On a night when every other restaurant in Bonifacio Global City has raucous crowds spilling out onto the pavement, there is only cathedral-like silence within the sepulchral darkness of Premio, among the first restaurants one encounters when turning in from Edsa, and which one would expect to be bustling.
I had seen the sign go up earlier in the year and been curious. Friends had recommended it and I’d read a few reviews, but I wasn’t convinced enough to go. There wasn’t enough buzz. But perhaps it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault; it was that genuine rare beast, the sleeper hit of a restaurant that just needed an advocate.
Premio espouses local suppliers and farm-to-table sourcing, something that is very trendy in restaurants abroad at the moment but has been proving hard to pull off here. It is also one of the many restaurants that opened in 2012 that is trying to do interesting things with Filipino cuisine, which is far more productive than whining about why our food isn’t on the map of the international food scene. If we treat it with respect, then others will as well.
What the chef, Franchesca Cariño, does with pig meat is nothing short of amazing. Our cuisine is porcine in nature, from the animal being eaten to the nature of the diners eating it, and to understand, to truly understand the pig, as this chef does, is half the battle won.
The smoked chicharon was not just interesting but scrumptious, and quickly disappeared from the table. Her homemade bacon was perhaps one of the delicious things I have put into my mouth in recent history; I could have eaten a whole plateful of it.
Pork and beans with levain bread was, well, pork and beans with a nice slice of bread. The bread, we were informed, was made in-house. Every restaurant these days seems to want to bake its own bread, which is a silly idea and usually results in lumps of pasty, underfermented and underbaked rolls served with great ceremony and little success.
This was real levain bread: not amazingly good, but competent, which for levain in this country is actually fairly amazing. (The bread isn’t free, incidentally; it’s P125.)
It’s with the mains that Cariño’s reach seemed to have exceeded her grasp. Her incarnation of kare-kare emerged in the form of three very substantial chunks of fat-striated meat, carefully plated on a thin smear of sauce, like a French reduction. The bagoong, we were informed, was already integral. The dish was good, in the way that large pieces of pork, deep-fried, are bound to be good.
The corned beef was the least successful dish of the evening: Great blocks of polyhedral brisket resisted our best attempts to chip away at them with our utensils.
This chef has mastered anything to do with pig, but the secrets of cow, it seems, have yet to be unlocked. Goat she is on okay terms with; the kaldereta made from cabrito (a kid, or young goat) was functional but not outstanding.
We were generously plied with little morsels “on the house” we wouldn’t otherwise have ordered. For dessert, we each got a shot glass of goat milk panna cotta, which was so good that I had more of the same for my dessert order.
This creation embodies everything I had expected from the restaurant: local ingredients used to their best advantage, the distinctive taste of fresh goat’s milk highlighted in a simple, well-made dish.
The champorado goes against everything that one would want from this restaurant: a perfectly good merienda dish served, counter-intuitively, as dessert, gussied up in a martini glass but drained of all flavor, a gloop of sweetish rice with pretty things on top.
I don’t review restaurants I believe are uninteresting or beyond redemption. Premio is far from being either: It’s extremely interesting and I believe has places to go, if only people could be bothered to come to the place.
The idea of sourcing everything locally and making everything from scratch is not just a gimmick; it’s what we want to see every restaurant try to do more of. At Premio the implementation is very uneven, and one must order wisely, because while some dishes are ravishingly good and worth coming back for, others are terrible misfires.
But that only means they must be reworked; and because I genuinely admire the spirit behind the endeavor, I am willing to suffer the duds until Cariño gets them right.
Premio is at F1 Bldg., 32nd cor. 5th Avenue, Fort Bonifacio; tel. 8967142.