Josh Boutwood Opens Restaurant No. 4 and It's Smoking Hot

Say hello to Ember.
IMAGE PJ CAÑA, INSTAGRAM

Josh Boutwood already has three restaurants to his name—Savage, Helm, and Test Kitchen—and all have been embraced by Manila’s pickiest eaters. That’s the dream for many in the restaurant business, but Boutwood isn’t quite done yet. On top of his role as corporate chef of the Bistro Group, the thirtysomething chef just opened his fourth standalone concept—Ember at Greenbelt 3 in Makati City. 

More: Josh Boutwood: 'Even When I'm Sleeping I'm Thinking About Food'

A “sophisticated evolution of Savage,” Ember combines aspects of his other restaurants to offer diners “a humble approach to delicious food, without complications, and easy to understand.”

Raw tuna, avocado, and tapioca

Photo by PJ Cana.

“You can see all of the components on the dish,” he tells Esquire Philippines during a special sneak peek of the restaurant one day before it officially opens to the public. “We're not hiding anything, we're not using any technological advances to create this…whatever you want to call it. We’re just relying on the simplicity and the best ingredients we can possibly get, and the cooking techniques that we enjoy—and that would be the woodfire."

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The name, of course, refers to what’s left when the main fire goes out, and Boutwood believes this is actually the best to cook on.

There was a very simple menu presented to diners during the preview. Small plates or starters included raw tuna with avocado and tapioca flakes for texture; a divine mushroom dish with Comte cheese and hazelnut; a simple but unbelievably fresh slice of Romaine lettuce buried in grated pecorino cheese and anchovy slices for a salty kick; melon and honeydew slices underneath razor-thin Serrano ham slices drizzled with olive oil; and a refreshing tomato, feta, and olive salad.

Romaine lettuce, parsley, pecorino cheese

Photo by PJ Cana.

 

True to Boutwood’s word, there is nothing particularly mindblowing or revolutionary about any of the small plate dishes, but the conceit is in the quality of the ingredients and how they all come together on the tongue. The British chef understands the nuances of flavors and textures, and starting with a foundation of top-tier ingredients makes it easier to achieve complete satisfaction even in something as simple as a tomato and feta cheese salad. 

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Of the entrees on offer that evening, I was served three. The grilled pork was well-seasoned and was elevated when combined with either the raisin or carrot puree served on the side. The short rib was so melt-in-your-mouth tender I was told they didn’t need to serve steak knives as even a fork could cut chunks through the meat.

Melon, serrano ham, thyme

Photo by PJ Cana.

Short rib, onion puree, wasabi

Photo by PJ Cana.
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But the best thing I had that night was the salmon with slightly charred skin served with flying fish roe and watercress. Salmon is notoriously difficult to cook and needs to be taken out of the flame at just the right moment. This one was, with the charred skin providing excellent contrast in texture and flavor to the delicate meat. Ember is a restaurant that makes excellent use of the grill to cook meats like steak, but if you see the salmon on the menu, I highly recommend getting it.

For dessert, there was a choice between two cakes: a slice of ultra-moist Tres Leches with vanilla and caramel cream, and Kladdkaka, which is a Swedish chocolate cake. Of course I ordered both, and it was the best decision I made that night.

Kladdkaka

Photo by PJ Cana.

 

Food like this can only come from people who genuinely love what they do, and I was happy to know that that was true of Boutwood and his team. Four restaurants and a backbreaking job overseeing the menus of one of the country’s largest restaurant conglomerates with hundreds of different branches all over the country could take a toll on anyone, but the talented and good-natured chef is energized by his unwavering commitment and passion for his profession. 

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“I don't think about how much work I have to do, because if I did then I'd be tired,” he says. “I used to count days, and then over the course of 10 years, I began to count hours, and now it's to the point where I'm counting minutes in my days to make sure I'm achieving what I need to achieve.”

Tres Leches

Photo by PJ Cana.

 

Boutwood admits that, pre-pandemic, he was getting a bit complacent because he didn’t feel like he was getting too many challenges. And he didn’t like that feeling. 

“So now if I'm, if I'm involving myself in more things—probably more than I have to and more than I need to—it's keeping me on my toes and thus keeping me stimulated. My mind needs to be constantly stimulated.”

Ember opens today, May 14. It’s located at the ground level of Greenbelt 3, right beside Starbucks. For reservation and inquiries, visit the Ember Manila Facebook page and check them out on Instagram.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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