Food

This little French restaurant reminds you of rustic ideals

Apero serves great food, with or without the booze.
IMAGE Sasha Lim Uy
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The work starts at 2:30 a.m. At an hour when some people are just thinking about going to sleep, Apero’s kitchen is already in full swing, backs curved over dough that will soon become duck-fat pan de sal, sourdough loaves, tortes, and scones. The restaurant itself is homey, unhurried, with an easygoing vibe that hides the greater ambitions of the chefs. The kitchen is a 24-hour operation: baked goods made in batches, corned beef being cured, butter being churned. The cascading menu supports their endless dedication, smoothly flowing from breakfast to apero or pre-dinner to late-night drinks. 

This petite restaurant is located at the Corinthians Hills Clubhouse, which, for a neighborhood so exclusive, is surprisingly welcoming to the public. It pegs itself as a neighborhood café-the owners’ former bar idea evolving into a place where you wish you could swing by on a bicycle to buy a basket of cinnamon buns. You’re quite close, except that Uber might be a better means of transport.

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When I first met the owners in 2014, they had just converted their parents’ Café Provencal into the hipper Duck & Buvette. Even then they had big, impractical aspirations to make everything from scratch: yeast for bread was cultivated for two weeks, juices were diligently squeezed, ice cream was freshly made. D&B’s success confirmed that impractical was still possible and could, in fact, be successful. This success inspired replication. We asked the chefs why they preferred to make even butter from scratch. The short answer? "It's better. You can taste it." Some replies are left unspoken because in truth, it's because they can and it's worth it. As customers, their dedication is flattering.

At Apero, Chef Jacq Tan once again stretches the limits of a tiny kitchen, working the wood-fire oven overtime. Precision is the driving force to their efficiency and everything must be timed so that the heat levels could quickly adjust from baking pastries to roasting the chicken (Apero's specialty). The commitment to quality, however, starts long before anything could get fired up.

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Ingredients are imported more so to ensure consistency than to undermine local quality. "We've actually tried the chicken here and it's really good, but the size isn't the same depending on the season," owner Bryan Chua explains. Apero's birds are free-range French white chickens aged 11 weeks-long enough to be deliciously succulent. Covered in crispy dark skin, the milky flavor of their poulet is fashioned in a zigzag of balsamic vinegar, shallots, salsa verde, and chicken rice.

Chua gestures at the coffee, another highlight of the Apero experience. He imports the esteemed Intelligentsia brand, fragrant beans that could only be enjoyed at either Duck & Buvette or Apero. They're roasted only upon order so the flavors could last longer, he says.

The Spinach Cavatelli is a faultless dinner recommendation. Nuggets of spinach-spiked homemade pasta are tossed with slightly tangy bits of sun-dried tomatoes (again made in-house), salty bursts of anchovies, and a shake of Grana Padano cheese. If the season permits, you can also get fresh seawater mamale, delicately brightened with a sprinkle of salt and sided with smoky potatoes and beurre rouge. On most days, however, it's a seabass that's nonetheless desirable. 

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Apero tempts you with food for the entire day, but it is the brunch that will make you want to come back again and again. (Then, there's also the cellar that boasts around 250 bottles of wine.) It's a medley of homemade granola with freshly churned almond milk, orange yolks dancing with cheese and asparagus. Chua's goal is to have a restaurant that could seamlessly fit into their guests' lifestyles. "We don't want people to plan their trips to Apero. It should be something regular." Thin home-cured bacon, crispy-soft waffles made of porridge, crackling croissants-it's certainly easy enough to get into these habits. A takeaway counter on the side, which will soon be available to regulars craving a quick duck-roasted or as cochinillo (off menu and must be ordered in advance, but a must-try, of course), some sourdough, or that fabulous chicken.

Apero continues Duck & Buvette's attempt to warm Filipinos up to French food. "Rustic, it's not intimidating," assures Chua. More than good food, more than gateway French cuisine, Apero is a sign of the times. Our palates deserve this level of attention, and this tiny restaurant proves that it's possible to give it.

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Apero is at Corinthian Hills, Temple Drive, White Plains, Quezon City; tel. no. 0917-511-3475; open from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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About The Author
Sasha Lim Uy
Managing Editor, EsquireMag.ph
Sasha eats to live and lives to eat. For five years, she handled SPOT.ph's food section and edited the last two installments of its Top 10 Food books. She also recently participated at the Madrid Fusion Manila as curator.
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