For the months restaurants were closed I upped my home cooking game. I become something of an expert at the "fake-away" and widened my range of recipes to make mealtimes more interesting. But, ohhhhh how I missed sitting in a stylish restaurant enjoying beautiful food prepared lovingly for me by someone else!
Therefore this week I was extra-excited to enjoy a wonderful Filipino feast at Romulo Cafe and Restaurant in Kensington High Street, London (GIFTED) with my 21 year old son, Lucas, himself a keen amateur chef and foodie. (He lives with us so we were complying with current COVID-19 regulations in London at the time we visited.)
Originally my eldest son Jacob was accompanying me since we started a joint food and drink blog, The Eat Sheets back during the original full lockdown. However he has thankfully finally been un-furloughed and has returned to his home in Portsmouth and work. Lucas was VERY quick to volunteer to take his place.
Arriving at the restaurant and cafe on a damp and gloomy October evening it was heartening to see a friendly welcome board with reassuring statements about the lengths the venue has gone to to ensure they are as COVID secure as possible.
Transparent screens didn't detract from the ambience of the restaurant with its distinctive interior design, and wearing masks didn't lessen the warmth of the welcome from staff or their impeccable customer service. We very much enjoyed the Pinot Grigio recommended by our waitress.
Romulo Cafe and Restaurant was quite busy throughout our sojourn but one of the owners, Rowena, said that they had a lot of cancellations after the new Tier 2 regulations came in and business was currently a little up and down. Such a shame as this London outpost of a successful Filipino family-run chain is a real gem.
Perusing the menu while enjoying soft, sweet pandesal bread, I glanced around to see what other people were eating. I know, it's a terrible habit, but I've had some great meals by asking the staff to bring me what one of my neighbours is eating!
I opted for braised beef salpicao, a heritage dish with thinly sliced beef flavoured with garlic, butter paprika and soy sauce topped with a poached egg yolk. I marvelled at how the perfectly poached creamy yolk complemented the subtle heat of the beef. Delicious!
Moving onto the main course I could not resist the truffled pork belly Adobo (Adobo Baboy) "Romulo Style" with the pork slow cooked in soy, garlic and cane vinegar drizzled with black truffle sauce and served with bok choi and sweet potato.
Apparently one of Rowena's grandmother's recipes, this was a richly flavoured treat with perfectly proportioned ingredients so the subtle taste of the pork was not overwhelmed but enhanced perfectly. The crunch of the Bok Choi and crispy crackling complemented the soft, thick slice of sweet potato and tender pork.
I also had a side dish of tasty garlic rice which I was grateful for as, as well as being mouthwatering in its own right, proved the perfect vehicle to help me devour every last drop of the exquisite sauce.
Now - it would be remiss of me not to mention a little of the background of the illustrious Romulo family. Many of the recipes originate from Rowena's grandmother who was married to Carlos P. Romulo, the Filipino diplomat, statesman, soldier, journalist and author. (1898-1985)
Carlos was a reporter at 16, a newspaper editor by the age of 20, and a publisher at 32. He won the Pulitzer prize in correspondence and wrote a number of books.
He was a co-founder of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, a general in the US Army and the Philippine Army, a university president and the first Asian President of the UN General Assembly. He was named one of the Philippines' National Artists in Literature, and was the recipient of many other awards, honours and honorary degrees.
There's a portrait and photographs of the man himself and some of the famous and VIP associates he met and worked with adorning the walls of the restaurant. The family are obviously rightly proud of him and the association added to my feeling that this is a trulyunique venue in London.
Back to the food!
I finished my meal with a very generous portion of banana turon, fritters served with a side order of toffee sauce and ice cream. I'll confess it beat me but my lovely waitress packaged the remaining fritters up for me to take home.
My son decided to try the limited-edition, three course Sugarlandia Menu which is priced at just £35 per person. It's incredible value when you consider that both the starter and the main course are paired with two equally memorable cocktails: Sunshine in Sugarlandia (Don Papa Rum, Lemongrass, Calamansi, Ginger, Honey) and Buko Pandan (Don Papa Rum, Pandan, Coconut, Chocolate, Sea Salt)
Don Papa is a celebrated single-island rum, distilled and aged for over seven years on Negros Occidental (known locally as Sugarlandia) in the Philippines. The collaboration was originally developed for London Cocktail Month but extended so more people could enjoy the menu.
Lucas very much enjoyed his starter of lime scented, poached Prawn Kinilaw in Coconut Cream & Maruya Sweetcorn Fritters.
His main course was a huge portion of delicious Pork Belly Lechon Roll stuffed with turmeric (Dilaw) sticky rice with Humba Sauce & Served with Grilled Sweet Potato. (pictured at the top of this post)
Dessert consisted of Don Papa Rum Ginger Glazed Pineapple and Otap mille-feuille served with Don Papa rum & raisin ice cream. I tried this too and loved it.
This menu is only available until Sunday November 15 so I would highly recommend booking in as soon as possible - anyone who opts for this special menu is in with a chance of winning a massive 4.5 litre bottle of Don Papa rum that'll surely warm up those chilly autumn and winter evenings
In conclusion I cannot recommend this lovely venue highly enough. Service was attentive without being overbearing and servers were extremely knowledgeable and helpful in assisting us in selecting food and drinks to our taste which was very helpful as my experience of this cuisine is extremely limited.
The space is large enough to feel you have privacy to chat yet cosy enough to feel intimate. Every single dish appeared to have been prepared with passion and flair-unsurprising really as the chef is Jeremy Villanueva who is no stranger to working at legendary restaurant. such as Le Gavroche under Michel Roux Jr, Brasserie Roux and Le Boudin Blanc in Mayfair.