5 Chef-Driven Restaurants You Should Try In Manila, Philippines

5 Chef-driven restaurants I highly recommend you visit in Manila: Toyo Eatery, Gallery Vask, The Black Pig, Mecha Uma, Hey Handsome

The number one question I’m asked is, “Where should I/ my friends/ family eat in Manila?” While once one of the most underrated capitals in Southeast Asia, our dining scene in Manila is growing, and I decided to put together a guide– or a list– on my latest column for Forbes / Forbes  Life USA, which I’d like to also share on this blog.

I hardly ever “re-publish” anything on my personal blog because I like to write about different things on my different media platforms. But in this particular case, the Manila dining landscape is so relevant– and this is a question that’s on everyone’s minds at the moment— Filipinos and expats living in the Philippines, first-time-visitors, repeat visitors and returning residents (balikbayans)- so here you go. And yes, feel free to share.

There are tons of great restaurants in the city today but I zero in on 5 chef-driven restaurants (in no particular order) that are singular in their visions and philosophies and not afraid to push boundaries. Their support for Philippine produce also a big plus.

And oh, in a country whose meals have been largely rooted in eating family-style (sharing), they also offer tasting menus, facilitating a relationship between the chef and diner, and a journey into their psyches and the Philippines. (For my original article published on Forbes USA, click here.)

TOYO EATERY (JORDY NAVARRA)

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Toyo Eatery (Photo courtesy of Toyo)

Toyo Eatery is one of the best new restaurant openings this 2016. Chef-owner Jordy Navarra is a staunch advocate of Philippine produce and creates heightened Filipino dishes using almost only local ingredients, a reflection of his heritage, memories, training (he worked at The Fat Duck in the UK and Bo Innovation in Hong  Kong) and experiences. Jordy describes his cuisine has being centered on the ingredients available in the Philippines. “It’s more of, this ingredient is grown here, it’s easily available– what can we do with it? What techniques can we apply to it? What can we serve with it?”

Jordy Navarra and two of his signatures at Toyo Eatery: Three-Cut Pork BBQ with Toyo Eatery Silog; Grilled Cassava Cake (Photos courtesy of Toyo Eatery)
Jordy Navarra and two of his signatures at Toyo Eatery: Three-Cut Pork BBQ with Toyo Eatery Silog; Grilled Cassava Cake (Photos courtesy of Toyo Eatery)

Here, quintessential comfort Filipino food– is elevated into another level– by technique, skill, and flavor. For example: Pork BBQ here is 3 cuts of pork layered together to play on flavors and textures before skewered and cooked over charcoal and wood, and finished in pork bone broth. It’s pork BBQ on a stick, which every Filipino has had growing up, but this one, takes about 12 hours to make. Cocktails are by David Ong of The Curator, named Asia’s #18 best bar this 2016.

The Alley at Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City; +63917 7208360

GALLERY VASK (CHELE GONZALEZ

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Gallery Vask (Photo courtesy of Gallery Vask)

Gallery Vask is the only Philippine restaurant to make it on the  Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list this 2016. (It sits on number 39.) Chef Chele Gonzalez, who trained at Arzak, El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca and Nerua-Guggenheim in his native Spain,  may be Spanish by blood but is completely Pinoy at heart. His tasting menu at the restaurant is a compendium of his journeys around the provinces of the Philippines, weaving together the country’s history through the usage of local ingredients and his stories behind each dish. For example, Tabon-tabonis local sea urchin, wrapped in tocino, served with a sauce made from the fruit from Northern Mindanao of which the dish takes its name; Bamboo is a tribute to the Aetas (an indigenous group from northern Philippines) which features cochinillo served on a subtly sour soup, served on a bamboo (a cooking technique the Aetas still practice until today.) The menu feels like a familiarization tour of the Philippines.

Chele Gonzalez and two of his Singatures at Gallery Vask: Sour Ribs and Pandan Eclair (Photos courtesy of Gallery Vask)
Chele Gonzalez and two of his Singatures at Gallery Vask: Sour Ribs and Pandan Eclair (Photos courtesy of Gallery Vask)

5/F Clipp Center, 11th Avenue/ corner 39th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +63 917 546 1673; galleryvask.com

MECHA UMA (BRUCE RICKETTS)

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Mecha Uma (Photo courtesy of Moment Group)

Mecha Uma was recently named by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants as one of six trending restaurants to visit in Southeast Asia and Australasia.Chef Bruce Ricketts, who studied and worked in several restaurants in California, is largely inspired by Japan and Mexico which he translates into dishes with a “freestyle” eight-course tasting menu where only the names of the ingredients are presented to the guests on a piece of paper. A dish that’s simply listed as Toast is homemade potato bread soaked in miso topped with shirako (cod sperm), an eggplant ceviche and ponzu-marinated radish.

Bruce Ricketts and two of his dishes at Mecha Uma: Salmon Sandwich and Shirako on Toast (Photo courtesy of Moment Group)
Bruce Ricketts and two of his dishes at Mecha Uma: Salmon Sandwich and Shirako on Toast (Photo courtesy of Moment Group)

25th street, between 5th & 6th Avenue, RCBC Savings Bank Corporate Center, Bonifacio South, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig; + 632.801.2770 or +63917.544.3226 from 1pm-5pm daily, except Sundays; http://www.mechauma.ph/

HEY HANDSOME (NICCO HANDSOME)

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Hey Handsome (Photo courtesy of Hey Handsome)

Hey Handsome, which just opened this August 17, is another one of the most highly regarded restaurant openings of the year. Nicco Santos’ first restaurant Your Local was named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the ‘greatest restaurants around the globe.’ At Hey Handsome, Peranakan is the focal point. “It’s a cuisine I’m obsessed with—a mixed marriage type of cuisine— Singaporean, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian; Hokkien and Teochew– because today, people are emerging, people are collaborating, and mixing things up,” shared Santos. He spent some time in Singapore and in Malaysia, where instead of training at a restaurant, he made it a point to get to know and dine with local families, and learn their family recipes. He serves a Beetroot Paneer which replaces the traditional palak paneer (Indian cottage cheese) with beetroot; and Nasi Lemak, a Malay fragrant rice dish, with seabass otah (grilled fish cake made from fish paste). They will soon be launching a five-course tasting menu revolving around the Buah Keluak (black nut). “We want to further educate guests on just how versatile it can be.”

Nicco Santos and two of his signatures at Hey Handsome: Paneer (beetroot curry, paneer, mushrooms, house yogurt) and Beef (BBQ beef short ribs, rhubarb, khao man, som tam) (Photos courtesy of Hey Handsome
Nicco Santos and two of his signatures at Hey Handsome: Paneer (beetroot curry, paneer, mushrooms, house yogurt) and Beef (BBQ beef short ribs, rhubarb, khao man, som tam) (Photos courtesy of Hey Handsome

G/F Net Park, 5th Avenue Bonifacio Global City Taguig; +632 946 3815; info@heyhandsome.net

THE BLACK PIG (CARLOS GARCIA)

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The Black Pig (Photo courtesy of The Black Pig)

The Black Pig is located slightly off-center,  a 45-minute drive from Makati, and on the second floor of a mall. But the trek is worth it. Here, chef Carlos Garcia, who trained at Gauthier Soho and Restaurant Rousillon in London,  wields European techniques with the freshest local ingredients available to him, like serving black grouper with the local grain adlai (Job’s tears) and beetroot tapioca pearls, or turning our local lime, the calamansi, into a crème brulee. His special tasting menus are the star, however. He serves creative dishes with unorthodox combinations that work really well like: Hokkaido scallops on crispy pork trotters and topped with pig’s face chicharon, with aubergine and cumin; and egg yolk fried tempura-style topped with Perigord winter truffles and cep puree.

Carlos Garcia and one of his dishes at The Black Pig in Alabang: Blackmore beef neck, carrot purée, crushed potato, kamias marmalade (Photo courtesy of The Black Pig)
Carlos Garcia and one of his dishes at The Black Pig in Alabang: Blackmore beef neck, carrot purée, crushed potato, kamias marmalade (Photo courtesy of The Black Pig)

2nd Floor, Commercenter. Alabang, Commerce Ave. cor East Asia Drive, Filinvest, Corporate City, Muntinlupa City; +632 808-1406, +63917-8462674; theblackpigbar.com