The place feels like an atelier. It’s as if any minute a craftsman would wield his giant scissors and start snipping away the denim on a mannequin or weld metal to create his sculpture.
The walls are tiled, not painted or wallpapered.
Dividers are made of a wrought-iron folding gate, the kind you see in stores in old Escolta, Manila.
The overhead pipes are exposed, as are the bulbs of warm light. The music is the kind only cool people understand.
Behind the bar is the open kitchen, a veritable stage for the culinary artists of this restaurant.
The show’s star is Denny Antonino, a dark, burly guy in orange Crocs. He’ll get an order from a waiter across the bar, turn around, calmly call out the orders to the cooks, all also clad in black, and help prepare each dish.
But the fourth wall he has created on this stage is concrete and thick. He doesn’t chitchat, the artist that he is; he just works, and works hard, too.
Every visit I make, he is leading his pack of cooks. (Only twice do I spot his friendlier partner, Nicco Santos, who promises this stranger that he would someday make laksa.)
Both are reported to have worked in Singapore. That explains the interiors: Every other restaurant in Singapore’s Chinatown carries this industrial feel. It also explains the flavors on the menu, which are more seductive than sweet.
Start light, with the pomelo salad served with wild rocket and winged beans (sigarilyas!). Simple enough but is given an extra dimension with the addition of quail eggs and a Thai coconut ice cream that melts fast. There is a subtle bitterness, a subtle saltiness, a subtle sweetness, a subtle crunch. It is a gentle hello.
Then move on to the more aggressive beef rendang buns. Maybe I like them because they remind me of myself: soft and sweet on the outside, but sharp and spicy inside. (That’s a joke.) Seriously, though, the rendang in the sweet buns is fabulous.
Another great rendang dish is available for dinner (not for lunch). Lamb rendang is served on black rice, with a sous vide organic egg. It tastes foreign yet familiar: Baguio meets Indonesia.
But even if it looks like a hipster version of tapsilog, it is good. Goes really well with a Paulaner, too.
For non-meat eaters, the salmon donburi is also impressive. The salmon is torched, so it’s still a little raw like sashimi on the inside. For a sharp contrast, bits of salmon skin are scattered on top a bowl of the black rice it comes with. For greater depth and color, mentaiko (roe) is added on top.
Pasta lovers can order the braised beef pasta. You can’t quite make out if it’s like a bolognese, because of the cheese, or inspired by the Chinese braised beef noodle, due to the beef. Then finally accept that it is both and neither. It is its own thing—a woman of the world, a child of the universe.
Don’t shortchange yourself by coming for brunch. While it has good sandwiches and you can cross-order coffee from Yardstick next door, this restaurant is best experienced at dinner when the main menu is available.
If you must, though, order the chorizo sandwich. It is served in squid-ink bun with burnt onions for sweetness, wild rocket for a bit of bitter, and a perfectly poached egg for energy. It is no lamb rendang but perfect for brunch.
Dessert is not its strong point. The Earl Gray cheesecake ice cream with milk crumbs is for palates that are so sophisticated they forget to smile.
It’s a concept that is hard to reach.
Closer to the idea of a sweet ending is the banana bread with the coconut calamansi ice cream. A little heavy for dessert but a nice, sweet ending nonetheless.
At first glance, it seems that the menu is fusion. But it’s Asian cosmopolitan cooking at its best. These are the flavors of the next generation—the budget fare-flying, backpacking, selfie-taking, Instagramming generation. It is comfort food of the well-traveled, music-loving, sneakers-wearing, fashion savvy closet nerds. There are no boundaries, no nationalities. Just good food by a pair that gets it.
Your Local is at 106 Esteban St., Legazpi Village, Makati City. Reservations recommended, call 8236206.
Major credit cards accepted; wheelchair available.
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