste is so good that you can eat it plain. It had an almost meaty flavor that made me wonder if they used lard or butter to make it. The breads are made with natural ingredients in Manapat’s European-style baking method. That means all the breads have heft and chew. If you like heavy, dense bread try their Pangmayaman loaf, which feels like a brick in weight, and has a dark, tightly-packed crumb reminiscent of European rye bread or pumpernickel bread.

Poison Donuts

Leave it to Chef Miko Aspiras to come up with something no one else would dare to do, and elevate it to his usual exacting standards. His latest baby is donuts—Poison Donuts, to be exact. The afternoon I visited the small shop in Pasong Tamo Extension, there were only two vanilla glazed donuts left. I would have had to wait half an hour for more donuts to come out of the kitchen, so I didn’t bother and simply bought the two remaining donuts. I regret that decision. The vanilla glazed donuts had a hint of warm aromatic spices. They had the velvety feel of a fried donut, but were a little more substantial—sort of like a cake-style donut that had been fried instead of baked. I’m looking forward to trying the rest of those donuts that have poisoned my heart against any other.

Pigs and Pints

This is a wild card. Pigs and Pints is an Angeles City gastropub devoted to nose-to-tail cooking, the philosophy of its executive chef Bong Sagmit. Situated in the Casino Filipino compound in Angeles City, the pub is long and narrow with masculine brown interiors and a long bar. Sagmit is a homegrown chef who demonstrates a surprisingly sophisticated palate and a flair for putting flavors together. He also doesn’t hesitate to incorporate Filipino ingredients into his creations. Among the standout dishes is Liver on Toast, a rather plebian name for a dish that involves chicken livers that have been marinated in Cognac, sautéed ‘til just pink, and heaped onto bread rounds that have been slathered with Nutella. A burst of freshness from a tangy slaw of onions, cilantro, and green peppers ties everything together. Sagmit also braises and shreds pigs’ tails, and tosses them with bread crumbs before deep frying. Grilled pureed eggplants with a spicy-sour kick, and dots of pink guava puree give the traditional French dish a Filipino flair. Open from 6 p.m. onward, the gastropub’s  menu is worth a stopover in Angeles City.

Email me at cbj2005@gmail.com or follow me on Instagram @eatgirlmanila

The Test Kitchen. 9780 Kamagon St., Makati City

Flame Restaurant. 16F, Discovery Primea, 6749 Ayala Avenue, Makati

Panaderya Toyo. 2316 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City

Poison Donuts. Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Aveue, Makati City.

Pigs and Pints. Century Complex, Balibago, Angeles City

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