Restaurant critic turned restaurateur Danio Caw grew up in a traditional Chinese family. “We’d eat traditional Chinese food at home and whenever we’d go out, we’d still eat at a Chinese restaurant!” he laughs.
Relying on his years of exposure to Chinese cuisine, together with rounds of sampling restaurant fare across the nation, Caw finally decided to share his own interpretation of Chinese cuisine—with a twist. “I really wanted to bring modern Chinese cuisine to Manila, especially since it’s one of the major cuisines here,” adds Caw.
Enter Chow Fun. This modern Chinese bistro along J. Abad Santos is the newest kid on San Juan’s restaurant block. Caw, together with chef Francis Lim, wanted a young and hip Chinese restaurant which brings the best of East and West together to produce modern riffs on the usual Chinese dishes coupled with Western cooking techniques.
The blend of new and old is evident even in the restaurant’s interiors designed by Gwyn Guanzon. “We wanted to do away with the heavy chandeliers and ornate decor typical of a Chinese restaurant,” says Caw. Instead of chandeliers, assorted lamps in different shapes and sizes fill the restaurant with a warm and cheery glow, while the cement wall is accentuated with planks of wood and kitschy Oriental-themed canvas prints. Mismatched chairs paired with bright-red booths finish off the casual ensemble.
Chef Francis Lim, whose expertise lies in Asian cuisine (he is also behind Thai restaurant Nav in Kapitolyo), wanted to introduce different flavor profiles to Chinese favorites, like traditional sweet and sour pork. Instead of using conventional ingredients, Chow Fun came up with Sour Caramel Pork, coating pork with their homemade tangy-sweet sour caramel glaze.
The Sour Caramel Pork is not the only dish that finds itself with unlikely pairings. The restaurant’s appetizer dish, Chinese “Fundue” is an assortment of fried battered radish cake, fish balls and crispy squid, paired with a cream cheese curry dipping sauce. “People always think curry and cream cheese don’t go together, but you’ll be surprised,” says Caw.
Indeed, we were surprised as we dunked each bite-sized morsel into the curry cheese sauce. The bite of curry was there, tempered with the sweetness of cream cheese and rounded out with the saltiness of squid and fish. I was hard-pressed to select which was my favorite among the radish cake, fish ball or squid. Each brought a different flavor out when mixed with the cream cheese curry blend—this dish alone merits a visit to Chow Fun.
Chef Francis is quick to assure us that all dishes are prepared free of MSG. “We prefer to draw out our flavors using cooking methods and homemade spice mixes and sauces instead of adding MSG,” he says.
At Chow Fun, sauces are not just an afterthought to drizzle on a dish but are stars in their own right. The Chow Fun Fried Chicken, marinated in toasted plum and spices, is served with a homemade vinaigrette mixed with green onions and spices.
While the chicken alone was flavorful—the hint of plum helped break down the oily flavor typical of fried chicken—adding the vinaigrette not only introduced a different flavor but enhanced the dish completely. I’m not a fan of sauces (I usually prefer my fried dishes dry), but the vinaigrette’s blend of sweet, sour and spicy was something else. It’s gotten great feedback among diners that the restaurant is planning to bottle the vinaigrette for diners who want to bring it home.
Because the restaurant is still in its infancy, the menu is still constantly evolving. They also intend to add weekly or monthly specials to accommodate seasonal ingredients. The Chow Fun Ribs and Kung Pao Noodles are only a couple of the latest additions to the menu. The Kung Pao noodles is the restaurant’s interpretation of the spicy chicken and peanut dish. The best part about the dish is how the ground peanuts are incorporated into the batter of the glazed chicken, eliminating the need to hunt around your bowl for more peanuts to get that perfect nutty bite (a bowl of roasted ground peanuts is also included for those who really want their chicken drowned in peanuts). The noodles are cooked al dente and served sans sauce—the chicken’s flavor is enough to pair with the fresh egg noodles.
The ribs are cooked baby-back style, and the serving size will surprise you. At P335, the tender ribs are enough to serve three or more. Our meal, which consisted of drinks (their flavored iced teas are proprietary and brewed using real tea), dessert, rice, appetizer and three meat dishes—which were good for at least five—was approximately P1,400.
The servings are good for sharing with friends or family, although you’ll probably end up ordering one dessert dish each, you won’t want to share. Chow Fun really wanted to have, well, fun with the dessert and veer away from the usual mango sago and almond jelly. They do serve butchi, though, with a decadent surprise inside.
Each sesame-coated butchi is filled with your chocolate of choice: dark, Reese’s peanut butter cups and white chocolate. The Reese’s peanut butter cup butchi was worth the calories, especially when the salty peanut butter center would mix with the gumminess of the butchi.
Another unusual dessert concoction is the Haw Flakes Pastry, combining childhood favorite treat Haw Flakes (ground into a paste) with a baked puff pastry, coupled with five-spice cream cheese, like a plum-y fruit tart. Homemade ice cream is also available to cap off your filling meal.
Chow Fun is located at G/F 103 J. Abad Santos St., Little Baguio, San Juan. Call them for reservations at 624-1009 or 0917-550-1191. Open 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily. Visit them online at www.facebook.com/itsmorefunatchowfun.