Thailand, Japan, India and even Vietnam steal the spotlight when it comes to our perception of Asian cuisine. A distinctive blend of spicy, fragrant dishes – a variety of food from this eastern continent has become a stable part of our western culture over the last decade. Should we turn our attention a little south to the Philippines, many of us know little about the food and drink of this Asian island nation and where we can find it here in the UK.
I counted myself within the broad category of people who, despite living in London and having almost every strand of global cuisine disposable to me, I was naïve to what Filipino food had to offer beyond my ongoing love affair with a Thai red curry. Today, I am a self-proclaimed lover of Filipino food, not because I enjoy being ‘in the know’ above anyone else – but because of the delicious differentiation Filipino food has from its neighbouring countries. This fascinating disparity comes from the influence of its previous Spanish colonisation. Incorporating these distinct European touchpoints with the use of ingredients and flavours used, many dishes feature slow-cooked or crispy pork and chorizo cleverly balanced with the Asian herbs and spices such lemongrass that you would more likely expect.
The finest spot to discover Filipino food in London is at Romulo Café in Kensington. A family-run restaurant headed up by married duo Rowena and Chris, this family-run hotspot hosts a carousel of locals and Filipino guests to their restaurant, always a good sign for authenticity. A place that reflects the strong family values Filipino’s hold true to them; family-style dining is encouraged here with a menu filled with suitable sharing dishes for intimate gatherings, hinging between fresh and authentic flavours and inspired by the personal recipes of their grandmother that have been adapted for the discerning London audience. A signature Filipino dish includes Adobo, translating as a marinade/sauce which is a widely recognised dish and not too dissimilar from a rich Spanish stew.
Romulo Café have jazzed up their own take on this, offering their ‘Romulo style’ truffled Abodo with a choice of either Norfolk chicken or the finest Dingley Dell pork from Suffolk that combines soy sauce, garlic and cane vinegar with black truffle, bok choy and sweet potato. A personal highlight of mine and another favourite recommended by Rowena, Chris and their team is the sizzling chicken Inasal Sisig, their own take on this rich, tasty dish made with chicken thighs, ginger, green chilli, garlic and lemongrass served on a sizzling skillet.
There are plenty of highlights friends and family are invited to pick and choose from across the à la carte menu within starters, main dishes, accompaniments, noodles and rice. I suggest the gambas ‘al Ajillo’ sauteed with tomatoes and green chillies, the 8 oz dry-aged 30-day organic rib-eye steak ‘Tagalog’ a delicious combination of sliced steak marinated with soy sauce, caramelised onions and sweet potatoes or the grilled aubergines sauteed in the famous Filipino Abodo sauce – perfect for any veggie diners.
The creativity of Filipino food doesn’t end with their main dishes and truly comes into play at dessert. Halo Halo is a must: a wacky but unmissably exotic mix of ice cream with banana puree, jackfruit, leche flan (Crème caramel) pandan jelly (an Asian green jelly) and finished with coconut. This I recommend to be served alongside a gorgeously rich ‘Ube’ cheesecake – a vibrant dessert made with purple yam, but don’t let that put you off.
Phone: 020 3141 6390
Address: 343 Kensington High Street, London, W8 6NW