Toast: A Breakfast-Sounding Place That's Serious About Cocktails
This is not a venue for beers by the buckets; think small-batch bourbon and boutique gin.
We sometimes wonder: When did Manila night life shift so drastically from superclub to blink-and-you'll-miss-it speakeasies? Sure, there will always be a market for overpriced vodka cranberries and Jäger bombs mixed by slinky ladies in Spandex, but many cosmopolites are noticeably drawn more towards the quiet sophistication these smaller watering holes offer. Quality over quantity. Small batch over commercial. Lively chatter as opposed to screaming over pulsating EDM. We admit—it does get tedious.
Whether it was keeping up with the trends of feeling the inevitable strains of aging, Timo Chua felt that it was time to quietly slip out of the party scene. "I'm done with that," he fist pumps half-heartedly to illustrate clearly what he means. "No more." Co-owner of smaller clubs in Makati and BGC (Attika and Relik, to name a few), Chua makes the conscious shift towards a more concept-driven, quality-conscious establishment with the opening of Toast Asian Kitchen and Tasting Room at Ayala Malls The 30th.
Seoul Searcher and Jason Gray
Just by the interiors alone, you notice the attention to detail. "Industrial, but warmer," Chua describes. The distressed brick walls add character to exposed concrete and wrought iron, semi-exposed bulbs illuminate wooden tables which—unlike Chua's past ventures—will never have to worry about cigarette burns. It is still a gathering place, a venue that would surely appeal to large get-togethers and merry-making, but intimate and wholesome.
The "tasting room" pertains to a bar, and for a mall restaurant, it's more than the standard requirement. Bottles of wine are chilled in a designated fridge and on display in checkered slats; imported craft beers are kept in optimal temperature (which is cold, but not ice cold) so complex flavors can be maximized and thoroughly enjoyed. This is not a venue for beers by the buckets; think small-batch bourbon and boutique gin.
Singapore-based mixologist and Monkey Shoulder brand ambassador Jason Gray was called upon to concoct Toast's signature cocktails. While the drinks follow the lead of the playful Asian cuisine served here, a sip or two of Gray's fruit-forward yet complex libations is enough to prove who is the true star in this operation. The Hendricks-based Seoul Searcher is part gin sour, part Thai basil mojito with chunks of pomelo and a pinch of white pepper to add character—a citrusy respite on a hot day. The whiskey-based Tokyo Fog Cutter is an easy-drinking introduction to trendy Monkey Shoulder with its apple and licorice notes, while the Jack Sparrow, spiked with spiced rum Sailor Jerry, is a surprising departure from the usual pineapple flavors paired with rum with its lovely jackfruit and pandan nuances.
For the jaded, we recommend the Pomelo Sour—the vodka-based cocktail is fragrant and exotic with the surprisingly-floral aroma of bell pepper. Purists can order the classics, which we're sure are just as well-crafted.
While the drinks are sure hits, the dishes that inspired them are no slouch either. Playful and inventive, the food at Toast is undoubtedly Asian without the traditional boundaries. While the yakitori escaped fusion touches, the small plates are a preview of the inventive Asian style the kitchen wants to be known for. The Quesong Puti Croquettes and Thai Chicken Poppers are easy favorites, but what will make you keep coming back are the Tom Yum Meatballs. The thick, tangy sauce a cheeky spin on a marinara and is admittedly one of those truly successful fusions of Western and Eastern flavors. They serve this over rice for lunch, but we can't help fantasizing about them over linguine.
Quesong Puti Croquettes
Thai Basil Chicken Poppers
The Blaksa is one of those ideas that look good on paper but didn't necessarily translate as well upon execution. The light broth is found wanting, perhaps for more richness and complexity a good bowl of laksa is expected to have—quite unlike the Seared Salmon Linguini which was predictably light-footed in seasoning and flavor.
But predictability works for the Twice-cooked Pork and Salted Egg Fried Rice, which is as good as it sounds. For good measure, an order of the Beef Wagyu Cubes in Black Pepper Sauce is a familiar yet indulgent dish that will satisfy.
Tom Yum Meatballs
Pork Belly and Wagyu
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Tapioca and Mango Trifle
To cleanse the palate, a Dark Chocolate Mousse using tablea is an option. But, if dessert is an absolute must, then look no further than the Tapioca and Mango Trifle—a simple assemblage of ripe mango cubes, tapioca, condensed milk, and graham cracker crumbs that is truly sublime. It's one of those things you will love so much you would attempt to make it at home.
Toast, while training its focus on unique dishes and even better cocktails, reminds us that dining out, more than anything, is about having fun.
Toast Asian Kitchen and Tasting Room is at the G/F Ayala Malls The 30th, Meralco Avenue corner Saint Paul Street, Pasig City.
Photos by Vyn Radovan