In the beginning, chef Nicco Santos envisioned his restaurant Hey Handsome as a Southeast Asian joint with “really, really Peranakan” dishes and an aim to recall memories of communal eating with loved ones. Upon stepping inside, he says, “immediately you feel good already… We really want our guests to feel at home.”

Months after the restaurant first opened, the welcome-home vibe remains, but Santos admits that his point of view is beginning to change, following a realization that his food is no longer quite rooted in Malaysian sensibilities. “I can’t deny it anymore,” he says. “All these flavors are being created to my palette.” A palette that, he shares, is irrevocably Filipino.

A recent reformat of the menu aims to fuse both incarnations of Hey Handsome into one, with a shift from imported ingredients to local produce, sourced from young farmers Santos had met. “As a cook I find it most fulfilling that I know where it comes from,” Santos explains. “I know the people who work day in and day out to grow [them].”

One of the restaurant’s signature dishes, roast lamb with buah keluak (a fermented fruit native to Indonesia) is getting a makeover of the ube variety. Their bright red beetroot curry dish, served with oyster mushrooms and house yogurt, has little cubes of paneer, a fresh cheese Santos had been taught to make by an Indian friend. The fried Pekin duck with rhubarb sauce and duck egg, meanwhile, is just a plain revelation. If there’s room for dessert—and why shouldn’t there be—there’s the cream puff with earl grey chocolate filling, topped with rich Malagos dark chocolate.

Santos firmly believes that food should be kept at its simplest form. “I don’t want to mess with flavors too much,” he says. “If ever I want to just enhance [and complement] them.” The most important thing is emotion. Without it, the flavor isn’t there. In the food, guests will “taste our personalities,” Santos proclaims. “We’re not going traditional anymore.” – Fiel Estrella

Photos by JL Javier

Hey Handsome is located at G/F  Net Park Building, 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

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