The Pigpen Could Kick Off a Trend of Chef-Driven Casual Restaurants
It’s 6:45 on a Tuesday evening in Makati. I’ve been waiting for my Uber for 20 minutes, even if it’s just in front of Landmark and I’m in Greenbelt 5. When I open Waze, all I see is a network of glaring red lines. “Sorry, I’m going to be late,” I text my photographer. “It’s okay,” she says, “We're going to be late too. We’re just looking for parking.” When my ride arrives, it takes us another 20 minutes just to go down three blocks. It’s enough to stress anyone out.
It’s only when I finally arrive at The Pigpen that I finally start to relax. The place is packed with diners, who, judging from the banter and laughter echoing around the room, are clearly having a good time. And when I take a bite of the sisig papadum nachos, the sisig melts in my mouth—along with the rest of my stress—and contrasts nicely with the crunch of the Indian tortillas.
Sisig Papadum Nachos
This is exactly what restaurateur Berna Garriz and Chefs Tricia Macdonald and Carlos Garcia envisioned for The Pigpen: a fun, relaxing place tucked away from the hectic business district with food that’s simple, comforting and satisfying, but not predictable.
“I mean, there’s a lot of relaxed, casual, fast food type places, where you know what to expect so you know the kind of food that you’re getting, but you’re never really surprised by it,” Tricia says. “So it’s great when someone comes in and they’re surprised by something. I mean, it sort of makes you feel like, ‘Okay, well at least that person had a new experience at our place.’”
It’s quite the departure from The Black Pig, the trio’s popular destination restaurant in Alabang. “The Black Pig is more for special occasions, but with The Pigpen I wanted to create somewhere you could eat everyday. Something more easygoing, but still respecting the [same standards]. Everything is done a la minute and cooked from scratch,” Chef Carlos explains.
This dedication to culinary standards is the reason they didn’t just replicate The Black Pig in Makati. “The Black Pig is really difficult to maintain in the sense that we created a restaurant where we were very mindful of what our customers want,” Tricia says. “So whenever they make special requests we always go out of our way to accommodate them. Carlos always makes special menus for guests. For example if a guest says ‘I’m gluten free. Can you make something for me?’ He will do that on the spot.”
European Salad: Fresh greens with a Mediterranean mix of black olives, feta, cherry tomatoes, croutons, pickled cucumber, grated parmesan, and radish, with honey-mustard vinaigrette
To keep things interesting, Chef Carlos also changes the menu at Black Pig at least four times a year. And as any chef will tell you, new menus are no joke—after perfecting your recipes, you have to retrain the cooks, and familiarize the servers with the new offerings.
“We can’t divide Carlos into three or four. If we put up a Black Pig here, he can’t do that same kind of service, because then the one in Alabang’s gonna get left behind.” Tricia adds. “So we’re like, ‘Let’s put up a concept that’s more casual, that still has good food, that’s still nicely designed, that still has aspects of what we are and what we’re about, but not as fussy.’ Which is why the name is Pigpen. No one is going to think that this is a fine dining restaurant!” she laughs.
Pork Belly Kimchi: slow-cooked, juicy slices of pork belly with a side of flavorful kimchi on rice
It’s clear that after 14 years of working at highly acclaimed restaurants in London, Chef Carlos wants to keep things simple and unpretentious. “I’ve been working since I was 18, you know? Being the commis chef of a highly acclaimed restaurant was amazing, but I got stressed too easily. If somebody told me, ‘This is no good,’ I don’t know if it’s just my personality, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep,” he explains.
It was during his stint at Gauthier Soho that he met Tricia, who was doing her stage or apprenticeship there after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu. “In general, Carlos is very generous with information. So I would ask him questions about cooking. And he had this bible of recipes from Alain Ducasse, Marcus Wareing, all of these amazing chefs. So even after I finished my stage, we would meet up and he would give me recipes,” she says.
Grilled Tamarind Chicken: marinated in lemongrass, coriander and black peppercorn, served with tamarind and chives sauce
When Tricia returned to Manila, they kept in touch. At that time, Tricia and her high school friend Berna decided to open up a restaurant. “We went through this whole process of deciding what kind of restaurant it would be,” she says. “We even started out with a food truck, then the food truck elevated to a club-type restaurant, which turned into a tapas bar. And it just so happened that Carlos was a little bit unhappy in London. He really wanted to open up his own restaurant, and he was supposed to do that with the owner of Gauthier but it fell through.”
Beef Brisket: slow-cooked in lemongrass, mint, calamansi, and fish sauce
When Tricia invited Chef Carlos to visit the Philippines and help develop their menu, he jumped at the chance for a new adventure in a foreign country. Eventually, they asked him to stay and run The Black Pig with them.
Away from the pressures of maintaining a fine dining restaurant, he’s free to get creative and have fun. This is especially apparent in The Pigpen. “The menu is more Asian because well, I’m in Asia and I’m discovering a lot of things. I’ve been going to Bangkok almost every year for the last 10 years. One of my best friends is from Thailand and he helped me out a little bit with the menu,” he says. “[Some people say] you have to have your identity—you have to be Spanish, or Thai, or Vietnamese, or Malaysian, but I wanted to do a little bit of everything. Nothing too complicated like ‘Wow, it’s going to change my life, blah blah blah, all smoke and mirrors.’ No bullshit. Just food that makes people happy, that has good value for money.”
Black Rice with Mango
At an average of P290, The Pigpen’s prices are definitely reasonable. And if you and your friends can’t agree on what you want to eat, this is the place to go. The menu is an eclectic mix of European and Asian dishes—alongside pasta, truffled fries, and charcuterie, there are Asian dishes like pork belly kimchi, tamarind chicken, and black rice with mango. At first glance the beef brisket doesn’t look Asian, but it’s an explosion of Thai flavors: lemongrass, calamansi, and fish sauce. Like the Black Pig, there are local and international craft beers on tap, along with cocktails created by The Curator.
“A lot of nice restaurants cook for the customers but also for themselves. Here, I wanted to cook for the customer,” Chef Carlos says. “We put a lot of love and effort into it, and we wanted to make a restaurant for everyone.” And that’s exactly what The Pigpen is—a place where anyone can escape the stress of the workplace and drop by for lunch, or wait out the rush hour traffic with a glass of sangria in hand.
The Pig Pen is at Eton Tower, Dela Rosa Street, Makati City.