To begin. No, this not a sushi restaurant.
Neighborhood restaurants are finally making their way onto a scene that was heavily dominated by mall locations. This year alone there has been an exponential increase of establishments that have opened in locations that were thought to be more trouble than it’s worth. This shows that the Filipino consumer is becoming more adventurous and is looking for other options from the all in one retail complexes that are still being developed rampantly all over the country. For example BF Homes has unexpectedly become a harbour for good small restaurants that no one ever hears about, unless you are from the area. Sensei is on the busy Aguirre street tucked between a massage parlour and another non-descript business, it is unassumingly bare and doesn’t really invite you to step inside. The people who come here don’t just bump into the place by accident, they seek it out fervidly. They know that inside the kitchen is Chef Bruce Ricketts who takes a playful approach to the rigidity of Japanese cooking. The best table in the house is on the bar stools watching him work. Bring your own booze (no corkage) and ask him what’s fresh or what he is more excited for the night, could be that he just received some fresh uni or a tub of lardo he’s been wanting to experiment with; or have a look at the chalkboard menu and choose some comforting Japanese twists like a Seared Rib Eye with Ponzu Sauce, or a Spicy Ramen with Hand Pulled Noodles or even Short rib tacos with tangy pickles. However if you want the real excitement and are out to taste the soul of a Chef (intense) ask for an Omakase style dinner and just enjoy the ride with an open mind.
This is a Chef driven restaurant, when you eat here, you become part of his story and adopt his interpretation of food. Nothing will be familiar when you walk into these doors, but you will come out with a better understanding of how creativity can be applied in the kitchen.
First published esquire best restaurants 2013
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Big Salads + big wraps + fresh pressed juice combinations = my new favorite lunch spot.
Fine I'll make it a little longer.
But anyone who goes on and on about this place, talking about flavours and emotions, is missing the plot completely.
The ingredients are fresh, varied, crunchy and well cut.
The dressings are well mixed.
The salads are served in steel mixing bowls so that all the ingredients are properly coated.
The wraps are nice and tight.
The juices fresh.
That's all you need to know.
Everything tastes like its supposed to.
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Chef Cyrille Soenen or “Cicou”, as his close friends call him, has probably one of the best pedigrees in the Philippines. He has worked in a long list of Michelin Stars restaurants in France, on high class Cruise Ships and when he decided to take his chances in the Philippines he was the driving force behind the Prince Albert, followed by many other hotel kitchens thereafter. When the word started spreading that he would be opening a Brasserie around the Greenhills area, everyone got very excited knowing the brand of food Cicou has garnered a reputation from, especially with the wonders he’s been doing at Impressions.
Oeuf Cocotte: Eggs are a very humble ingredient, they are terribly easy to cook, quite difficult to perfect and when done wrong, they are inedible. This dish is a traditional French technique where 2 eggs are usually baked in the oven in a ramekin on top of a variety of ingredients. Here at Brasserie Cicou you will be confronted with 5 different variants, from the vegetarian Tomato, Asparagus, Basil to the delicious Chicken Gizzard Confit, each of which is usually accompanied by a light foam. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a perfectly cooked egg white hug a deliciously concocted melange of well-seasoned ingredients and fold in with a runny yolk. The crunchy baguette becomes the extension of your anticipation, you dip, ladle and consume. It is a moment of pure unaltered bliss, where everything seems right.
Kouing Aman: It’s really difficult to try and describe something so visually intriguing and that just holds so many textural achievements. This cake literally means “butter cake” and comes from the West Point of France, Brittany, known for its Cider production and high consumption of Crepes. Why would we put Kouing Aman on our list? Simply because in France it is extremely rare to find a properly cooked one and if you’ve ever attempted to make one at home, more times than not, it was probably a disaster. It is a sticky dough that needs to be worked properly, than folded with the best quality of salted butter one can find and fine sugar. Then begins the interminable dance of folding, layering, sprinkling and folding; it is a time sensitive process and can only be carried out by experienced hands. The result is a golden disk of pure sensational love, a security blanket of comforting butter melted down, almost brown with caramelized sugar and wonderful bursts of salt to counter balance the sweetness. It is the best dessert in the world and it is amazing the Chef Cicou (you’ll feel like family after eating here) brings this authentic gateau to the Philippines, when even most Parisians don’t know of it. Count yourselves lucky Manilenos.
First published in Esquire Jan 2013
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This is probably one of the first restaurants that really built its reputation through word of mouth alone. At one point, all people could talk about (social media included) was this new bakeshop come café in the Fort Area. The buzz was so strong that expectations were built up too fast, seats filled up and all of a sudden the raving reviews became somewhat discrepant. The golden rule with new restaurants is to be completely open minded, just like any business, there is a painful birthing period when lessons are learned and a rhythm needs to be curated. After a few months of operation, Wildflour has found its groove.
Don’t anticipate a revolutionary menu with high end ingredients, no, the food here is presented in all honesty. The kitchen makes sure that each dish is exactly what it is meant to be, not overly complicated, where flavour is king and even humble ingredients can shine. Talking about humility, take one of the most common elements in any restaurant, bread, usually rarely baked In house locally, here they execute it perfectly, and that first bite of a crunchy baguette, hot enough to make your butter melt into every nook, is a good starting point to any meal. Progress to probably one of the best breakfast menus in the country, some terrifically layered sandwiches or main dishes that seem market driven, served with unassuming sides and light sauces. The Philippines was lacking good bistros or cafes that elevate comfort food and bring to the plate streamlined and clean flavours from dishes that have no particular thematic provenance, just good food, a balanced menu, all served in an ambient and well thought out décor.
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The owners of the restaurant claim that what is served here is Japanese Fusion. So naturally you would enter this restaurant expecting to have some sort of melting pot dishes between two or more culinary influences. Something along the lines of an uni risotto (not bad), with greek yogurt (a little weird) topped with adobo pork belly crusted in caramelized pecans (ok, too far, rewind). Surprisingly, from the door frame you can see straight into the kitchen, and behind the glass barriers stands the very stoic looking Masamoto Ishikawa. A man dressed in traditional Japanese chef’s attire, too busy honing and executing his craft to make pleasantries. To call the food here Fusion is completely off putting, Mangetsu doesn’t serve dishes with blurred borders but more so Japanese food reinterpreted with a playful touch. Where Tsukiji would be the out for business, serious and traditionalist Tokyo business man, Mangetsu embodies the flip switch of the obedient culture we’ve all come to love, still deeply rooted in its original roots but left to wander and explore its cuisines plafond. Sit yourself in this well decorated space and order all dishes you don’t really understand, don’t come here for the Hamachi sashimi or their simple sushi rolls (even though they are very good) because that is not what they are proud of. As stated in all their press releases and in their name, they want to be known for Japanese food done differently, with a twist of magic and a creative use of worldly techniques; something like their Thin Sliced Pork Tempura or their Simmered Hokkaido Squid with Liver. Dance to their own beat, let’s just please not call it Fusion.
Originally posted in Esquire Feb2013.
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Its becoming increasingly difficult to decipher which ramen restaurant is best, I'll really have to organise a horizontal tasting, jumping from restaurant to restaurant, all in one day, to finally come up with a champion. The problem is, ramen is so subjective. Unlike cheesecake, where one will always be better than the other, ramen has certain intricacies that are deeply rooted in the way you like to eat and understand flavour. The only way to truly determine which is best, is to select the most authentic place, however this in itself is quite tricky; as we know have specialties from different regions of Japan. I'll try and eat my way through all of them eventually to give you a comprehensive guide I'll either publish in Esquire or on TheFatKidInside.com.
For now, let's start with Yushoken. Its a stoic place, true to its nature, wafting scents of pleasure disarm you at the entrance, as you wait in trepidation to know if you have come at the right hour to be able to get a seat. If not, you wait, and it isn't terribly long. Sit at the bar, face gazing into the chefs at the stoves. Order whatever you like, it is truly all very good here, both the shoyu and the shio are great, exactly what you would expect tucked in a street corner in the Shabuya district, but remember you are in the south, a place where shorts are allowed in restaurants, an awesome refuge from the haughtiness of those Makatilenos (totally making up my own vocabulary); all that to say that I still prefer the tan tan men in Ukkokei and that maybe their karaage would of been crispier here if their frying oil was hotter. However, if you are after the thick oomph that only a good shoyu can deliver then Yushoken should be at the top of your list. I really enjoy watching the kitchen here because you can see the care they put in their broth, and what's ramen without a long simmering broth, just noodles really. But wait, their noodles here, all home made with very expensive looking equipment, deserve a trophy as well. Ramen is all about perfect individual elements coming together in a simple bowl. They've understood this here.
This should defintely be a star in your own personal horizontal tastings.
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Roaming the humid streets of Thailand you can feel that you are never very far from a tasty treat. It seems that the Som Tam made by the joyful podgy old lady on her Soi corner, armed with her stainless steel cart and a glass window display of the handful of ingredients that she will be using, can rightfully have its place amongst other traditional dishes in any good brick and mortar restaurant. In this respect it always baffles me why just 3 hours, in Manila, our quality of Thai Food fluctuates greatly. From the very good just not thoroughly authentic Peoples Palace (nothing wrong with that, there is room for adaptive thai food), to the overly sweet Soms, to the homey Dek A, to the many small thai place in and around bf or ortigas, and finally to those thai places in greenbelt that no one ever took care to notice, it is tough to name a clear winner in this category. If you are looking for good thai flavours PPs and Benjaroong are very good, but one slightly differs from tradition (which again isn't a bad thing) and the other leaves you wanting for better ambiance.
At first I was turned off by the massive picture laden menu, usually that sheer amount of choice, must be a mistake, because an increases amount of choice, forces an uncontrollable stock onto the kitchen and things usually become unavailable or not as fresh as they should be. Something happened though as I was becoming increasingly confused, i started seeing dishes that I was only used to deciphering in bad English on menus in Bangkok. Chicken and mangosteen, soft shell crab on different vegetable preparations, etc. The portions are small sharing sized, the flavours well balanced, the dishes slightly contemporary and the ingredients are all distinctively fresh.
It's a pretty new restaurant so I just hope their expansive menu doesn't become their downfall. Hopefully my premature 4 stars stays that way.
Go try it out.
Your resident fat kid.
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I like This hidden from view 2nd floor restaurant for 2 reasons. The first is that it's authentic without being presumptuous. The problem with a lot of 'we cater only to Japanese people, so we must be good, restaurants' is that they present a menu with either just Japanese characters or the roman letter pronunciation, with dish explanations limited to the staples. In turn, you are forced to really stick to what you know unless you goggle every item. Tsumura strives to explain every dish on their extensive menu. This helps you understand and try dishes from the wide variety of Japanese cooking, giving you the confidence of knowing what Japanese words actually mean (very useful with the elitist restaurants or in Japan), while broadening your culinary palette. Second aspect of the restaurant I enjoy is the service. It's fast, efficient, never over bearing, discreet and knowledgeable. You can't really ask for more.
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Recently, fresh from a trip to Tokyo, I finally understood the Japanese culture. It is one of pure and perfect balance: grand sky scrapers but upon entering a home no shoes are allowed, modern hotels and ryokan cohabit side by side, big meals served in small portions in a timely kaiseki manner, not a very warm and talkative population but an unmatched will to be helpful and accommodating, and finally probably the most delicate and fattiest meat I’ve ever eaten in restrained slices. Unlike other countries in the world where you’ll find many free for all dump every dish you can into one menu, restaurants, the Japanese like to be specific. They will have many different types of restaurants that will only serve certain styles of cooking. Urameshi-Ya is a yakiniku, where clients are made to grill their own meats and seafood, accompanied by some salads, rice and soup bowls. Everything is laid out in front of you in its wholesome forms; you can admire the intricate marbling on your meat sets (go Wagyu) , smell the crisp freshness of your vegetables or just get lost in the hue of the burning coal under the little grills. The style calls for an utmost respect of ingredients, as not much is done to modify their taste or cooked outcome. You are served great produce and are instructed to just grill; probably the most important suggestion of all, a statement to the belief they have on minimal alteration from animal to mouth. The space is straight out of one the side streets of Shinjuku with walls littered by patron signed bottles of sake and a book library that ranges from hentai to Heian fiction; prefect for groups who want to run away from Manila even for a few hours.
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The first time I walked into Caruso the front of the house bar caught my attention immediately and before the waiters were able to approach me and offer me a table, I was already seated by it. It’s quite rare to find a well-stocked and inviting restaurant bar nowadays, and this automatically reminded me of the countless times I’d visit my friend in Milan and we would indulge on the amazing apperitivo offerings that the whole city seems to participate in at around 6pm onwards. Chance has made it that the co-owner Dario Gardini is also from Milan and like most authentic restaurants outside of Italy, he learned everything he knows from his Mama. I must of gotten there at the right time because it was close to empty and only one table had patrons on it, all Italian, all loud and all looking like they belonged to the mob. Vinnie was there biting into a wood oven pizza margherita made with the most delicate mozzarella flown in from Italy, Marcello was double handling a Lamb shank piemonte style with reduced red wine sauce, Vitto seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his Home made ravioloni with spinach ricotta cheese butter and sage and the odd female of the group, probably Alessandra, was quietly relishing her Bucatini Alla Amatriciana. I chose my table and continued in my Soprano’s fantasies before getting kicked back into reality by delicious food and spot on faithful flavours.
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