The rise of Filipino food is one of the more welcome trends in London dining. While small plates – and creative cauliflower dishes – have their place, I can’t be the only person struggling to tell new menus apart? It’s all got, well, a little bit brooklynbarmenu.com of late, so bravo to the likes of Sarap, Million Pound Menu stars BBQ Dreamz and Romulo Café for taking things in a bit of a new direction.
Saying that, Romulo have been doing their thing for about three years now – at that other, more interesting end of Kensington High Street where all the Iranian caviar shops are – which just goes to show how easy it is to be distracted by the aforementioned small plates. During that time, the locals had clearly found it but, if the crowd there the night of my dinner is anything to go by, the bulk of the audience is London’s lively Filipino community which probably says more about the food than anything I’ll add here.
As a country that always seems to be looking for the next big thing, it’s easy to see why Filipino food is taking hold in the UK. As my companion says on reading the menu, “it’s sort of Spain meets China and other bits of Asia” and she’s pretty much spot on. Take Binagoongang Boneless Crispy Pata for example (crispy pork leg with tomato shrimp sauce and soy) and Lola Virginia’s Chicken Relleno (chicken, chorizo, pandan rice). You’ll know the ingredients, you’ll know the flavours, you’ll just probably not have tried them in these combinations.
Everything sounded good though so we left it to the lovely front-of-house team to recommend their favourite dishes and biggest sellers: where others go on an unfamiliar cuisine, I might as well follow. And, pretty much everything was a hit. Chicken Inasal Sisig – diced thighs, with ginger, green chilli, garlic and lemongrass – was a particular winner, sizzling away in the manner of Asian fajitas (if that’s not too facile a description), ditto the squid – stuffed with tomato, cheese, onion and garlic, served on squid ink rice – and the pork belly. The latter – slow cooked in soy, garlic, rice wine vinegar and served with a “trio of potatoes” looked to the be the standout (not least because it’s called Adobong Baboy and is thus the most fun dish to order in the history of food ever)… but then the duck leg appeared.
In my experience, there are a few givens when it comes to eating. Everyone loves mashed potatoes. Hotel breakfasts give you approximately three times the stomach capacity you have at home. And, in Chinese restaurants, yes, we’re going to get the crispy duck and pancakes. Here’s some fighting talk for you: Romulo just made crispy duck and pancakes slightly obsolete. How they did it isn’t exactly a mystery though. They simply turned several pancakes into one bao and changed a few shreds of duck into half a perfectly cooked, crispily-fatted, juicily tender, boneless slab of leg to shove in it, alongside plum sauce, jicama and cucumber. It is, frankly, bloody ridiculous in all the best possible ways.
A large birthday party seemed to have eaten Romulo out of a couple of signature desserts – no bad thing as it suggests they’re made daily and when they’re gone they’re gone and, having just damn near unhinged my jaw and swallowed half a duck leg, sharing a cheesecake was clearly the safer option. And what a cheesecake it is, flavoured with sweet, rich purple yam and coconut, and all in the sort of shade that would have made Prince very happy indeed.
The room is lovely, the staff doubly so, the cocktails are surprisingly inventive, fun and sensibly priced and, well, the duck. Seriously, the duck. The rest of it could have been awful and I’d still go back for the duck. All in all, a splendid discovery and Filipino food really should be the next big thing. Remember. You read it here, er, last.
343 Kensington High Street