Choco bonbons with ‘patis’ (yep!)–plus some of the most delicious Pinoy cooking in town | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

AKLAN oysters with basi and cucumber
AKLAN oysters with basi and cucumber
AKLAN oysters with basi and cucumber


The last time I visited Toyo Eatery was a week before it opened, and there were live chickens clucking in boxes on the floor.


Jordy Navarra, the chef, was running an experiment on which was a better way to slaughter the chicken: to slit its throat and have it bleed out, or to wring its neck first and then drain it.


After a lot of plucking of feathers and torching, we taste-tested two skewers, each seasoned only with salt.


The chicken with its neck snapped won, hands down; we hypothesized that it was because an instantaneous death prevented its brain from releasing the neurotransmitters that would have caused the muscles to stiffen in fear.


This is just one of the many deviations that most diners at Toyo Eatery, his new restaurant on Pasong Tamo Extension, will never know about, nor need know about.


I’m recounting this anecdote because some diners might not understand what’s going on behind the deceptively simple plate of grilled skewers, which in turn is a microcosm of what Toyo Eatery is about.


No disinterested party


It would be impossible for me to pretend that I’m a disinterested party: Jordy and I have been friends since I wrote about about Bo Innovation in Hong Kong while he was still working there.


I’ve been following his work since he came into his own as the chef of Black Sheep, and have been checking on him in the intervening months after he and his partners split up, and he and his wife May put up Toyo Eatery, which is much more reflective of their personalities, as well as of the combination of low-key hospitality and relentless commitment to perfection.


Gone is the dark, bar-like atmosphere of the old Black Sheep, with the single-malt drinkers and their cigars overpowering the food. They’ve also learned that cooking Filipino food in an open kitchen requires a massive exhaust system, so a giant turbine out of sight on the second floor ensures negative pressure in the kitchen.


They also know that people don’t want to be strapped onto their seats for a 10-course degustation, so they offer à la carte options and a truncated menu in addition to the full tasting menu.


But I would advise those trying Toyo Eatery for the first time, especially those who haven’t gotten a chance to try Navarra’s cooking at Black Sheep, to go for the full tasting menu, and get a platter of oysters first to start with. These come in from Aklan, and live in a clean tank for about a week to filter out the gunk (the way snails are fed with rosemary to get rid of the earthy taste) before being served with cucumber and basi.


Transcendental experience


Familiar stalwarts from the late Black Sheep period (the Tomato Meringue, the Bahay Kubo Salad, which includes every vegetable in the children’s song) alternate with new creations, such as an umami-rich pumpkin soup enriched with barely-warmed uni, a transcendental taste experience.


The barbecue skewers include the chicken, freshly slaughtered, grilled with only salt and no pepper, as well as a layered pork barbecue with three cuts of pork. This is not the kind of tasting menu that leaves you in need of a sandwich afterwards: the meal reaches a climax with ample cuts of soft, marbled beef, and a flavor bomb of a rice bowl rather like a tamago kake gohan, an almost-raw egg mixed with rice and, of course, soy sauce.


There is an awkward transition to dessert in what is perhaps the only false note in the menu.


The dessert is thankfully light: dragonfruit cubes in a lychee sorbet over a coconut flan. But even after a brief respite, the mouth is still reeling from the sucker punch of the main course.


Something in the nature of a hot soup is in order here to act as bridge to the sweet part of the meal.


The icy goodness of the dessert also dulls the palate so that it is difficult to appreciate the subtle shadings of tone of the charred cassava cake.


One of our tablemates, quite by accident, went from main course to cassava cake to the iced dessert rather than the other way around, and found it a much more logical progression.


Great surprises


Perhaps one of the great surprises of the meal were the petits fours: chocolate bonbons laced with patis. If the thought fills you with dread and scepticism, as it does me even as a write it now, all the more reason to get yourself to Karrivin Plaza and take in the whole quirky, offbeat, eccentric and altogether dazzling experience for yourself.


More astute readers will notice that some of the more basic elements of writing about a restaurant are conspicuously absent: What kind of food do they serve? What makes it good? Is it an evening gown or skinny jeans sort of place?


Toyo Eatery defies categories; it even defies being called a restaurant (hence “eatery”). Inevitably there will be some people who don’t get it and feel that they’ve overpaid for barbecue.


But in my (admittedly biased) opinion, Navarra is doing some of the most creative and, even more importantly, delicious Filipino cooking in town.


Toyo Eatery, Karrivin Plaza, Pasong Tamo Ext., Makati CIty. Call 0917-7208630.