Latest Stories


French food you can put in the middle of the table and share


“Eeeh, sardine?” the Digger’s daughter (Deedee) shrieked, as if to say “ang cheap ha!” “Why are they offering sardines in a French restaurant?” she asked, in condescending ignorance. “Fresh ’yan hindi canned!” I explained as I ordered the dish, remembering the glories of fresh sardines. “Hoy, hindi lang foie gras ang masarap sa mundo, ano!” I said laughingly.

The French restaurant is Brasserie Cicou, the latest addition to the restaurant scene of Greenhills in San Juan. The man behind the sardine recipe is chef Cyril Soenen, of Prince Albert fame (remember the steak at the Hotel InterContinental in Makati?). He later blazed his own trail in fine French cuisine with his own Restaurant Cicou at the Hotel Celeste on Pasay Road in Makati. Cicou in Makati closed in 2010, to the disappointment of chef Cyril’s fans, but has happily reopened as Brasserie Cicou in Greenhills.

As a matter of fact, fresh sardines are a much-appreciated delicacy, with marinated sardine recipes featured in no less than magazines like food authority Saveur. If you get them fresh, you are guaranteed deliciousness. And if fresh sardines are on a restaurant’s menu, you can more often than not be sure they were purchased that morning because these rot easily and don’t freeze well.

At Brasserie Cicou, chef Cyril Soenen uses fresh tawilis that he buys from the market. These are served simply in an olive oil marinade, with greens and goat cheese and black tapenade on the side. But it is a burst of freshness in your mouth that you will remember for days and even wish to imitate at home.

Of course, there are more opulent flavors: a terrine of duck liver and pork knuckles, snails a.k.a. escargot, pan-seared foie gras. But while these are all beautifully executed at Cicou, these seem to have become staple “fine dining” options that are no different from one restaurant to the next (along with rib-eye and a mean burger). This time, though, instead of fine dining fare, what distinguishes Cicou are their hearty French recipes.

Food to share

In a phone interview with chef Cyril after three visits to Cicou, I found out why. “We want to show that French food is not just fine dining but also, like Filipino or Spanish cuisine, food that you can put in the middle of the table and share.” This time, chef Cyril shares with his customers recipes from home.

And what a home it must be! Chicken is Coq au Vin. The chicken is marinated in red wine, seared on each side, drizzled with chicken jus and only then slowly cooked in the oven. Duck is Cassoulet, another traditional French dish using duck leg confit, pork belly and Cicou’s own homemade pork sausage, served with braised white beans.

Beef is the peasant (cheaper) yet absolutely pleasant Onglet (pronounced ong-lei), a.k.a. Hanger Steak. Personally, I still prefer a beef tenderloin, but chef Cyril highlights the beef’s flavor, as it requires no sauce with it due to the fullness of the flavors of this particular cut. This point is better made with the beef tartare, which defies its simple raw form and comes alive in your mouth.

But the star of the hearty dishes, to my mind, is Cicou’s version of lengua: Braised Ox Tongue. Traditionally, the chef explained, this is made with harrogate sauce. But at Cicou, chef Cyril makes his own sauce whose secret ingredient is a boiled egg yolk. The sauce that the ox tongue swims in is indeed most deliciously savory but it’s the texture of the ox tongue, cut not in the flat way that we are used to but diced, that makes the difference. The result is bite-sized meat that delivers the full savory goodness of the special sauce.

The parade of hearty meals is capped with a hearty dessert. For some time now, foodies on Facebook have been raving about Kouing Aman. The raves are not without basis. It is a round, crusty cake (looks like ensaymada but is more crusty) but it is delectably buttery and topped with a salted caramel ice cream that beautifully contrasts with the rich buttery flavor of the pastry. Warning, though: it is very rich!

With all this hearty cooking, it is best to visit the restaurant with the objective of sharing your meal. The servings are heaping and even the comfortable wooden tables create the setting for a relaxed, as opposed to a stiff, meal. The low-key setting is also reflected on the prices, which are very reasonable compared to fine dining French fare (range of P300 for appetizers; P400-P500 for mains; P180-P280 for dessert).

Finally, Greenhills is Frenchified—and the right way!

Brasserie Cicou is at 57 Annapolis St. (beside OB Montessori), San Juan; tel. no. 6619200. Open for lunch and dinner; closed on Mondays. Reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair-accessible.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Food , French cuisine , Lifestyle

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. World bids Gabriel Garcia Marquez ‘Adios’
  3. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  4. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  5. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  8. Garcia Marquez left unpublished manuscript
  9. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  10. Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  4. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  5. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  6. This is not just a farm
  7. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  8. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  9. 12 other things you can do at Pico de Loro Cove
  10. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • N. Korea finally offers condolences over ferry tragedy
  • 16 CADPI sugar refinery workers now out of danger after toxic shower in Batangas
  • PNP denies Purisima’s involvement in questionable deal with courier firm
  • Pro-Russian insurgents hold journalist hostage
  • UN heads say Syria aid needs ‘largely unanswered’
  • Sports

  • UP nips St. Benilde; Adamson blasts RTU in Filoil women’s caging
  • Kevin Garnett responds to Raptors’ GM F word
  • Albert Pujols hits 500th HR of major league career
  • UST posts twin kill in Filoil pre-season cup opening day
  • Wizards beat Bulls in OT to take 2-0 series lead
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Entertainment

  • Bollywood Oscars, film stars come to Florida
  • Ex-Fox exec denies allegations in sex abuse suit
  • Kris Aquino backtracks, says Herbert Bautista and her are ‘best friends’
  • Summer preview: Chris Pratt enters a new ‘Galaxy’
  • Bon Jovi helps open low-income housing in US
  • Business

  • SM to rebuild Tacloban hospital
  • PSEi slips after 4-day rally
  • Toyota sells 2.58 million vehicles, outselling GM
  • McDonald’s 1Q profit slips as US sales decline
  • SEC approves SM’s P15B retail bond offer
  • Technology

  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Brazil passes trailblazing Internet privacy law
  • Opinion

  • One-dimensional diplomacy: A cost-benefit analysis of Manila’s security deal with Washington
  • No ordinary illness
  • Reforest mountains with fire trees and their kind
  • Day of the Earth
  • When will Chinese firm deliver new coaches?
  • Global Nation

  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
  • China won’t budge, wants PH gov’t to apologize to HK
  • Cha cha train to follow Obama visit?