Johnlu Koa’s secret ingredient for his upscale French venture? Sourdough | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

PREMIUM selection of flavored croissants, baguettes, sourdough, crusty rolls and other breads is available daily.
PREMIUM selection of flavored croissants, baguettes, sourdough, crusty rolls and other breads is available daily.

Johnlu Koa has gone high-end after launching a longtime dream project he hopes would tap the A-list market.


Lartizan, a boulangerie, restaurant and salon de thé (tea salon), has just opened at Serendra in Bonifacio Global City. Its aim is not only to bring in the best of French cuisine, but also the experience of dining in a real Parisian restaurant.


“People have cautioned me that Serendra is the toughest marketplace to compete in,” says Koa, the brains behind the homegrown bakery-café chain French Baker.


“It’s true. It’s very difficult to survive here. But, when you have a unique marketing strategy and it is based on distinctive competence, which is something you can do and others cannot, then you have a better chance in succeeding.”


Judging from all the blogs, reviews and comments from patrons, expats and even first-time clients so far, Koa seems to be on to something. The place has been hailed for the selection and quality of its artisanal breads and pastries. However, Koa admits that Lartizan still needs a little push to capture the dinner crowd.

LOBSTER Linguine


“Maybe because people do not associate us yet with dining,” he shares. “It will take a while, especially when they find out that our Euro-style breads are best eaten with our well-thought-of dishes.”


“I expect to get them within six months,” declares Koa.


Charming and rustic


Lartizan exudes a charming and rustic French elegance—brick walls, chandeliers, crystal glasses and silverware.


The 40-seater restaurant has an open kitchen showcasing well-trained staff stretching, folding and dusting the dough on an open wooden countertop. The aroma of freshly baked almond croissants, pretzels, sourdough rye, pain au chocolat, ciabatta and baguettes fills the air.

CHICKEN and Wild Mushroom Vol Au Vent


The inspiration comes from Koa’s frequent trips to Paris and other destinations over the years. He knew exactly what Lartizan should look and feel like.


“The basis would have to be what I experienced myself in my travels; the same treatment and class is what we try to show our customers, and if I am satisfied with how it makes me feel, then I know our customers will like it as well,” he says.


Koa planned Lartizan 12 years ago. He anticipated the arrival of French brands (boulangeries) in the Philippines. But, he saw one thing that competition would probably have difficultly doing—the sourdough.


It takes special skill to make sourdough, a special bread product prepared through the long fermentation of dough and other ingredients. Sourdough is quite difficult to make, and this is one aspect that Koa thinks he has an edge over his competitors.


Some establishments even fly in people just to make their sourdough; it’s also pretty expensive to do.


“That’s often the problem if you’re a franchisee. You can’t deviate from the book. I know this because we have Chatime,” says Koa.

LARTIZAN exudes a charming and rustic French elegance—brick walls, chandeliers, crystal glasses and silverware.


Making sourdough from live culture and wild yeast produces specialty breads that are crusty, chewy and soft. Lartizan offers that sourdough in its pastries, something made possible by Koa’s wealth of experience in sourdough production, dating back to more than a decade ago when he started training in it.


“Sourdough production is very distinct from normal French baking, and that kind of product is not available in the market till now,” he says.


French country cooking


Apart from artisanal breads and pastries, Lartizan carries a good selection of fine French dishes, whipped up with the help of Koa’s good friend, Inquirer columnist chef Reggie Aspiras.


The menu enhances the experience of dipping the bread into the sauce, which is at the heart of French-inspired cuisine.


The French Onion Soup takes about three hours to cook, the onions about two hours, says Koa.

JOHNLU Koa (with wife Marilou) brings in the best of French cuisine, as well as the experience of dining in a real Parisian restaurant.


“In fact, chef Reggie and the kitchen staff had to do it over and over again to perfect the soup,” says Koa. “She wanted every single strand of onion to be translucent and soft.”


Other bestsellers are the Normandy-Style Pork Ribs Stew in Calvados Cream, Chicken and Wild Mushroom Vol Au Vent, Lobster Linguine, Shrimp Alfredo Pizza and Three Cheese-Stuffed Homemade Raviolis.


Lartizan also takes pride in its carving station near the pastry counter. Every three or five days, a whole Pata Negra (Iberico ham) is consumed, and it’s the only French restaurant that slices the ham from the bone.


As for the salon de thé side of the place, Lartizan offers about 36 tea variants of Mariage Frères, composed of several earl grey variants, black and white teas, all having distinct and soothing flavors and prepared using a samovar, a heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water in Russia.


New players have made Serendra a bigger and tougher pie to crack, but Koa is confident about Lartizan’s place.


“I don’t want to say that I would like to monopolize [things], but we are creating awareness for the whole market. Ultimately, it’s the market that will decide what is good and what is not,” he says.


E-mail the author at [email protected]



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