Francis Lim, Our Favorite Underrated Chef, Wants You to Say Goodbye to Boring Old Rice Bowls
His arms covered in skin art, one would not peg Francis Lim as someone who wallows in regret. However, after opening his latest venture Sup? Chow in Salcedo Village—Gen Xers and older millenials might remember the location as the former Il Ponticello—Lim admits he wishes that he spent more time in the family kitchen while growing up. “Our cooks at home prepared really good Chinese food,” he recalls. “Sana pala I learned some of their recipes.”
Not that he would need them for his newest concept, which he describes as “a Western take on Asian food.” The menu boasts Chinese and Southeast Asian flavors, but upon closer look demonstrates classical techniques Lim learned from his culinary education and diverse work experiences. Lim’s style is known to be bold and rich—he’s not the type to shy away from layers of flavors. His modern Asian menu proves to be consistent with that vibe.
After the prolonged success of his Thai concept NAV and the cultish following his acclaimed comfort food in Tipple and Slaw enjoys, industry followers might say Sup? Chow is what embodies Lim the most. He tends to agree. Growing up in a Filipino-Chinese family, these are the flavors Lim grew up with. “It’s food I love to eat and can eat on a daily basis,” Lim admits.
Lim chooses to highlight “under-the-radar” dishes and presents them in ingenious ways. Take his mapo fofu wantons, for instance. The ground pork with soft tofu in a dense spicy Szechuan sauce is served on top of fried wanton rounds. With its bold flavors and playful presentation, it’s a good place to start. Cleverly reversing the textures and replacing the flavor profile with brightness and zing, the fried chicken soft tacos is his twist on a cong yu bing. It might be a lighter alternative to the previous appetizer, but not in terms of personality, utilizing his expertise at preparing fried chicken for texture while staying true to the flavors of a traditional scallion pancake.
This is not Lim’s first attempt at modern Asian cuisine. Many years ago, in San Juan, he opened Chow Fun with Danio Caw. However, the location was far from optimal for what they were doing. Perhaps, even in the trendiest of districts, Chow Fun was just ahead of its time. But, if there is ever a dining scene that will be accepting of playful twists on classics such as hot and sour laksa, it’s going to be 2018 Metro Manila. Lim’s laksa, by the way, might just be another sleeper hit like Tipple and Slaw’s shawarma rice.
Aided by good timing and experience, Lim also intelligently focuses on his strengths. And his strengths in the kitchen are rooted in the food he loves. Like beef pares which has been an obsession since his culinary school days. He makes a mean one, but Sup? Chow’s is elevated in the form of a rice bowl of tender, slow-cooked beef brisket in a reduced brown sauce. It is pungent with truffle essence and enoki mushrooms. In fact, he makes several variations of these rice bowls to nourish the hard-working and hard-partying office crowd that populates the area during the day. To encourage frequent visits, Lim offers quite a selection of hearty rice bowls that definitely deviate from the mundane.
Lim draws inspiration from his childhood memories of family celebrations and serves his versions of the homey misua. While Chinese-Filipino families are set on their ways, he claims that it can be so much more. He starts by using the best quality noodles, not the translucent, vermicelli-like noodles we like to serve in soup with patola and meatballs. From there, the possibilities are endless. Birthday noodles with quail eggs, mushrooms, fatty cubes of pork, and scallions. There’s also a piquant dandan noodles that is so flavorful and rich you will keep calling for more of that sauce. However, simple is still best, and Lim’s version of garlic noodles truly stands out. He proudly claims that he and his staff love making sauces, and it shows.
After being consultant for many other restaurants, Lim finally gets to play around in the kitchen with food he truly enjoys. He acknowledges what it took to get there. “There’s a lot of processes that a dish goes through to bring out that beautiful plate,” he waxes philosophical. “Same with my journey, it wasn’t always colorful. But you have to stick to your goals. At the end of the day, that plated dish has to come out the same way it did yesterday, today and tomorrow. So it’s all about consistency and resiliency. And most of all being thankful to the people who helped you grow.”
Sup? Chow is at 2/F Antel Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City.