Posts Tagged With: Portobello Road

Tales from the Old Country: Don Papa, a Filipino Rum

Back in October last year, my brother and I found ourselves chilling out in Manila, catching up with our old friend Art, who’d left London a couple of years ago. Whilst reminiscing over past good times and playing with one of my favourite cats ever (hello Fanta!), Art popped into the kitchen for a moment, re-emerging with a squat bottle filled with a rich, red-brown liquid.

There we go, I've done it - I've finally put a cat picture up on the internetz

There we go, I’ve done it – I’ve finally put a cat picture up on the internetz

“Dude, have you met Don Papa yet?”

My eyes lit up with excitement: I’d heard of this Don Papa previously on the Twitter grapevine, and now I had the opportunity to meet him in the flesh. Oh, I was giddy.

As a bit of background, Don Papa was one of the noms de guerre of Papa Isio, a revolutionary who fought against both the Spanish and the Americans during the tumultuous and ultimately unsuccessful Filipino wars of independence. Like many revolutionary leaders of the time, he came to a rather unfortunate end at the hands of the American conquerors.

But, for our purposes, Don Papa is also the name of the Philippines’ first premium small batch rum, made in the foothills of Mount Kanlaon on Negros Island. Given that the Philippines is awash with sugar and there are a large numbers of rums swilling around the country (including a good favourite of mine and staple of The Adobros Supper Club when we have it, Tanduay), this is rather surprising.

Mount Kanlaon towers above the sugar fields of Negros

Mount Kanlaon towers above the sugar fields of Negros

According to their blurb, Don Papa is aged in oak barrels for a good seven years before it’s blended and distributed, which means that this brainchild of Englishman Stephen Carroll has been a long time in the making.

And you can certainly tell that it makes a difference. Being used to the simple and cheap pleasures of Tanduay (best enjoyed with Coke or ginger beer, with a twist of calamansi), I really wasn’t ready for the much richer and more developed flavours brought to the table by the Don.

As soon as you pop that cork open and take a sniff, you are hit with smooth and delectable hints of vanilla. This velvety flavour really comes out when you have Don Papa on the rocks – something that I, as a relatively uncultured rum drinker, would never have done before. But, when added to Coke, you have a most amazing alcoholic vanilla Coke combination, all without the horrid cloyingness of actual Vanilla Coke. That night was a good one!

Welcoming Don Papa to our humble abode in London

Welcoming Don Papa to our humble abode in London

My brother and I were so enamoured of the Don that we just had to take a bottle back home with us. But every time we enjoyed a drop, it was always done so with a bittersweet feeling deep within: without a place to buy Don Papa in London, our joy would be ephemeral, like tears in the rain. Such sad times and disappointment awaited us…

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Some months later, again word trickled along the Twitter grapevine concerning Don Papa, namely that this rum would finally be coming to London, with a glitzy launch lined up in May. This was très exciting…!

Say hello to the Don

Say hello to the Don

So, after getting our invites through the post, we made our way to Trailer Happiness on Portobello Road, the home of the Notting Hill Rum Club and hence the perfect place to be the unofficial UK HQ of the Don. Upon descending the steps into the darkened and moody cellar, we were introduced to Stephen, who welcomed us heartily and directed us straight to the bar where three different cocktails utilising Don Papa awaited us. Straight to the point!

And so, how does one enjoy Don Papa? In many ways, eh! The three on the night are below:

Don Papa Old-Fashioned

Don Papa Old-Fashioned

Don Papa Old-Fashioned

Venus Sour

Venus Sour

Venus Sour

Don Papa Julep

Don Papa Julep

Don Papa Julep

I think the Old-Fashioned was the best of the bunch, and as it was free flow all night (who thought that’d be good on a Tuesday night!?), we were certainly able to enjoy a large number of fine cocktails crafted by the talented bartenders at Trailer Happiness, who all seemed to be really enjoying themselves (see here about my views on becoming a bartender).

All in all, it was a fun-and-booze-filled night that gave the Don a grand welcome to this country. Judging from the fact that all of the goodie bags had been rifled through for the small giveaway bottles (whoever you are, I AM COMING FOR YOU), I think that the crowd of foodies, drinkies, industry types, trade professionals and everyone else very much enjoyed drinking Don Papa in its many incarnations. Or, at the very least, everyone just got really hammered.

All of this makes me very happy. As a promoter of all good things Filipino, I am DAMN excited by the idea that a product of such quality and character is gracing the UK and showing off a great side of the Philippines. I really want to see this Filipino product become a best-seller in this country and would happily develop cirrhosis if that would help the cause.

And so, if you want to actually boost the Don’s standing in this country without my having to resort to liver damage, I believe that you can buy it in Harvey Nichols, The Whisky Exchange and elsewhere. And, if you are being extra nice, you can send me a little commission payment too, you know, for the referral. Because we’re all friends here, right?

 

Currently listening to: Taken by Cars – December 2 Chapter VII

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Categories: Cocktail Bar, Filipino | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Kain na tayo! Friends and merienda at Lakwatsa

Copyright of Lakwatsa. Sourced from Lakwatsa website

Copyright of Lakwatsa. Sourced from Lakwatsa website

Cuisine: Filipino

Address: 7 Blenheim Crescent, W11 2EE

Area: Portobello Road

Nearest Station: Ladbroke Grove

Tel.: 07900 266 080

Website: http://www.lakwatsa.co.uk/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Sinful snacks, Sharing many dishes, Introduction to new foods, Friendly conversation, Loitering over drinks

This review is long overdue. As someone who is amazingly keen on promoting Filipino food to anyone and everyone at the drop of a hat, I don’t quite know why I’ve forgotten to write up my experiences at Lakwatsa, the past year’s hottest Filipino newcomer in London.

So hot, that it even warranted a glowing article in the Evening Standard introducing ‘meriendas’ as the new tapas. It was a lovely little introduction to one aspect of Filipino cuisine, even if it got things slightly wrong: call me horrifically pedantic (it’s okay, I’m used to it), but ‘meriendas’ are not small plates like tapas; merienda is more like a catch-all term for a snack, savoury or sweet. But that is not the totality of merienda as I understand it.

It is a cultural institution, a time in the day to pause and have a bite to eat with friends and family, sharing news (and gossip), spending some quality time with people and just generally relaxing and enjoying some time off.

And it seems that Claire, the lovely lady behind Lakwatsa, has tried to encapsulate this spirit in her little cubby hole just off Portobello Road. For starters, she tells us that lakwatsa translates from Tagalog as something like ‘relax’, and back in my mum’s day it had the connotations of playing truant (don’t tell my client this is where I’ve been going).

Welcome to the merienda lounge!

Welcome to the merienda lounge!

And certainly, the vibe you get there is pretty chilled. It is, after all, a merienda lounge. Alongside one side of the wall there are swing benches, which is an AMAZING idea (some design ideas for my flat…?) that just screams chillin’. Cotchin’, even.  Throw in some rustic crate-like boxes for chairs and tables, and a menu on the wall composed of giant Scrabble tiles, and you’ve got a place that just screams, nay mumbles (as screaming is just a bit aggressive, and like, kills my buzz, dude) coolness. In a lovingly inclusive manner too, for my mum thought its twee-ness was wonderfully charming

Not the highest-scoring words

Not the highest-scoring words

And so, when I later came with friends, we spent a good amount of time just hanging out and making kwento. Other tables came and went, but we stood, or rather sat, our ground – Lakwatsa just seemed like the perfect place to just relax and watch the day go by. Were we exhausting our welcome? Please, we’d ordered one of EVERYTHING off the menu; I think that bought us a good couple of hours there.

Lakwatsa: Food coma'd

Lakwatsa: Food coma’d

And so what did we think of the food? Let’s do this properly:

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice balls with chicken adobo pieces inside – absolute genius idea. However, the execution could have done with a bit of honing. Whilst the chicken pieces were flavourful and had an even measure of sharpness and savouriness, when I went with my mum there were hardly any pieces in the balls. Also, I love the idea of dipping my adobo rice balls into more adobo sauce, but it did cause the balls to disintegrate. If you’re not keen on the idea of eating kamayan­-style, then the lack of a spoon becomes a real problem. Perhaps serve each rice ball on a big china spoon? And then you can dip it into a big bowl of sauce and then eat it all in one go.

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice filled with chicken adobo, sprinkled with crunchy garlic and served with adobo sauce

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice filled with chicken adobo, sprinkled with crunchy garlic and served with adobo sauce

Lumpia: ah, the humble Filipino spring roll served with spicy vinegar, often under-appreciated. Such a simple little dish, yet devilishly hard to make so that it smacks you in the mouth and says “I’m damn good”. I don’t think Lakwatsa’s versions (the meaty shanghai and the normal vegetarian)  quite live up to that mouth-smacking expectation, but it is definitely a solid offering that helps to provide much-needed sustenance as you wait for the other dishes.

Prawn toast: not strictly-speaking Filipino, but I’m not going to begrudge Lakwatsa when they make prawn toast that actually tastes and feels like there is prawn in there (because, well, there actually is a layer of prawns in the middle. Awesome). Surprisingly chunky and substantial, something I’d definitely have again. And a very nice touch was the garlickyness, which I guess grounds it as a ‘Filipino’ dish.

Tempura: again, not quite Filipino, but considering that many Japanese chefs retire in the Philippines and open up sushi places there, I guess you could argue for the inclusion of this dish. Lakwatsa manage to pull this off with some lightness and fluffiness, evading the usual mistake of letting it get too greasy. The prawns used were sizeable beasts, which was impressive and much appreciated.

Spicy fried squid: this was a bit of a disappointment of a dish. Yes, there were lots of yummy scrummy fried crispy bits hiding around, but the flavourings of the squid were somewhat lacklustre and… unusual. Not quite sure it worked, especially as the squid felt a bit squidgy (I always thought this was a default texture of squid, until I had some absolutely amazing squid at Ceviche and the Quality Chop House). I don’t think it was one that we were too keen on polishing off.

Pandesal: these buns are very good. Very, very good. Light, fluffy and achingly soft, this is very evocative of what you can get in the Philippines. And I’m not just saying that because it is very rare that you can get good, commercial pandesal in London. Even my mum was rather taken with these. They are served wonderfully warm (freshly-made, which probably explains the lag time in getting served), allowing for the butter to melt into every airy nook and crevice of the ripped open and steaming bread. I am told that you must try it with the ube halaya… but it is still very good with strawberry jam. I wonder if they would ever import Good Shepherd from Baguio?

Pandesal served with jam and butter

Pandesal served with jam and butter

Turon: again, it is rare to get turon on a regular basis in London, outside of the various fiestas that are scattered throughout the country and the year. But Lakwatsa does a fine job of filling the gap – their turon is freshly-made and crisp, and is stuffed with lots of banana and jackfruit without being cloyingly sweet. Luscious!

Sweet crispies are made of these...

Turon: spring rolls made with banana, jackfruit and palm sugar

Leche flan: I do remember this to be a bit creamy and rich, but feeling just a bit unsubstantial. Filipino leche flan, again, is a fairly straightforward dish to make, and in order to make it stand out it needs just a bit more ‘oomph’ about it – Lakwatsa probably need to just finetune things a bit, as it was nearly there (I can’t quite put my finger on what though… such a useful reviewer, aren’t I?). My mum did comment that she could probably make this dish better at home, and being a good mummy’s boy I’m not going to argue with her about that.

Bubble tea: both times I’ve been I’ve gone for the taro bubble tea. I presume when they say taro, they mean ube (though correct me if I’m wrong) it’s purple and tastes like ube, so I guess it must be ube (though technically ube is a purple yam, not a taro). It’s not overly sweet and has a good level of milkiness and creaminess, which is enhanced by the ube. The bubbles themselves were a bit on the softer side and perhaps a bit too gummy, but at least they erred in that direction rather than make them too hard (I’m looking at you, Manchurian Legends)!

Taro bubble tea: Don't be put off by the purple colour!

Taro bubble tea: Don’t be put off by the purple colour!

Overall, I’ve had some good times in Lakwatsa, and I look forward to my next visit there. We definitely need more Filipino places in London offering good food and a great experience, and I think Lakwatsa is doing its bit in a modern, slightly-non-traditional but fun way. But, as I always say, the more choice we have, the better it can be for everyone.

VERDICT – A good place. Lakwatsa has a fun and chilled vibe, perfect for hanging out in. It could do with a bit of polishing up in tightening the operation and perfecting some of the dishes, but they’ve got many of the other ingredients right.  I do hope that they become settled and established and really find their stride – and maybe then they’ll open up a branch on the better side of London…?

Currently listening to: Pedicab – Simulan Mo Na

Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments