Aussie Kitchen Dinner

The Manila Peninsula hosted a kitchen dinner featuring Australian cuisine. They brought in some chefs and ingredients and invited guests to sample the simple flavors from down under. Their banquet kitchen was set up buffet style, which made the event feel so laid back. It was nice to chat with the chefs as I sampled what they prepared.

I started with the cheese and dried fruit selections. The vintage cheddar was surprisingly my favorite on the platter as I usually prefer soft cheeses. It was not too sharp so I kept going back for more. The camembert and double brie were both good as well but nothing out of the ordinary. Of the soft cheeses I really enjoyed the blue brie. It had the strong stinky deliciouseness of blue cheese but was muted by the brie.

Cheese selection

Cheese selection

Dried Grapes

After I made my way to the sliders. These weren’t your typical ground beef mini burgers though… these sliders were made with seared and sliced kangaroo meat. I decided to try the meat alone first to understand the real flavor and texture. It was cooked medium well and it was similar to beef but a little bit gamier when chewed. It reminded me of venison as well. The sliders were packed with thinly sliced kangaroo, beets, arugula, caramelized onions and cheese. It was a really flavorful bite. Asides from the sliders, they also prepared a kangaroo jerky which was just like eating dry tapa. Since I was already feeling adventurous, I decided to sample the crocodile as well. It was served ceviche style with an intense dressing made with lemon juice, basil, parmesan, red and green peppercorn, chili, olive oil and a touch of honey. The marinade definitely overpowered the flavor of the actual crocodile meat as did the beets that it was served with. I was told that they usually get the meat from the croc’s tail and this particular bite was quite rubbery. I have no desire to have it again.

Kangaroo Slider

Loving the presentation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kangaroo Jerky

Crocodile Ceviche

Moving on, I decided to go into more familiar territory by sampling their fish and chips and the lemon myrtle prawns. Both were nice. The fish was hearty and needed nothing more than a squeeze of lemon while the prawn sat on a beautiful bell pepper relish. The best dish of the night was the grilled lamb. Cooked to a perfect medium, the chops were juicy and so tasty. It is truly difficult to find lamb that flavorful and tender anywhere else.

Fish & Chips

 

Lemon Myrtle Prawns with Bell Pepper Relis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grilled Lamb Chops

And of course, the night could not end without a bunch of Timtams and Violet Crumble!

 

Sweet Bella

I decided to go on a late dinner date with my hubby last night so initially it was about finding a place that was still serving food at 10pm. We ended up in greenbelt 5 after our first few stops were closed. Luckily one of the newer restaurants on the strip’s kitchen was still open and even luckier, they had some fine dining choices which was what my palette was in the mood for. When I was young my paternal grandmother used to take me to have steak in Melos and I remember always liking it and the menu stated that the steaks were from there. (I later found out that the owner of Sweet Bella is Cristina Santiago – Rivera whose father owns Melos) Plus at P995 for the ribeye, I felt it was worth a shot.

I decided to try their Grade 6 Wagyu Ribeye which I found reasonably priced at P1,395. I won’t say it was the best steak I have ever had but it was quite nicely cooked and had good flavor. And at that price, I would go back and have it again. It was simply paired with smooth mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli and carrots. All of which were prepared well.

Grade 6 Wagyu Ribeye

I also sampled the Chilean Sea bass. The fish was fresh and did not have that unpleasant flavor that fish (most especially bass) tends to have when it is not cleaned well. It was cooked nicely but the skin was a bit too salty for my liking. It was good enough though and I enjoyed the vegetable sides. The scalloped potatoes were really good and I did not mind that it was heavy because it countered the lightness of the fish. Their mousseline sauce which was drizzled all over the plate was delicious, both consistency and the flavor-wise. I wanted more of that buttery goodness!

Chilean Sea Bass

I could not go to Sweet Bella with out sampling at least one of their desserts regardless of how full I already was. I opted tor the fresh strawberry tart which was really worth the extra calories. The tart shell remained crisp and the custard filling was tasty without being too sweet. The fresh strawberries on top were just almost frozen which made them easy to fork through and oh so refreshing. It was a really well balanced dessert. I could have eaten it without the chocolate topping but of course I gave into my indulgent side.

Fresh Strawberry Tart

I really liked the look of the dessert bar display. Though I don’t usually go for that type of dessert (I am more of a apple pie a la mode or chocolate cake kinda girl) it was pretty and inviting. I also liked their packaging. I will definitely be coming back to sample the other interesting items on their menu.

Dessert Bar

Pretty Packaging

Cova Tapas Y Sangria & Las Flores

A recent article I read stated that Spanish cuisine was beating front runners such as French and Italian in the European culinary race. I personally feel that most Filipinos will always have a soft spot for Spanish food… Even if they do pair most tapas with garlic rice. I must admit I have been known to be guilty of that. There are days I just want spicy gambas with a steaming hot plate of garlic rice. Either way, my love affair with Spanish tapas goes way back. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers had the most amazing recipes and would prepare Spanish dishes regularly. I still believe that the best Spanish food the Philippines has to offer can be found not in the hands of our talented local chefs but in the homes of those who have spent years perfecting what has been passed on from generation to generation. But just because something cannot be considered “the best” does not mean that it is not good, or even great. I’ve had wonderful experiences in both of these establishments. Cova Tapas Y Sangria and Las Flores are both relatively new in the local dining scene, one barely a year old and the other just a few months into the swing. Both serve tapas and have a modern take on Spanish cuisine and both have a good wine selection and refreshing cocktails to satisfy you. They are actually quite similar, but each has their own special charm.

Many have asked me to recommend one but the truth is that I cannot choose one over the other. There are elements I like about each one. I am going to make a few comparisons to help you decide.

Upon entering a place, I always notice their interiors and surroundings. A restaurant must look inviting and must capture all my senses. I like to study the ceilings, walls, floors and the furnishing. I even notice flatware, cutlery, napkins and what the wait staff is wearing. Asides from looking inviting, I like it when places not only look but feel clean. No fingerprints on glasses or food on the floor. Both Cova and Las Flores passed those tests. Interior wise, Cova is more modern and masculine while Las Flores is just plain charming. For my taste, Las Flores wins this round. I love the vibe of the place with its quiet corners and its intimate bar. It is the perfect setting for a girl’s night or a romantic date.

Cova’s White and Red Sangria

Las Flores’ Sangria Blanca

When out to dinner, I usually start with a cocktail and when in Rome (or Spain) I always go for the Sangria. I am actually a white sangria lover. I truly enjoyed both the red and white sangrias of Cova. Not too sweet and ultimately really refreshing. I think I could have finished the whole liter to myself! Las Flores’ Sangria Blanca was not to my liking. I found that the added flavors overpowered the delicateness of the wine. I ended up ordering  a few of their best selling cocktails and those I would definitely go back for. The Calamansi and Cherry Blossom Moscow Mule is to die for and the Caipirinha-Brazil was great.

As for the tapas, here goes…

Las Flores’ Gambas Al Ajillo Picantes, Por Supuesto

Cova’s Gambas Al Ajillo

I almost always have gambas when I go for Spanish, it’s comfort food for me. It is also hard to get it wrong and when a place does, it is definitely a sign of bad things to come. I loved Las Flores version which was simple and familiar: fresh shrimp, garlic, and chili in olive oil. It is everything you look for in the dish. Cova had a nice plate of gambas as well but their version had aligue. This was in interesting addition and a welcome surprise.

Cova’s Patatas Bravas

Las Flores Patatas Bravas

I have never been the biggest fan of patatas bravas but both establishments pleasantly surprised me with their versions.  In this case, Cova’s bite sized potato pillows had the perfect balance of creamy alioli and the sweet spicy brava filling. The larger portion of Las Flores’ Patatas Bravas was well executed and the sauce definitely had a good kick to it.

Las Flores’ Croquetas de Chorizo Caseras de la Abuela 

Cova’s Ravioli de Rabo de Toro Tapa

Anything breaded or stuffed then deep fried makes me happy. The croquetas of Las Flores hit the spot. Their chorizo one has a wonderful creamy filling oozing with the flavor of Spanish sausage. Even their Croquetas de Pollo Asado Caseras de la Abuela which has a roasted chicken filling is great. In Cova, I opted to try something a little different, one of their best sellers, the Ravioli de Rabo de Toro Tapa which was excellent. The ravioli is fried to a crisp and is stuffed with a smooth combination of oxtail, foie gras and shitake mushrooms. One of the best items on the menu in deed! Also try Cova’s Pintxo de Queso Frito which is deep fried gruyere topped with sweet caramelized onions.

Cova is an interesting new concept on the tapas bar, most items on their menu are small portioned so you can order a variety of dishes. No Spanish tapas restaurant would be complete without salpicao and they use wagyu veal cheeks seasoned with garlic and paprika. Another item which I throughly enjoyed was the Huevos Cabreados which is shoestring potatoes topped with crisp chorizo, fried eggs and alioli. Such a simple combination but really, really good. Also try their tapas which are served like open faced sandwiches. My favorite is the Montadito de Sobrassada which is an indulgent combination of blood sausage with melted gruyere cheese and topped with caramelized onions. A close second is their tapa version of surf and turf, Mar y Tierra.

Salpicao de Mejillas de Ternera

Cova’s Huevos Cabreados

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cova’s Montadito de Sobrassada

 

 

Cova’s Mar y Tierra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Flores has such a homey, relaxed vibe. There is something about the place that feels very authentic. It could be that most of the dishes are straightforward and reminiscent of the Spanish food you grew up with. It may also have something to do with the service which feels so personal. The staff happily greets you with a smile and even though the place always seems packed they manage to find a place for you. Even the drinks they serve seem so carefully prepared, like a lot of love was put into it. When dining, you must try their paella. It is good for 2-3 people but I honestly can have one whole to myself!

Las Flores’ Paella Negra con Sepia paired with the Calamansi and Cherry Blossom Moscow Mule

 

* Cova is located at #22 Jupiter Street, Bel Air, Makati. (02)4789700

* Las Flores is located at G/F One Mckinely Place, 25th Street, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. (02)5522815

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dimsum for One

I have always been one of those people that enjoyed eating by myself. In a recent conversation I had with a friend, he mentioned that he could not sit in a restaurant alone, that it made him uncomfortable. I was surprised as I felt the opposite. Entering a restaurant and requesting for a table for one makes me feel liberated. I don’t know maybe I am my own best “frienemy” or maybe it is because I just don’t like to share food (smirk).

Today, I am having a late lunch after running a few minor home errands while waiting for my 3 year old to get off school. I pick Chinese (Cantonese Chinese) because I feel like anytime you eat it with a group your personal choices are limited. It is always the same mix of peking duck, sweet and sour pork, beef with broccoli and yang chow fried rice. Not that I don’t enjoy those dishes, but sometimes I just want simple dimsum and birthday noodles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My all time favorite dimsum is the Taro Puff. It is not easily found here anymore so when I get the chance, I go to places that still carry it on their menu like Hai Shin Lou (My favorite Chinese resto in the Metro) or Gloria Maris. I love the mashed taro, minced mushroom and pork mixture and how the outside is light and crispy. The acidity in the sweet and sour dipping sauce perfectly cuts the heaviness of this deep fried treat.

My meal for one wouldn’t be complete without an order of pork siomai. I grew up on this. From the canteen at my high school to the cafeteria where I went to University, to late night trips to the little Hen Lin branch outside my village, it was always a staple. 4 pieces with rice plus extra chili and calamansi please! I always have a box of siomai in my freezer from the homes of Reynoso or Bailon. Today, I am pairing my dimsum with simple birthday noodles. I am a big fan of egg noodles, the thicker the better!