Did Josh Boutwood Just Make the Best Octopus Dish in Manila?
"Excuse me if I start crying, okay?" says our friend Xavi only half-jokingly as we wait for Savage to bring out the latest from its kitchen. A native of Barcelona, Xavi has only been in the Philippines for a short time and like most of us when we're in a new land, his first few months had been punctuated with searches for better breads, better cheeses, and overall better food. Savage's Josh Boutwood has a reputation that precedes him; more importantly, he knows how to live up to the hype.
Xavi repeats his little joke, and we can tell that he really is probably on the verge of tearing up. The server plunks down the plate of octopus on our table and it's something of an artwork on a plate: two curled up meaty legs of octopus surrounded by puddles of green and orange. As stunning as it is, Boutwood is not an Instagram chef and his octopus flaunts a sensorial effect that you can experience only when it's in front of you: the imperfect black bits where the octopus kissed the flame, how the charred skin is given fresh new life by the balls of calamansi, the little blobs of aioli.
The octopus is slowly poached for 55 minutes before a quick turn on the grill. Behind that intense smokiness, the chef keeps the integriy of the flavors intact, leaving you instead to marvel at how the crispy tips and tentacles play with the tender interior. While the dish itself looks like an abstract painting, every element has a concrete purpose. "Everything, even the garnishes, have a purpose to the dish," explains Boutwood.
But Boutwood, if you've followed his career, is no one-dish wonder. The top chef helms the entire Bistro Group's massive roster of restaurants on top of many other creative pursuits. There are other standouts among Savage's 12 new dishes, like the stracciatella cream, which works with its amazing home-backed breads, and the vegetarian eggplant slices with garlic and tahini emulsions.
There is something about Savage—or maybe the chef—that makes everything taste as it should be or more. The eggplant tastes more eggplant-y, the vanilla more vanilla-ey, the beef more beefy. The kitchen doesn't make any excuses for the skirt steak, embracing its naturally more robust flavor that it's opted to highlight with horse radish chimichurri, chive oil, balsamic, thyme, and a tomato salad on top that gives you a reason to enjoy your greens.
Back when Savage first opened, the chef and his team made a name for themselves for creating magic without culinary smoke and mirrors—not literally, of course—but that octopus may just add to its legend. It did, after all, make a grown man cry.
Savage is at Arya Plaza, McKinley Parkway, Taguig City; 0915-333-9546.