Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Future of Filipino Food in London?

It’s fair to say that Filipino food is still very much a Great Unknown for Londoners and the British in general. This is both a curse and a blessing – a curse in that people are always a bit wary of the unknown, and will always need reassurance to get them to try out Filipino food; but a blessing in that we still have that ‘wow’ factor, that there’s still a niche to fill and that it still provides an adventure for the average person. It is still an ‘exciting’ cuisine.

Does this get you excited? It should do

Does this get you excited? It should do

Certainly, this seems to be what I’ve learnt from my experience of running The Adobros supper club with my brother. “So give me the low down on Filipino food” is probably one of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them about The Adobros – followed by “Have you had any weird people come along yet?” For the curious, here is our brief explanation on Filipino food, and no, all of our guests so far have been lovely.

This relative obscurity has been perpetuated by the general lack of Filipino food available in London, and the UK in general. A cursory glance at www.london-eating.co.uk reveals, non-comprehensively, only 8 recorded Filipino restaurants (compared to 88 Vietnamese) in all of London which, considering that the 2011 census recorded an estimated 44,199 Filipino-born residents in London (a good 39% of all Southeast Asian-born residents) – and who knows how many hundreds of thousands more UK-born of Filipino descent – is pretty poor.

But I do have the feeling that we are on the cusp of some big change in terms of visibility and availability. Earlier this year, Lakwatsa managed to get some prime coverage in an Evening Standard article that trumpeted the impending success of ‘meriendas’ over tapas, showing Londoners one aspect of good Filipino eating. I’ve also seen a few more Filipino restaurants opening up of late: Kalesa in Clapham Junction; Cirilo east of Tower Hill; and Kabayan in Upton Park – I am still yet to try all of these new ventures. Let’s also not forget that latest hero of the Filipino community, Joseph Apostol, who bantered with will.i.am about Filipino food on The Voice.

Additionally, we’ve also seen a select few supper clubs popping up that are or have offered Filipino food in more intimate and familiar settings: the Kamayan Supper Club I ran earlier this year with Mae of Pepe’s Kitchen; Pepe’s Kitchen’s regular dinners and pop-ups; Kusina ni Lola’s one-off in Tooting (and hopefully more dates soon in both Liverpool and London); and of course our very own Adobros supper clubs – all of these have, as far as I’ve seen, been very well-received by a wide range of people. If all of these efforts are maintained and added to, who knows where Filipino food can go?

Hope. Strength. Love. What we hoped a charity dinner would bring to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan

Hope. Strength. Love. What we hoped a charity dinner would bring to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan

Perhaps we got a glimpse of this at the recent Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner that took place in the upstairs portion of Salvador & Amanda in Holborn. Initiated by Mae of Pepe’s Kitchen, the event eventually came to encompass the efforts of 6 passionate groups of chefs who whipped up a cracking eight-course meal for 40 people, primarily showcasing the tasty goodness of Filipino food – all in support of survivors of one of the most powerful typhoons in recorded history.

Showing some real inventiveness and flair, and more importantly calmness-under-fire in the kitchen (for many of us it was the first time working in a professional kitchen and cooking for so many people!), this merry crew managed to prove themselves as worthy chefs of Filipino cuisine… and more than a few confirmed for themselves that a commercial venture may now be more than just a fantastical dream. And, rather interestingly, one of our diners let slip that he was in the process of setting up a Filipino food truck that will tour London’s finest street and farmers’ markets (gonna keep my eyes peeled for this one!).

Manila Machine, one of the first Filipino food trucks in LA. Can we have more of them here please?? Photo sourced from http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2010/06/filipino_food_truck_the_manila.php

Manila Machine, one of the first Filipino food trucks in LA. Can we have more of them here please??
Photo credit:LA Weekly Blog

A perennial problem of Filipinos overseas that has been oft-discussed is that there seems to be an inherent sense of inferiority about our own food– it has not been shaped and influenced by an imperial or royal court cuisine as with many other Asian nations, and it was most definitely not favoured by the Spanish and American colonisers. But why this sense of shame?  I have seen a clear-cut demand for Filipino food – booked-out supper clubspacked and lively pop-ups, flyers snapped up by curious passers-by, that glint in peoples’ eyes when their interest is piqued; these are not the indicators of something shameful. People are genuinely interested; the people want something new to eat!

The Adobros in action at one of their supper clubs. Photo credit: Cristina Chacon

The Adobros in action at one of their supper clubs.
Photo credit: Cristina Chacon

And so perhaps, just perhaps – and I say this without any intentions of arrogance – those of us who cooked up such a feast at the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner, along with our more established restaurateur kababayans, can be part of the new wave of foodies bringing Filipino food to Londoners all over town. After all, it’s already happening in the USA.

That’s what’s key – we need a critical mass of options available to get more exposure. There’s a whole merry band of us who are willing to provide those choices. Now it’s just up to you – are you willing to step up to the plate?

Come along and eat with us. I guarantee that you’ll enjoy it.

Some recommendations on trying Filipino food:

Restaurants

Bintang – primarily a pan-Asian restaurant, Bintang has enough Filipino flourishes such as Filipino BBQ Sundays as well as a smattering of Filipino dishes on offer. Additionally, Omar has been very supportive of budding Filipino chefs and took part in the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner

93 Kentish Town Road, NW1 8NY (nearest Tube Camden Town/Camden Road), 020 7267 2197 http://bintangrestaurant.co.uk/

Cirilo – a new place near Tower Hill that nearly strays down the path of pan-Asian but brings itself back onto the path of righteousness with a wide range of Filipino specials. Happy to hear if anyone’s been there – do tell me!

4 Cable Street, E1 8JG (nearest Tube Tower Gateway/Tower Hill), 020 7702 2299 http://cirilonoodlebar.co.uk/

Josephine’s – Central London’s only Filipino restaurant. It can be a bit hit-and-miss, and it certainly feels a bit dated for Charlotte Street, but daaamn their Crispy Pata and lechon kawali are good 

4 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LP (nearest Tube Goodge Street/Tottenham Court Road), 020 7580 6551 http://www.josephinesrestaurant.co.uk/

Kabayan – these guys have got the East London and West Ham fans markets covered – maybe one day I’ll make it out there, but also happy to hear from anyone if it’s worth the journey!

12 Walton Road, E13 9BP (nearest Tube Upton Park), http://www.filipinorestaurant.co/

Kalesa – Clapham Junction’s finest (and only) Filipino restaurant. Some friends went here for brunch and reported back that the Filipino breakfast (meat, fried egg, rice and pickle) was delightful – a big plus in my books!

59 Lavender Hill, SW11 5QN (nearest station Clapham Junction/Clapham Common), 020 3417 5639 http://www.kalesa.co.uk/

Lakwatsa – a fun and chilled lounge where you pick up bubble tea and snacks, it’s a modern take on Filipino food for the youngsters and other cool peeps. Check out my review here

7 Blenheim Crescent, W11 2EE (nearest Tube Ladbroke Grove), 07900 266 080 http://www.lakwatsa.co.uk/

Port of Manila – my embassy friends maintain that for smart Filipino dining, Port of Manila is the place to go to in London. It’s all the way in Hammersmith, but as the saying goes, the harder you work (or travel) for food, the better it tastes!

129-131 Brackenbury Road, W6 0BQ (nearest Tube Hammersmith/Ravenscourt Park), 020 8741 2099 http://www.portofmanila.co.uk/  

Sunrise Café – of the options in Earl’s Court’s Little Manila, this is the best one of the bunch. The food is lovely, but it could do with some improvement in, well, everything else, as seen from my review here

12 Kenway Road, SW5 0RR (nearest Tube Earl’s Court), 020 7373 3840

Supper Clubs and Pop-ups

The Adobros – mine and my brother’s supper club (a little bit of a hidden agenda here!), serving up hefty feasts from the comfort of our New Cross pad

New Cross area http://theadobros.com/

Kusina ni Lola – judging from the positive reviews about her Tooting pop-up, this girl’s onto something. If you’re up in Liverpool, do give her a look-see!

Liverpool and London https://www.facebook.com/kusinanilola

MERienda – The lovely Maryanne’s imminent business venture, mixing up Colombian and Filipino flavours and recipes. Her empanadas at the charity pop-up dinner were exquisite, all crunchy crust and chunky filling. Keep an eye out for her!

London https://twitter.com/Merienda_ldn

Pepe’s Kitchen – my good friend Mae’s catering company. A talented and passionate lady, she does cooking classes, pop-up dinners and supper clubs. She did a lechon dinner once – I think that says enough! Visit her upcoming pop-up at the Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho (the pub helpfully reviewed here)

Marylebone area http://pepes-kitchen.co.uk/

Honorary mention for cooking such cracking Filipino dishes during the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner goes to James Jennings (saltfish laing was his thing) and Federico of Fooderico (some of the best lumpia I’ve had)

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Categories: Filipino, Supper Club | Tags: , | 4 Comments

What does the fox say? Not much – it’s too busy eating at Foxlow

Copyright of Foxlow. Sourced from Foxlow website

Copyright of Foxlow. Sourced from Foxlow website

Cuisine: European

Address: 69-73 St John Street, EC1M 4AN

Area: Smithfield

Nearest Station: Farringdon

Tel.: 020 7014 8070

Website: http://foxlow.co.uk/

Pricing: High

Good For: Carnivorous eating, Umami, Friendly conversation, Smart-casual dining, Filling meal, Quality ingredients

Want to know what sort of texts I like to get?

“Dude, I’ve got a booking for Foxlow next Wednesday for 4. You in??”

This one came from my brother. As the booking also came during Foxlow’s soft opening, it also included a complimentary drink. I therefore do not hesitate to say: I love you man, you mah BRO (more specifically, my ADOBRO – cheeky plug for our Filipino supper club right there!!).

A smart but casual diner feel, with *gasp* matching furniture! Cheers to BarChick's website for the photo

A smart but casual diner feel, with *gasp* matching furniture! Cheers to BarChick’s website for the photo

Billed as the more casual sister restaurant to Hawksmoor, that esteemed temple of steaks, Foxlow’s offering of charcoal-grilled and slow-cooked meats automatically appeals to the carnivore inside of us all – hence all the excitement that I’ve seen bandied around online.

However, judging from the menu we were presented with that night, I would say that Foxlow is more an ode to all things umami – there are various ingredients in use there, like beef dripping, anchovies, meat stock, Gubbeen cheese, capers, kimchi and others, that suggest that those guys just want to make sure you get your savoury fix, whether it come in meat, vegetable or fish form.

And let me tell you – we chowed down and got our savouriness on. Guided by our helpful and chatty waitress, who tried to ensure that our order included all of the big-hitters from the menu (e.g. “I would say the monkfish is pretty nice and a must, but since you’re after meat, I wouldn’t bother”), we managed to get ourselves a good spread.

Anchovies on goat's butter crisps. NOM

Anchovies on goat’s butter crisps. NOM

First to come along were the anchovy and goat’s butter crisps. This consisted of a very thin crisp wafer flavoured with goat’s butter, topped with freshly chopped shallots and a piece of anchovy. Our waitress stressed the quality of the anchovy, with the chefs aspiring to provide a healthy balance of salt and fresh fish flavours; once you pop one of these into your mouth, you can see what she means. It was packed so full of flavour and savouriness, you were left craving for more, in spite of how rich they were.

Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise. Get some crabs!

Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise. Get some crabs!

Then came our starters, which we dished out amongst the four of us: Crispy Five Pepper squid, Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise, Baby back Iberico ribs and Smokehouse rillettes. The squid had a hint of smokiness to it, but otherwise I felt them to be rather unremarkable. Good – not greasy, not salty, suitably tasty – but unremarkable. As for the Brixham crab, it was served shredded on green leaves, which I felt made it a bit more difficult to appreciate it fully. Still, it was refreshing and beautifully flavoured, with the devilled mayonnaise adding interesting but not overpowering bite. The ribs, as expected, were very tender and full of barbecue flavour. The smokehouse rillettes, on the other hand, were not as smoky as suggested by the name, but were brilliant in texture and taste. The winning starter, I felt.

Baby back Iberico ribs. Not going to quote Fat Bastard for this one

Baby back Iberico ribs. Not going to quote Fat Bastard for this one

So far, so good. By this point, we’d finished our complimentary drinks (my Tom Ford – a twist on the Tom Collins with gin, Benedictine, lemon and soda – was well-received for its light and herbal touch) and I made a move for the wine, selecting a very smooth and medium-bodied rioja crianza from the decently-sized wine list.

I’d originally earmarked the Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi for myself, but seeing as two of the group were also going to order it, I made the adventurous choice and went with the charcoal-grilled Iberico pork ‘pluma’. As our waitress explained, pluma is a type of cut from the loin, and given where it comes from in the pig and the quality of the meat itself, it can be served medium. And oh man was it tasty. It was tender, had a brilliant charcoaled crust to it and just packed an absolute savoury punch, almost akin to a well-flavoured steak. I have never had a cut of pork loin that tasted like this, and the next time I find myself in Foxlow I will definitely order it again.

Iberico pork pluma, in all its glory as captured by my brilliant smartphone

Iberico pork pluma, in all its glory as captured by my brilliant smartphone

The other dishes, in comparison, fell by the wayside. It feels bad to denigrate the other meats on offer, but this is more a tribute to the surprising delights of the Iberico pork pluma than a comment on any form of substandard quality on the parts of the other dishes. The beef was amazingly tender and was also beautifully-flavoured, but after the pluma it tasted rather pedestrian – it was like “Yeah, I’ve had shortrib before, so what?” The Eight-hour bacon rib with maple chilli also suffered a similar fate: again, slow-cooking it for that long produced meat that you could cut like you had a hot knife going through butter, and the flavours of maple and chilli produced something rather special – but hey, bacon rib tastes of bacon and we all know what that is like, right?

Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi. One of these things does not belong...

Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi. One of these things does not belong…

Before I do any more disservice to the other mains, let’s talk about the sides that we shared. The Beef-dripping potatoes with Gubbeen and capers provided us with very crispy and more-ish potatoes that were a very good accompaniment to our meals; the Broccoli with chilli and anchovy were crisp very well-appreciated, although the chilli was almost undistinguishable beneath the savouriness of the anchovy; the Sausage-stuffed onion was a slightly-caramelised onion in a thick and tasty gravy filled with substantial and nicely seasoned sausage meat – a good combination, but as a side dish it seemed rather overbearing, with the sausage meat competing too much against the main courses.

That rather unappetising lump in the foreground is a sausage-stuffed onion, whilst those are potatoes behind. Not that you can tell

That rather unappetising lump in the foreground is a sausage-stuffed onion, whilst those are potatoes behind. Not that you can tell

So, you’d think that by now we’d be done, right? Think again. Dessert was dangled in front of us, and we just had to take a bite. My Peanutella & Sweet Toast was a crushing blow to any semblance of healthiness I retained: here we had a Nutella jar filled with layers of, er, Nutella, caramel, peanut butter and peanuts, served with lightly-fried sweetened toast batons and – in case you thought Foxlow forgot the savouriness – a sprinkling of sea salt. It was perhaps a bit overwhelming, but in some instances that’s okay. Such as when you are chowing down with your bros, homes.

The photo is so dark because the evilness of this Peanutella and Sweet Toast sucked the light into it

The photo is so dark because the evilness of this Peanutella and Sweet Toast sucked the light into it

And thus our meal was complete. It provided enough sustenance to last us for a leisurely walk down to St Paul’s, across the Millennium Bridge and all the way to London Bridge (one of us is still new to London *cough* tourist *cough*) – and you know what? I’d happily walk that distance again just for a bit more of that Iberico pork pluma. Mmmmmm.

VERDICT – A good place. The dishes we chose were all good and decent, but there were certain highlights that really wowed, like the Iberico pork pluma – and unfortunately that did rather unceremoniously shove the other meats into the shade. But we can overlook that, for Foxlow was a very friendly and cheery place for us, and that’s already a very big plus for the place. Oh, and did I say that I liked the Iberico pork pluma?

Currently listening to: Fun. – At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to be)

Categories: European | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment