Despite the absence of hype, 2 restos surpass my expectations | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

By tomorrow, Madrid Fusion Manila will be in full swing, so you can expect the food coverage by most writers this week and next week—of the event, of celebrity chefs and the various collaboration dinners.

You’ll have to forgive the food press: we’re an excitable lot who tend to geek out easily, so to us, this time of year is better than Christmas.

I’m also aware that a lot of people don’t care very much about Madrid Fusion, which is perceived as an industry insider’s event for the benefit of other people in the industry.
For those interested in Madrid Fusion but might not want to sit through three days of specialized lectures, attending one of the many pop-up dinners might be a more fun alternative.

Various restaurants do it around this time to take advantage of the foreign chefs already in town. Cross Cultures, run by Cheryl Tiu, does it all year round; visit its Facebook page or for more information.

There are two restaurants I’ve been meaning to write about but simply haven’t gotten around to. Neither of them is new nor trendy: for various reasons I’ve fallen off the bandwagon of quivering foodies stampeding to the latest restaurant opening. Both are also resolutely low-key restaurants that I happened to eat in because they happened to be convenient, and despite the absence of hype, surpassed my expectations. And sometimes that’s all you need.

Food wilderness

The vicinity of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s offices is not exactly a foodie stomping ground, though this may change now that Josh Boutwood has opened his new restaurant on Kamagong Street. There are a few mediocre greasy-spoon restaurants, a lot of fast food at the Pasong Tamo–Vito Cruz intersection, and one Singaporean restaurant that is much better than what one would expect it to be.

This sounds like damning with faint praise, but I want to emphasize how much of a food wilderness this part of town is compared to, say, Salcedo or Legaspi Village, which has a vibrant lunch ecosystem for office workers who need quick, cheap meals before heading back to their desks, and for senior management who needs places to wheel and deal over lunch.

The restaurant is called TTK, and although its prices are a little higher than what one would pay for lunch every day, the ambience is, well, rudimentary, but the food is excellent. I could happily live on its nasi goreng; the rice is properly fragrant, creamy but not too oily, and comes with a leg of fried chicken and sambal so hot that it will blow the roof of your mouth off.

With the weather the way it is now, it’s the perfect thing to sweat out the summer heat, and refresh yourself with a nice teh tarik. Its laksa is not the rich, yellow curry laksa you’ll find in posh restaurants, though neither is it the tannic, mouth-puckering Assam laksa I have tried desperately to like, but failed.

Its Hainanese chicken is also good, and the Hokkien Mee is serviceable. For noodle soup and other Chinese dishes, just continue down Vito Cruz and you’ll eventually find yourself in Binondo, where you can get the real thing for half the price.

Mass market

There’s a row of sad-looking restaurants on the second floor of Promenade Mall in Greenhills, and every time we finish a movie in the theaters we feel we should try one of them, but they all seem so grim and desperate for business that we scurry away.

We once tried Arya, on the ground floor, which was a shade of its former self—almost everything was not available, and what was available felt like it had been sitting in the chiller for a few days and been reheated by an indifferent chef operating a grimy microwave.
I’ve already mentioned that the Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken in a really weird location beside the cinema entrance is really good bang for the buck, and which we can do with until Nando’s opens in the country.

On the other side, overlooking the sad space where Brasserie Ciçou used to be on the ground floor of Greenhills Montessori School is a ramen chain that everyone loves to sneer at: Hokkaido Santouka Ramen.

Don’t expect the quality of Yushoken/Mendokoro, or the rarified flavors of Ramen Nagi. This is a little more mass market. But even if it’s not a foodie favorite I actually quite enjoyed my bowl of shoyu ramen with pork cheeks (tender and gelatinous). I felt a bit dirty for liking it, like a literary critic who secretly enjoyed “50 Shades of Grey”; OK, well, perhaps not that dirty.

But hey—it’s not bad, and doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. Yes, it’s a chain; yes the noodles are not cooked al dente (nor are you given a choice, as at Ikkoryu); and yes, definitely stay away from the sushi, which is not bad so much as very strange. But for a tasty bowl of noodles at a reasonable price, it’s one of the better choices in the area.


I recently gave a talk on food reviewing at TEDx, which was more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be. To a roomful of business executives, how could I justify the role of a food critic when market forces will eventually make themselves felt, and close bad restaurants while rewarding the good ones?

One of the few roles left for the food critic is to root for the underdog, those restaurants which aren’t quite there yet but which could be favorites if the owners put a little more work into them, and if the crowd gave them a second chance.

Both restaurants in today’s review fall under that category. Some restaurants deserve to fade away; others just deserve a little nudge to success. As long as the market is imperfect, food journalism will have an active role to play. —CONTRIBUTED

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