RAPPLER BEST EATS 2017: The year in food
MANILA, Philippines – 2017 was an interesting year in food. Ube became a thing when it was already a thing here. People started asking for “unicorn”-flavored things, as if dyeing things pastel pink would make them taste any better. The salted egg boom continued to happen. And so on.
Amidst all the noise, however, good food did actually get made and more than a handful of spots were able to make their mark, unicorn poop milkshakes be damned.
To celebrate the year in food that was 2017, we’re launching a series of lists dedicated to some of the hottest eateries to hit the metro this year, starting with a look at five of our absolute favorite restaurants that opened in 2017.
Our Favorite New Restaurants of 2017 (in alphabetical order)
You wouldn’t exactly call Mexican street food sexy, but man has Chef Bruce Ricketts made it sexy. The menu at La Chinesca, much like the flashy posters plastered on its walls, is riotous and a little bit punk rock, doing away with straight-up tradition in favor of something altogether bolder and brasher. Ricketts fills fresh tortillas – golden and nubbly, warm to the touch, the whiff of freshly milled corn still on them – with whatever suits his fancy, classic Mexican techniques emboldened by his innate knack for mixing and matching global flavors. There is spicy doubanjiang mayo in the tuna tostada (order more than one), crunchy pinipig on the spoon-tender beef shoulder, and the slight anise seed hum of sesame leaf in the barbacoa goat. And after a meal at La Chinesca, it’s almost impossible to imagine having eaten tacos without them at all.
La Chinesca is at 248 Aguirre Avenue, BF Homes. Contact them at 738-0724.
You’ve seen restaurants like Nono’s all over Manila, their interiors warm and bright, and their menus focused on approachable classics, yet you haven’t seen a restaurant exactly like Nono’s in Manila either. While other spaces have attempted to achieve something similar to the restaurant’s stylish homespun charm, none have done so with the same ease and finesse as chef-owner Baba Ibazeta-Benedicto.
The magic at Nono’s lies in its adoration of the familiar and its understanding that one doesn’t have to do much to make something good truly great. Here, you will sit alongside friends and family in a comfortable space filled with actual midcentury designs, and find that the fried chicken is eye-poppingly good, dunked in runny honey at your own discretion. You will have a go at the crispy dumplings plump with cheese because everyone told you they were good (they are), and you will, before heading off, order yourself a generous slice of chocolate cake rich with cocoa, because that is exactly what you do at a place as good and as cozy as this.
Nono’s is at UP Town Center, 216 Katipunan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City. Contact them at 958-5713
We need to talk about the bread first. Head baker Richie Manapat’s incredibly focused bread program at Panaderya Toyo is something of a miracle, a genuine triumph of the sourdough variety in a country accustomed to the bland, squishy stylings of Wonder Bread. Here, you will find bread with a good open crumb, pandesal – tender yet robust – knotted into shape, and loaves upon loaves of bread baked bien cuit, right at the edge of being burned.
Their bread is good enough to serve on its own, free of any sort of accouterments (and you may have it that way if you wish), but it’s exactly what Manapat and Chef Jordy Navarra serve with it that makes Panaderya Toyo such a great place to eat. Think pork tocino, soft as can be, served with lashings of salty soy butter and astringent pickled cucumbers, or nuggets of tender octopus placed on a bed of caramelized onions and deeply savory tomato mayonnaise, topped with paper-thin slices of labanos, all of it eaten alongside great, thick slices of good, warm bread. You may not consider Panaderia Toyo a restaurant in the truest sense of the word, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better lunch anywhere else in the city.
Panaderya Toyo is at the Alley at Karrivin, 2316 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City. Contact them at 0917-7208630
Ping Pong Diplomacy
Must we discuss “authenticity” in food again? Manila’s culinary literati have spent so much time hemming and hawing about how important authentic flavors and techniques are to the local food culture that we seem to have forgotten just how good food can really be at a place like Ping Pong Diplomacy.
Forget for a moment that the restaurant’s entire brand, admittedly charming interior aside, leans a bit heavily on its East-meets-West shtick and focus more on the crisp, golden rubble scattered atop Chef Him Uy de Baron’s buttery Typhoon Sheltered Prawns. Pay more attention to how the mushroom and edamame dumplings barely hold together because the filling is so burdened with umami-rich mushrooms and soy. Concentrate on the fiery, numbing spices left on your lips after biting into the crisp Ping Pong Wings, each one decorated with sweet bread and butter pickles and slivers of bright red baby radish. Remember, if only for a moment, that you haven’t had food quite this good, authentic or not, in a very, very long time.
Ping Pong Diplomacy is at 3rd Floor, SM Aura Premier, 8 McKinley Parkway, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Contact them at 960-4271.
The Test Kitchen
The things that Chef Josh Boutwood gets away with at The Test Kitchen are quite extraordinary. A shockingly affordable twenty-seat reservations-only multi-course feat of contemporary cooking held in the minuscule test kitchen of one of the country’s biggest, most corporate restaurant groups, The Test Kitchen almost seems like a fluke, a tiny flaw in the system. And yet in spite of, or perhaps because of this, Boutwood’s hell of a passion project might just shake the very foundations of Manila’s dining scene.
Nowhere else in Manila will you be served duck, lusty pink within and its skin burnished deep brown, adorned with puffs of popped sorghum and crisp dandelion leaves, or whispers of musky, softly sweet 4-month-aged lamb draped over sun-speckled heirloom tomatoes sitting in a gleaming pool of bright green ramp oil, all of it delicious as all hell and crafted with the utmost care.
If you know your food, Boutwood’s techniques and cooking quirks are by no means revolutionary – the preponderance of bitter wild sorrel, sweet carrot tops and light-as-air foam throughout the menu betrays his mostly neo-Nordic principles – but to excited, intrepid, and eager first-time Filipino diners The Test Kitchen serves as an accessible, eye-opening look into the world of truly modern fine dining.
The Test Kitchen is at 9780 Kamagong Street, Makati City. For reservations, contact them at 0917-3041570.