This Filipino Restaurant Proves You Can Break All the Rules
Filipino food is once again gaining momentum. Just recently, Anthony Bourdain reiterated the potential of Filipino cuisine, singling out sisig as our dish de résistance. Filipino cuisine is (once again) on its way.
But if there’s anything that causes endless debate in our country, it's how we cook food. People argue whether this lechon is better than that lechon, whether the longganisa from this region is better than that region. Then, you'll see modern Filipino restaurants being criticized for making even the slightest alteration to traditional cooking methods. We're too obsessed with what's right, we're not even sure what that is.
Despite the raised eyebrows that come with "bastardizing" Filipino food, the brains behind Empacho, the newly opened restaurant and bar on Tomas Morato, didn't stop from coming up with a rather rebellious Filipino menu.
“We crafted dishes the way we want it. Yes, it’s Pinoy fusion with a different take on the usual way Filipino comfort food is prepared,” explains Rocky Lubrico, one of the owners.
The restaurant also prides itself that every dish truly has a Filipino touch. They even make their own sauces like the pinakurat and sinamak. The tweaks will remind you of the ones moms try to get away with in their own kitchen. Everything is familiar but with a unique addition that's not particularly offensive.
Everyone needs a platter of chicharon in life: Triple Bypass (Chicarong Bulaklak, Chicken Skin, and Isol inasal
Or a sampler of rice
Roasted Pork Belly Bun
Take for instance their balut tempura. Empacho does away with the usual presentation and serves the duck egg battered and with a salted egg, honey aioli, arugula, and that house-made pinakurat. Each bite introduces different flavors. It's a much more appealing way to try balut, for the unoriented.
When it comes to the tokwa’t baboy, Empacho skips mincing the tofu and pork and serves soft blocks of soy and discernible chunks of crunchy pork. Drenched in Empacho’s “secret sauce,” the shifting tangy and salty notes is perfect with beer.
A rebelliously lean pork belly, a seafood tinola (with crab and shrimp instead of the usual chicken), a dinuguan sausage with puto, lechon sinigang, you have to catch Empacho's drift by now.
What's impressive with Empacho is that they capture the Filipino spirit not just in their food (which are hefty and fillling, just the way we like it), but also with their ambiance. The restaurant is industrial-themed, spacious and with high ceilings. It turns into a bar after 10 p.m., inviting everyone to just unwind. It's not hard to have a good time here.
“We really wanted the place to be something where people can dine, relax with family and friends that’s not too loud—yung lugar na hindi nakakastress,” explains Dimchee Nunez, co-owner and executive chef of Empacho.
Because most dishes are on the rich side, you need the right drink to balance it all out. The Empacho Bitters is something you won’t find at most local restaurants. It’s a mix of the sweetness of lemon soda with a bitter and tangy finish. It’s the kind of palate cleanser you need with hearty meals.
“Lemon lime bitters is a popular drink in Papua New Guinea where I grew up so since our concept was to bring tastes of home to this resto, we added this to the menu,” shares co-owner Paolo Barlis, who also works as Empacho’s liquid chef.
Salted Egg Lava Cake
Since Pinoy comfort food won't be complete without something sweet and because this restaurant is just plain consistent, Empacho adds twists to their desserts as well. The salted egg lava cake combines salty undertones with a rich caramel filling—a fun play on salted egg and salted caramel. Another must-try is their kamias cheesecake with a nice tangy finish to go with its overall creaminess.
We look at the pork belly again, remembering all the rules Empacho carelessly disregards. Sometimes, it's good to be bad.
Empacho Restaurant and Bar is at 2/F Unit 201, #170 Tomas Morato Avenue Corner Don Roces, Quezon City.