Serving up English-themed food (and an occasional twist on a twist) with fancy beer was the idea du jour in 2014. The term gastropub was tossed around like a frisbee. It became such a ubiquitous term that one popular food blog had to say it—to hell with the gastropub. Bars and restaurants took to the name, casually placing the title under their names until the trend died out, and we all moved on to the next Great Thing in the Manila food scene (cheese tarts, anyone?).
Sure, the name is something you just pick up. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a fun word to say, and it sounds fancy enough to attract a group of 20-, 30-somethings looking for a post-work drink. The Londoners walking into their local pubs some 25 years ago weren’t that picky about labels either. Strictly speaking, any establishment that served warm food with a cold one can give themselves the title. Gastropub. It’s a fun, fancy-sounding word to say, so it stuck. To the everyday pub goer, being able to have a beer with their dinner while chatting with your mates was a happy luxury. Add that to amazing food an a top-notch beer selection, then you had yourself a second home.
As time went on and more pubs gave themselves the name, all these rules started to pop up. A gastropub has to still feel like a pub—so darkened interiors, slightly grimy walls, booths and a wide bar selection (beers especially). It has to serve quality ‘pub food’, which to the Brits, meant Scotch eggs, oxtail pudding, fish and chips or lasagna, if you’re feeling adventurous. There are purists who take this a notch further with rules like ‘no TVs’ or ‘if you need a reservation, then it’s not a pub’, but like the Londoners of 1991, we’re not that picky.
Since we’re talking about the Filipino gastropub, the rules become different when you talk about a good old fashioned inuman. We don’t know fish pie or oxtail pudding. We don’t like our pies with beef in them, and to serve them with beer is just confusing. We know chicharon and sizzling sisig go well with a bucket of beer, and we know that there has to be a TV. Basketball, or any sport, is stressful and best watched with a beer in one hand and heavy food on the other. Staying true to Pinoy drinking could be the missing element in the previous iterations of the Filipino gastropub, and we’ve found just the place to see if our theory was right.
At the opening of The Barn by Tipsy Pig, I asked Chef Rainier Barbers what makes for a great gastropub, and his answer was pretty straightforward. "It has to be a total experience, a one-stop shop.” According to him, the Filipino gastropub needs good music, with great food and a wide selection of drinks. It needs to be the kind of place that makes you want to linger and talk, order a few more drinks and laugh with your friends. The Barn, tucked away in the newest area of UP Town Center, was created with the Filipino gastropub philosophy in mind. This was a formula they'd learned from The Barn’s older sister, Tipsy Pig. The similarities were there—the interiors matched, and some of the menu items were the same.
But while the Tipsy Pig gives pork the primetime spot, The Barn prefers their gastropub experience with a whole barnyard of animals (and then some). Chicken, beef and other not-so friends come along to play in a wild menu of classic comfort food and a wide variety of drinks—the perfect combination of gastronomic delight and good ol’ pub fun. “See, we brought the pig back into its Barn,” the chef continues, much to his audience’s amusement.
Some have complained that the Filipino gastropub lacked imagination and anything new. While I was eating my Crab Mac and Cheese, my dining companion washed his down with a cool bottle of pale Pilsen and disagreed. Meanwhile, I preferred to sip on a glass of white wine while raving about the Butter Garlic Chicken. I could pour just that butter garlic sauce over my rice and be happy. “That’s comfort food to me,” Chef Rainier explains with a little grin on his face. “I love the idea of sauce palang, ulam na.”
The Barn Salad
Potato Shrimp Balls
Brown Butter Tanigue
Beef Shank Bulalo
Butter Garlic Chicken
Crab Mac and Cheese
Meanwhile, the other person on my table was nodding enthusiastically about the Beef Shank, a version of Bulalo Steak but with more gravy. Chef Rainier proclaimed this as his favorite among the farm, and we were in agreement that the gravy was perfect with rice and caramel beer. The music played on, and a basketball game played on in flat-screen TVs around the pub while the conversation moved, mostly because were were all talking about the food.
Maybe I’m not the best person to come rushing to the defense of the gastropub. After all, I was the only one in our table who ordered a glass of white wine instead of a specialty beer. But I did feel relaxed, at ease and comfortable. I realize that is the difference between a bad gastropub and a good one. If the food is familiar and brings you comfort (and to grab The Barn’s tagline, makes you leave happy) and if you can grab a signature cocktail, a glass of wine then a beer, then that’s a good gastropub. Forget the rules. Forget the fish pie. It works because the people in it love the food, and it feels familiar. A total experience, as Chef Rainier says.
The Barn is at UP Town Center, Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City.