Enter a pricey restaurant and you will find the usual: a bisque or cream of whatever soup, pan-seared foie gras, salad with arugula, sea bass, steak and a chocolate lava dessert.
As the clocked ticked to Y2K and the boom of the restaurant industry was at its dawn, this kind of menu was exciting. But as the industry peaked and with so many new restaurants today, this standard template has become rather traditional and can border on boring.
So it’s a real delight when a chef truly uses the kitchen as a workshop and the plate as a blank canvas on which to express himself. That is what South African Hylton le Roux, with the help of Italian Giovanni Sias, is doing at Madison in Ortigas.
His menu presents items that are familiar: steaks, pastas, salmon. But these are all presented with a different polish. It’s the not-so-usual usual!
Take the black cod, a thick slab of white fish. Le Roux puts this on a bed of saffron sauce and accents this with a chocolate marmalade. Chocolate? Well, a hint of bittersweet always makes for good character. Then on the side, a pudding using carrots instead of the usual potato. But all these accents don’t take away from the fact that the fish was cooked perfectly.
The pork belly will not be outdone by the cod. The restaurant presents a thick slab of pork meat, matched only by the thickness of the deadly yet glorious pork fat with its cover of crispy skin. “Fat-free!” the American, my lunch date on my fourth visit joked. “It means the fat is free, hehehe!”
Oh you’ll be paying for that later, I assured. But the risk is worth it—since it’s a confit, it means the pork belly was first cooked to achieve tenderness then again to achieve crispy perfection.
Ravioli is multicolored—yellow, green and orange (or rather mustard, celadon and tangerine). Inside is mushy cream cheese made thicker with quail egg (the yellow bursts!), sealed with Beurre Noisette (brown butter) and accented with bacon bits. The flavors are as alive as the colors on the pasta.
The kitchen seems to enjoy using bacon and prosciutto. It’s a good thing. The pea soup—unlike any other soup in the metro—has an island of poached egg topped with crispy prosciutto. It is truly delightful to watch the yolk break and appreciate the gooey-ness of the egg, then have the monotony broken by the bits of prosciutto. The same set up is used with the gnocchi, whose monotone of starch is broken by the same prosciutto bits and micro greens.
Truth be told, other items on the menu stay on the side of tradition, while also executed well. The lamb is served with mashed potatoes and baby vegetables. Steak is steak. But all are “melt in your mouth,” as described by The Patriot. And these we experienced over a series of visits, so consistency seems to be in check.
Don’t miss out on the appetizers. They do their job well at hinting of things to come. For instance, an appetizer of speck, an Italian cured meat from pork thighs enveloping goat cheese mousse is lovely with a glass of white wine.
Leave room for dessert. The pistachio mousse tart is not your usual sweet ending. It’s like a frozen pistachio pie, lovely on its own, but you can add the mascarpone on the side for kicks.
The setting is rather formal, even as it calls itself a “bistro moderne.” High ceiling, heavy drapes, large mirrors, white linen table cloths. But the wait staff is friendly and some dare to come in shorts (heretical but allowed). At the back is a private dining section for 12 with high back chairs that may command the use of petticoats for the ladies and white tights for the gentlemen. The kitchen supposedly can create a personalized menu for you and bring in whatever ingredients you desire.
Wear some mosquito repellant though as there are mosquitos both in the evening and during the day, possibly due to the construction across the street. Also, when the restaurant gets full, the waiters tend to get a little overwhelmed and you may have to scream for attention but I have faith that they will find their stride soonest.
Otherwise, from the anchovy butter to the warm peanut butter and chocolate fondant, it is an exquisite experience. It’s no wonder that even President Aquino has come over to check it out!
Madison’s is accessible by the back entrance of Edsa Shangri-La, Mandaluyong City. Reservation is recommended, call 6314675. It is open daily for breakfast from 7-11 a.m.; regular menu is available 11 a.m.-1 a.m. the next day.
Major credit cards accepted, wheelchair accessible.
Parking options: Edsa Shang’s hotel valet parking (but it cost me P375!), right outside the restaurant if you are early or mall parking.
Follow the author @margauxsalcedo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.