I tried going vegetarian once, “try” being the operative word. It was a failure because my dining menu was limited to potatos (baked or fried), lumps of tofu, and tasteless salads. It didn’t help that my dad would bring home juicy slabs of meat every weekend. I didn’t even last a month.
Nowadays, it’s easier to become vegetarian and stick to your leafy guns, thanks to restaurants like Pipino.
Pipino is the brainchild of the restaurateurs behind Pino Resto Bar and BRGR: The Burger Project. One of the partners, graphic designer Alessandra Lanot, has been a vegetarian for 12 years now and she recounts how hard it is to eat meat-free dishes in Manila.
After a constant struggle finding good veggie eats, Alessandra turned to Pino’s Chef Ed Bugia for help. “It started with my birthday. I wanted a five-course, sit-down vegan meal. I wrote down the stuff I liked, then I asked Chef Ed to execute it,” she recalls.
This inspired Pino Resto Bar to incorporate six vegetarian dishes in its menu. Eventually diners started coming for the restaurant’s green menu, so the team thought it would be a good idea to open Pipino.
“We chose the name ‘Pipino’ because she’s Pino’s green sister,” explains Chef Ed with a laugh.
“Pipino wants to make it known that there is more to being a vegetarian than eating different kinds of salads. We try to come up with creative dishes, to make vegetables more exciting, especially for meat-eaters,” says Lanot. “When we first wrote our mission for Pipino, we wanted to go beyond the salads and change that popular notion na puro dahon—vegetarians don’t just eat salads,” she adds.
“It’s one thing to provide good vegan food for the under-served vegetarian market; it’s another to make it as appealing to meat-eaters to make them not feel like they’re missing out when they eat vegetarian,” says Chef Ed.
If you’re a reluctant vegetable-eater, Chef Ed recommends starting with Mushroom Salpicao, one of Pipino’s best-selling dishes. “Mushrooms have the closest texture to meat,” he explains.
Another curious dish is Pipino’s Watermelon Steak, a slab of juicy watermelon grilled to resemble a hunk of beef. Eating it is an illusory experience—your eyes think you’re about to eat a chunk of rare steak, your nose can smell an almost meaty aroma emanating from the grilled watermelon, while the savory, smoky flavor of meat mingles with the juicy sweetness of the fruit as it explodes in your tastebuds.
Though traditional meat dishes are served sans animal flesh at Pipino, vegetables really take center stage at the restaurant since it doesn’t serve mock meat or meat substitutes. Some of these dishes include Vegetable Kare-Kare (served with Vegan Bagoong Brown Rice) and Low-Fat & Cheese-less Vegan Lasagna with eggplant, zucchini and silken tofu ricotta.
Pipino also makes sure that the sweet endings to every vegetarian meal are also vegan. “We use a lot of unrefined ingredients in our pastries, like whole-wheat flour, coco sugar and raw muscovado,” says Chef Ed. The restaurant also offers dairy-free ice cream which uses coconut, almond or cashew milk instead.
Pino Resto Bar/Pipino Vegetarian are at 39 Malingap St., Teachers Village, QC (tel. 4411773); and 38 Jupiter St., Bel-Air Makati (0922-8654925). Reservations are advisable since the restaurant fills up quickly.
If you’re not ready to have an all-out vegetable feast, worry not because Pipino is located inside Pino Resto Bar.
Pino serves conceptual Pinoy fare, like its best-selling Kare-Kareng Bagnet, a deconstructed version of the popular ox-tail peanut stew.
Also a must-try is the Coffee Crusted Beef Belly; the juicy, melt-in-your-mouth beef alone is worth the trip.
My personal favorite, though, is the (also meatless) Nori Cheese Sticks—buttermilk cheese wrapped in nori and wanton wrapper, deep-fried and served with pesto and raspberry sauce. You can make a meal out of this alone.
The Mini Sisig Tacos go well with the restaurant’s signature cocktails or a cold bottle of beer.
Try visiting the restaurant’s Makati branch. The corner spot along Jupiter Street houses Pino Resto Bar, Pipino, and BRGR: The Burger Project, making it an ideal hangout place with friends or family.