Josh Boutwood Creates a Dining Theater at Helm, BGC
The Plaza at Arya Residences is a great place to open a restaurant. It’s breezy, there’s underground parking, and it’s away from the maddening crowds. But somehow it hasn’t quite caught on yet, which is why it looks like they’ve hedged their bets on Mr. Josh Boutwood. Good move.
Josh Boutwood is a name to reckon with amongst people who take their food seriously. He’s one of those guys they watch, seeing what he’s up to next. Apart from being corporate chef of The Bistro Group, his fancier cookwork could be witnessed in Makati's Test Kitchen and the thrilling Savage. One cannot really blame them for their fascination with this diminutive gent with formidable kitchen skills—he is as global a citizen as one can be. Born of a Filipino father and British mother, his life’s journey has taken him from rural England, to Spain, Boracay, and Manila—and it is this being brought up around the corner and back that comes into play at his newest restaurant, Helm.
The space occupied by this culinary playground is quite intimate. The 10-seater may just remind you of some sushi bar you may have seen somewhere, or a poker table in a casino. Either way, that was the intention. The chef wants to interact with you, chat, see who he’s feeding—much like a sushi master will size you up as he determines what fish he’ll serve you for his omakase, or like a card dealer bantering with you as he slowly shows his hand. This, mamsirs, is food as theater, each course like an act in a play. And while the concept of a tasting menu isn’t breaking any new ground, it really is best seen as a way to get to know it’s creator.
This, mamsirs, is food as theater, each course like an act in a play.
As you settle in your seat, you will slowly be cocooned by the vibe of Helm—the soft music playing (appropriate music, at that!); a gentle energy flowing through; the sound of chuckles and gossip from you seatmate; mindful service; and Josh himself, as composed and relaxed as his restaurant, orchestrating everything.
As he plates his courses, he may crack a joke, especially if he is familiar with you. It is pretty refreshing to be in this little party, to be perfectly honest—that’s almost how it actually feels like: a party, where the host genuinely just wants you to have a good time. Tasting menu situations can morph into annoying pretense dangerously quick, but when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it can actually be…fun. Even for those who don’t worship at the altar of fine dining.
The food, as expected from a chef of this caliber, is well executed. After all, he’s done his time in both fine dining joints and the past few years in his day job at fast casual restaurants. He knows his stuff, and it shows: the dishes he summons from the depths of his creativity and presents to you look sparsely beautiful, as things are wont to be at establishments like this. But it hits you where it counts—they are delicious, and shockingly really accessible, even for newbies to tasting menus, culling flavors from different cuisines—a respectful nod to his nomadic life.
There is no thinking about what you just ate, and no magic tricks either—it is cooking that mirrors the chef’s respect for his ingredients, devoid of manipulation, cooked in rhythm with their seasonality. Consider, for example, one of his snacks: a disk, like a chip, topped with well marbled and locally raised smoked Kitayama beef, finely chopped and seasoned, and surrounded by little globes of concentrated egg yolk emulsion. Even if you never even bothered to read that last sentence, trust me—it’s effin’ tasty, and it will leave you wanting another piece, which is usually a good sign, because even as you shed a silent tear knowing you can’t have another one, your mind may already be figuring out when you can make a trip back to hopefully put away another one, provided the menu doesn’t change.
Our evening went rather smoothly, with course after course arriving and making us happy campers, and time slipping by without us noticing. And therein, perhaps, lies the ace up Helm’s sleeve: it’s a special occasion dining experience that doesn’t feel like you have to be some knowledgeable gourmand to fully enjoy it. It is, in today’s parlance, quite chill. By the time you sip your coffee—which, by the way, was deep and delicious (surprisingly a rarity in a lot of today’s restaurants)—you will hopefully be feeling rather good about yourself and how it all went down. You will leave pleasantly satisfied, probably comparing notes about your favorites for the evening. Most importantly, you will know in your heart of hearts that a ninja trip through a Mickey D’s drive thru will not be necessary, because you had good fun eating a splendid meal.
Helm is at Arya Residences, McKinley Parkway, Bonifacio Global City. Helm opens to the public August 21.