Ask any Filipino for the best Filipino dish and chances are they’re talking from nostalgia, naming something made by their mothers. This ideal shapes Filipino food restaurant culture which, even with splashes of fusion here and there, is always hinged on home-cooked food. That’s not Toyo Eatery.

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The lines are blurred between the kitchen and the dining room, like in a Filipino home. Toyo is an open kitchen setup in polished concrete and steel; Diretso acacia tables, E. Murio rattan chairs, and succulents lend warmth. Except for the much-Instagrammed Milo Naval capiz lamps found in the loft, there’s a conscious effort to step out of the picture-perfect restaurant trend in Manila’s social media-propelled food scene.

Here, Jordy Navarra (known for capturing the imagination of Manila diners back at Black Sheep) distils Filipino food culture to its essence, “not just the gatherings or the festive part,” he clarifies. “Rather than just recreating dishes, it’s being technique- and ingredient-based, using the best local ingredients and thinking along the lines of flavor profiles, culture, and traditions [as the guiding principles] to come up with dishes that we feel are Filipino still.”

Photo-1This is where the ubiquitous condiment comes in, its complex flavor not to be solely attributed to its ingredients but also its process, enriching palates from your pantry to street food carts. It doesn’t hurt that personal fervor inspires experimentation; soy sauce is Navarra’s favorite. (Toyo is trying to make their own, too.)

Toyo perfects what is already there. Typical in terms of its presentation, the pork barbecue’s promise is in the technicality. Three thinly sliced pieces from different parts of the pig are layered to ensure equal meat and fat ratio in every bite. The meat is basted in its own jus, layering flavors but not taking away from what it’s supposed to taste like. All vegetables mentioned in the nursery rhyme “Bahay Kubo” are in a curious-looking salad of the same name, charred, pureed, dehydrated, crushed, and sautéed – you can play a game of identifying which is which. For dessert, the cassava cake is finished on the grill so there’s a burnt outer layer, lending a smokiness to counter sweetness.

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And what’s a Filipino gathering without drinks? As our tippling culture isn’t defined by aperitifs and digestifs, The Curator’s David Ong crafted cocktails for Toyo that are refreshing whether on their own or with food.

Toyo offers set menus but most items are available a la carte; perfect for seconds. Navarra’s aspirations for Filipino cuisine seem lofty when most of what’s been done harks back to our own home kitchens. But it’s already here, and it’s delicious.

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–Marbbie Tagabucba

Photos by JL Javier

Toyo Eatery is located in The Alley at Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati.

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