With many naive food lovers diving head first into the restaurant business thinking that their love and perceived expertise on food can sustain them, most end up getting burned. There are those, though, who smartly come in armed with a good nose for business and a head for practicality—useful weapons to have in this highly dynamic industry. Bar Pintxos chef Miguel Vecin (and co-owner, together with original partner Tinchu Gonzales) is one of them.
Sitting inside the third Bar Pintxos branch—this one's a small neighborhood joint in Salcedo Village—Vecin considers himself one of the lucky ones. He shares how he found his first location in Alabang by chance while chatting with the owner of the building they are renting from for his other business with Gonzales, deli brand Tierra de España. “The owner of the building interviewed us asking what our business was, so we mentioned it was a Spanish deli. She had an existing coffee shop in the ground floor and asked us to supply her cheese. We suggested, ‘why not open a tapas place’ and she thought it was a good idea.” From there things quickly fell into place. Vecin continues, “she believed in us and gave us a chance. That time we did not have much money to open a brand new restaurant. So we just used the existing space and small kitchen to start with very minimal capital.”
We point out how this is very different from how most food businesses start now, giving much focus on branding and social media marketing. Vecin and his partners, however, chose to keep it old school from the beginning. He described his food as “traditional tapas and pintxos,” which he confesses has become bolder and more modern as he gained confidence in his cooking. From his best selling jamon alioli and bacalao pintxo to his goat cheese, jamon, tomato jam pintxo aptly named “regatta” by Gonzales (Vecin jokes, “do I have to start naming all my pintxos now?”), you can see how Vecin’s menu is tentatively evolving into something more adventurous.
“I think a mistake many make is they think of the food last when opening a restaurant. First, they think of the design, name, and concept and how Instagrammable the place will be instead of focusing on what is important: the food.” Which is what people have been coming to Bar Pintxos for since they opened in Alabang three years ago. To keep their loyal clientele interested, Vecin always comes up with crowd-pleasing specials. He uses Kitayama wagyu for his beef cheeks served with a simple his over mashed potatoes. Short ribs are cooked slow and long until tender and served atop an arrestingly flavorful romescu, a thick Catalan red pepper sauce.
The definitive edge Vecin has over many chefs and restaurant owners is his extensive travel. He has seen and tasted many things which has surely helped in developing a fine and discerning palate. He has eaten in many three Michelin-starred restaurants all over Europe and Asia, and points out his dining experiences at the legendary El Bulli and Etxebarri as the most remarkable ones.
With his vast exposure to the international dining scene, we ask how Vecin feels about modern gastronomy chefs getting more attention and respect from award giving bodies. “Its sad because many places are doing the right thing and serving good quality food that are not getting noticed,” he candidly confesses. “Many of the modern places people just go for the novelty and a place to be seen.” He acknowledged though “that certain restaurant awards have been ranking more traditional restaurants (“traditional with a modern twist, I mean”) all over the world.”
This playful twist on the classics is displayed more blatantly in Bar Pintxos’ desserts, a menu that they gradually built up. The bread pudding-like torrija is served in a neat rectangular slice simply flavored with a delicate dulce de leche and tangy blueberry sauce. They also offer a deconstructed cheesecake which maintains the dessert's rich texture without its cloying sweetness.
Vecin displays his best form through his egg dishes. The huevos y foie— a runny fried egg adorned with slabs of foie gras, bacon, and mushrooms over mashed potato—is both indulgent brunch dish (they are available from 11 a.m. onwards) or an after-hours meal for sobering up after a gin-and-tonic binge. Another one is a play on surf and turf with chorizo and shrimps accompanying the fried egg, tossed together with some crispy potato hay for texture.
Exuberant and current, yet simple and utilizing classic ingredients that are sure to deliver satisfaction. It’s that familiarity which Vecin panders to his patrons. He says of modern gastronomy, “ At the end of the day, its food I do not crave for after. I like restaurants that will make me crave their food and will have me coming back for more.”
A feat that Vecin has successfully accomplished, undoubtedly, in his own establishments within the three short years in the business. The secret is unremarkably obvious—good food and attentive customer service. Also, Vecin points out that it pays to be practical. “Decor and interiors came last to us. I preferred to spend the little money we had on good wine glasses, plates, and making sire the food was good.”
Bar Pintxos recently opened their third branch at G/F Paseo Parkview San Agustin Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City.