The UK’s slow, yet steady, release from lockdown confinement is seeing us brush up on our dream bucket lists. We look forward to the day our beloved bars and restaurants release their vice like grips so that we can sip on an ice-cold rooftop cocktail, followed by black truffle dim sum in Michelin Star surroundings.
A hot shot for the list, which I had the fortune of visiting pre-lockdown, lies with the award-winning Romulo Cafe and Restaurant, dishing out an array of sublime exotic flavours and much needed vibrancy from the Philippines to London’s High Street Kensington.
Romulo’s story began in 2009 in Manila, courtesy of dream team, Sandie Romulo Squillantini and her husband Enzo Squillantini seeking to introduce the city to a celebration of Sandie’s grandfather, General Carlos P. Romulo. With his unparalleled war legacy as the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, the first and only Filipino to win a Pulitzer Prize also had a great love for Filipino food.
Armed with the precious heirloom recipes passed down from Sadie’s former beauty queen grandmother, and the team further unified with business partners Ivy Almario, Yong Nieva, Liana Romulo and Irene Montemayor, Manila was blessed with a restaurant perfumed with the spirited heritage through wall-clad family photos, and wholesome, mouthwatering dishes passed down the generations that continue to steal the hearts of the city’s food critics.
Determined to pull Filipino cuisine out of the shadows and recreate Manila’s glittering success story in the diverse gastro streets of London, restaurateur and former banker Rowena Romulo worked her magic and saw Romulo Cafe and Restaurant open their London doors in 2016.
Greeted with a delightful canopy facade in an eye-catching lime green outside a converted Georgian townhouse, my spirits were further raised with the infectiously warm welcome from the owners Rowena and Chris Romulo. I was ushered inside the eye-catching space, ensuring I had kept a hungry, borderline famished, appetite.
Behind recent interior refinements are award winners CADA Design, boasting a luxe CV including The Shard, The Dorchester and Fortnum & Mason. The mellow colour palette of light blue, grey and white against the eccentric twist of bright, lime green furnishings and dark intricate lighting, echoed a beautiful contemporary atmosphere that perfectly entwines with the family’s regal like heritage through the exquisitely framed, photo adorned walls that showcase the family’s illustrious history, just like their Manila site.
The evening started with an Instagrammer’s dream ube (purple yam) Martini, almost too beautiful to drink with the deep rich colour from the purple yams and sprinkling of delicate purple and yellow flowers. The silky texture blended wonderfully with the bursts of vanilla, coconut and a hint of pistachio, it completely set the tone for what was to come.
A gorgeously colourful and exotic feast of absolute must tries, recommended by Chris and worthy of a Tatler cover was soon laid out on the table. This began with sizzling chicken inasal sisig, crispy squid (pritong pusit), and chilli king prawns (sugpo sa aligue).
The sizzling, black stone pan of chicken was the ultimate flavour explosion, moist chicken thigh pieces married with generous helpings of fried onions, garlic and green chillies, topped with a creamy sauce and crispy skins. The thin, battered squid strips dish brought the flavours of the orient to the table, with a lightly sweet and spicy honey glaze garnished with spring onions. The chilli prawns were the gold medal winner, large meaty prawns bathed in a creamy spiced coconut milk, mixed with a deep flavoured lobster coulis and rounded off with a helping of Chinese cabbage to offset the richness.
Post a delicious Tita’s Margarita with passion fruit and tiny chilli flakes, the remainder of the banquet had arrived of chargrilled stuffed squid (rellenong pusit), pork belly adobo, and jackfruit and coconut stew (ginataang langka) served with a pandan infused rice.
The squid was nothing short of a stunning plate of sublime perfection; tender, a light smokiness and generously stuffed with bountiful amounts of tomatoes, cheese, onion and garlic, resting on a bed of charcoal black, squid ink rice. A splash of orange annatto oil, creamy white sauce and colourful vegetable pieces created a vibrant celebration on a plate that was truly quite special.
The pork belly again infused the delicious oriental flavours into the dish, with slow cooked pork pieces in a dark soy sauce, mixed with garlic. A serving of simply cooked potatoes and purple yams added as the perfect complement, adding that touch of Filipino flavour and fusion. The vegetarian stew proved a tropical knockout, with its velvety coconut curry base brought to further life with flavours of ginger and loaded with young jackfruit that melted in the mouth on first bite.
No meal at Romulo could ever be complete without some traditional desserts, in this case an ube cheesecake with a light, yet rich, texture, courtesy of the purple yams and topped with grated coconut. The Halo Halo was a uniquely exotic finale, representing a medley of textures and tastes from the luscious Filipino islands, consisting of purple yam ice cream, caramel flan pieces and green jelly cubes, finished off with coconut and milk shavings.
Whilst we eagerly await to tuck into a post lockdown char-grilled squid or sample their honey glazed beef rib, Romulo have hopped onto the #stayathome bandwagon, delivering their specialities to the safety of our homes including crispy pork hock, garlic fried rice and of course their ube cheesecake. The full breadth of delivery locations can be found on their website.
In a nutshell
Romulo Cafe and Restaurant continues to capture the tastebuds of the public and critics, proven through their third victory as Timeout’s ‘Most Loved Restaurant in Kensington.’ With their elegant atmosphere, five-star service and flavoursome food at charming prices, Romulo is sure to recreate their winning waves once the UK sets to unlock their hospitality chains.
Address: 343 Kensington High Street, Kensington, London, W8 6NW
Telephone: 020 3141 6390