One of my first thoughts about the clean, well-lighted space and concise but respectable menu was that this restaurant was in the wrong place; or that it was the wrong restaurant for this place.
Sarsa is JP Anglo’s foothold on Negrense cuisine in Bonifacio Global City—intimate, informal and well-priced. And even though we went on a weekend night, it was quiet, cozy and wasn’t wracked by the clatter of a typical knees-up night-out in BGC.
People actually live and work there now, and residents will want to wander down in their dressing gowns from the nearby apartment buildings, while office workers who want something better than rice toppings but less uppity than Wildflour need a restaurant like Sarsa.
Wooden Spoon at Rockwell (owned by Sandy Daza, Lifestyle columnist) has proven that it’s possible to offer well-priced food in a high-rent setting, making everyone else look overpriced by comparison. Restaurants like this may yet outlive the over-conceptualized ones that are the rage for about two weeks, before the swarm moves on to the next cool joint that’s hashtag-able on Instagram.
I’m sure I’ll get hate mail for this, but I’m still a little fuzzy about Iloilo vs Bacolod, Ilonggo vs Negrense, and more importantly, what food belongs to whom.
I’ve done the tour, bought the T-shirt, done my research, eaten my share of batchoy and molo soup and chicken inasal on both sides of the Guimaras Straits.
Molo, the town, is in Iloilo but I’ve had better molo soup in Isla Naburot, off Guimaras, and had better batchoy in Silay than anywhere else.
So, I tend to conflate the whole region in my mind, culinary-wise.
The good news for Manileños is that we can find excellent molo soup, batchoy and chicken inasal about 500 km closer to home.
As an unfortunate victim of the very poorly run branch of Mang Inasal near my office, where I end up every other day, eating at Sarsa was like tasting sugar for the first time after a lifetime of knowing only Splenda.
I devoured a chicken leg, three sticks of intestines (isaw) and chicken tail (isol).
To go with it there’s proper garlic rice—actually fried in garlic and not a scoop of rice sprinkled with a few morsels of dry bottled garlic bits. You can pour some homemade annatto oil on the rice.
The more ambitious, creative attempts ended up with varying success.
I wasn’t quite sure what was going on with the sizzling kansi, a nice dish of bone with marrow on a sizzling platter and beef brisket, but others seemed to like it.
Lechon kawali with a chocolate-based sauce was competent but not scintillating.
Pritchon came, at first, as a welcome surprise on the menu, but in the end seemed a little out of place and somewhat cartilaginous (though nothing like Mesa’s blobs of overpriced fat).
The surprise hits were the ones that looked least promising on the menu: skewers of tender beef with a bit of lemongrass salt, and tortang talong, that tired household staple by unimaginative home cooks, which we ordered as a side dish in a vague attempt to be healthy and eat vegetables, turned out to be a rich, meaty centerpiece. More of these, please.
I would also have appreciated a few more dishes to choose from; I’m all for keeping menus short and sweet, but our very greedy table was literally running out of things to order.
The urbanized Negrense fare at Sarsa is a lot leaner than what I remember from my time in Negros, wading through layers of congealing lard on the batchoy and swirling rendered chicken fat on rice. But there is no attempt to make it too precious and stylized, or needlessly update it for Manila clientele.
I’m liking the fact that we’ve gone from having almost no Filipino restaurants worth going to other than the clay pot and rattan seat types for tourists, to lots of proud, quirky reinventions of Filipino food, to authentic regional representations such as Sarsa, and Victorino’s, which I reviewed a few weeks ago.
I’m sure the Negrenses will be dissatisfied with something, as they generally are, but I think Sarsa has reasonably priced food that’s at least as good as anything I’ve eaten in Negros province itself.
Sarsa is at Forum South Global, 7th Ave. cor. Federacion Drive, Bonifacio Global City.