Finally, More Rice Bowls And Pancakes at Refinery
It was in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, which is always a good time to come to Refinery, that is, if you want some semblance of peace and quiet. Since it opened its first branch at Joya, Rockwell, the pioneering cafe-slash-bar concept has been a dominant presence with its strong specialty coffee, thriving after-hours scene, and reliable, well-priced food from morning to night. It’s those couple of hours between lunch and dusk when there is least action in their modern industrial dining rooms (the latest that opened was in Salcedo Village, and Greenhills before that), a welcome reprieve, no doubt, for their staff.
Owner Bernice Tenchavez has ordered gin and tonics as she alternated between exchanging industry gossip with us and salvaging almost-disasters over the phone with her colleagues at her day job. It seems to be that kind of day, and truly gin and tonics are in order, either to accompany cheeky conversation or to soothe rattled nerves.
And then there’s the food. That rich, indulgent menu that regulars have grown accustomed. Refinery has always been about chef Thirdy Dolatre’s egg dishes and grilled cheese sandwiches. His bowls of comforting pastas that are as much a cure for emotional pain as they are meant to satisfy hunger. Those bacon slabs that show up in sandwiches and in their breakfast skillets accompanied by eggs, beans, sausages, and pretty much everything you could possibly want first thing in the morning.
We suspected right when it was only a matter of time until Chef Thirdy succumbs to the clamor of the people to serve that smokey, salty bacon with garlic rice as any upstanding Filipino would. He finally does and launches it alongside two other rice bowls which answer regulars’ requirements for heartier, homier, and yes, rice-ier fare.
They have always been hesitant to serve rice meals in Refinery, Tenchavez admits, simply because that is not what they do. “However,” she adds, “I think we were able to put together rice bowls that are still very much on brand.” In addition to the ones already available on the menu (the lomo saltado, grilled chicken, and glazed pork belly rice bowls), chef Thirdy has come up with his versions of the popular silog.
The bacon tocino are thick slices of pork belly in that sweet glaze reminiscent of school day mornings, served with a multigrain garlic fried rice and two eggs. Refinery's beef tapa is in that happy middle between saucy and dry, which is the perfect marinade to the rich beef belly slices the kitchen generously tops over rice. For those who have gone plant-based, there is a vegetable silog that is packed with flavor.
Aside from rice bowls, pancakes, and waffles are added to the growing food menu. And why not? Considering that Chef Thirdy does them so well. The Nutella waffle is guaranteed to satisfy fans of the chocolate hazelnut spread, which is luxuriously slathered over a thick, airy waffle. Our fruity requirements for the day are fulfilled with the banana pancakes that come embedded with ripe fruit then topped with bruleed sliced bananas. The lemon cream pancake is a more elegant take, with the curd-like topping lending both fragrance and brightness to the sweet breakfast staple.
Looking at the spread, everything on the table truly seems like it belongs there, despite the concessions the chef and owners made to please their loyal guests. Tenchavez claims that their research and development has always been easy. “Thirdy makes us try some dishes,” she tells us of the process, “we tell him what we like, what we don’t like. ‘Make it sweeter’ or whatever. He tweaks it then makes us try it again, and ok na. It’s almost like he can read our minds.” As we sat there eating our pancakes and tapsilog with our gin and tonics, we see why she might think that.
Refinery has branches in Rockwell, Greenhills, and Salcedo Village.