Articles - 25th April 2019

Romulo Café shows why Filipino food could be the next big thing

Words by Neil Davey

Romulo Café is tucked away at that other, slightly more interesting end of Kensington High Street. It’s that bit of KHS that my wife and I have known for years as “the caviar end”, with that little parade of fascinating Iranian shops… and now it’s a little parade of fascinating Iranian shops AND a rather lovely Philippine restaurant.

Which just goes to show how long it is since I worked around that area. Romulo Café – the Philippine restaurant in question – has, apparently, been ticking along for three years, keeping locals, London’s Filipino community and assorted other people-in-the-know very happy indeed. Now, with Filipino food being touted as the next big thing – see Million Pound Menu stars BBQ Dreamz and the recently reviewed Sarap pop-up (soon to get a longer residency in Brixton, by the way)  – I’m delighted to give Romulo the sort of love it deserves.

There is a very good chance that Filipino food will become huge in the UK. It’s comforting and pork-heavy and, while elements of it are unfamiliar, there’s enough you’ll recognise to make it appealing. “Its sort of Spain meets China and other bits of Asia,” says my companion on reading the menu and she’s pretty much spot on as evidenced by dishes like Binagoongang Boneless Crispy Pata (crispy pork leg with tomato shrimp sauce and soy) and Lola Virginia’s Chicken Relleno (chicken, chorizo, pandan rice). You’ll know the ingredients for sure. Whether you’ll have eaten them in these combinations however…

Everything sounded good though so we left it to the lovely front-of-house team to recommend their favourite dishes / the biggest crowd pleasers. Chicken Inasal Sisig – diced thighs, with ginger, green chilli, garlic and lemongrass – came sizzling, almost fajita-like, by way of Asia, if that’s not too facile a description and damned tasty, ditto the squid – stuffed with tomato, cheese, onion and garlic, served on squid ink rice – and the pork belly. The latter – slow cooked in soy, garlic, rice wine vinegar and served with a “trio of potatoes” looked to the be the standout (not least because it’s called Adobong Baboy and is thus the most fun dish to order in the history of food) and then the duck leg appeared.

In my experience, there are a few givens when it comes to eating. Everyone loves mashed potatoes. Hotel breakfasts give you approximately three times the stomach capacity you have at home. And, in Chinese restaurants, yes, we’re going to get the crispy duck and pancakes. Here’s some fighting talk for you: Romulo just trumped crispy duck and pancakes. How they did it isn’t exactly a mystery though. They just turned x pancakes into one bao, and changed a few shreds of duck into half a perfectly cooked, crispy-fatted, juicily tender, boneless duck leg to shove in the aforementioned bun, alongside plum sauce, jicama and cucumber. It is, frankly, bloody ridiculous in all the best possible ways.

A large birthday party seemed to have eaten Romulo out of a couple of signature desserts – no bad thing as it suggests they’re made daily and when they’re gone they’re gone and, having just damn near unhinged my jaw and swallowed half a duck leg, sharing a cheesecake was clearly the safer option. And what a cheesecake it is, flavoured with sweet, rich purple yam and coconut, and in a shade that would have delighted Prince.

The room is lovely, the staff doubly so, the cocktails are surprisingly inventive, fun and sensibly priced and, well, the duck. Seriously, the duck. The rest of it could have been awful and I’d still go back for the duck. All in all, a splendid discovery and Filipino food really should be the next big thing. Remember. You read it here, er, last.

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