|The interiors of Chef Tatung's, a specialized Filipino restaurant tucked in the quiet suburbs of Taguig. Photo by Josephine Arce|
These days, it's hard to find a unique dining experience in Manila. All we have are a rehash of the same, tired, and old recipes, or franchises of global fastfood chains that taste the same wherever you go. As a result, it's easy to become jaded when it comes to local food.
But a certain restaurant is changing all that, an elegant joint tucked in the middle of a genteel neighborhood, surrounded by acacia and bamboo trees away from the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila. Time and again I had to remind myself that I am still in the developing megapolis of Taguig, and not in the peaceful provinces of Baguio or Tagaytay. It could be the pleasant weather, but I think it's interiors of the restaurant, with its rich browns and warm woods, and antique Filipino furniture.
The restaurant is Chef Tatung's, a specialized place run by the effervescent chef who shares the name of his restaurant. What began as a home-based affair in Quezon City that served a small group of friends and neighbors became a full-blown business, serving dozens of guests at a time. Today, it owns its space at the Acacia Estates, Levi Mariano Avenue, Brgy. Ususan, Taguig City.
|The extensive collection of Filipino food at Chef Tatung's. Photo by Josephine Arce|
I was able to try his Sunday buffet with some friends from When In Manila. We were overwhelmed by the staggering number of Filipino food, an impressive array of choices that spanned the many islands of the Philippines. There were his staples: the lumpiang ubod in flavored crepes, the honey-glazed slow-roasted lechon belly, lechon Cebu, the warm Tsoknut chocolate cake, and the pichi-pichi with quezo de bola.
|What my plate looks like when I go to a buffet. The lechon Cebu is on the lower-left hand side of the plate, and it is a revelation|
Now, my strategy in buffet dining has always been to get a little bit of everything, that way I can take in everything without getting full. But my experience at Chef Tatung's was different. As soon as I had a bite of the lechon Cebu, I found myself scrambling for more. I think I had three servings of the dish, and I patiently waited for the waiters to bring more of the stuff. The meat was succulent and juicy, and the skin had a satisfying crunch that exploded in my mouth. The dish did not come with any sauce, but the second I smelled the faint whiff of lemongrass, I knew I wasn't going to need one. It was a favorite among the When In Manila team and we eagerly waited for replenishments.
The rest of the meats had a satisfying consistency. Turns out that Chef Tatung prepares everything from scratch, and uses traditional methods. That's why when you take a bite of the honey-glazed slow-roasted pork belly, you're getting the actual experience of a dish that was cooked in a brick oven for six hours.
|The poqui poqui "lasagna." Photo by Josephine Arce|
In Chef Tatung's, there's no space for preservatives or additives. He stays true to heirloom recipes and does not reinvent it or deconstruct it, opting instead to glorify the original way the dishes were cooked. However, the poqui poqui did get a new face. Chef Tatung turned it into a kind of lasagna, adding a thick and delectable layer of cheese on top of the grilled eggplant. It was heavenly, it was sublime, it was something I had over and over again.
Another dish that received a "westernization" was the lumpiang ubod in flavored crepes. Now, we've always enjoyed our lumpiang ubod in the traditional flavorless wrapper but Chef Tatung updated this by wrapping the coconut pith, vegetables, and tofu in a pandan, ube (purple yam), and egg crepe. The wrap only hinted at the ube, thus not cloying your mouth with sweetness but preparing you for the playful delights the chef will present you with during the main course.
|If you're not sure what kind of adobo to get, get the adobo sampler to try all the choices|
Chef Tatung is also known for his adobo sampler, a dish consisting of four variations of the classic Filipino dish. Chef Tatung serves it individually, but because of the number of variants, he has decided to put it all on one plate (with dividers, of course), so that guests can try a bit of everything and decide which one to get.
The adobo sampler is composd of the yellow chicken adobo, derived from the Batangas way of cooking with it with ginger; the chicken-pork adobong Ilonggo with annatto seeds and liver; the lengua adobo with olive oil, roasted garlic, and green olives; and the adobo Bisaya, which was marinated in garlic, vinegar, and bayleaves, and slow-cooked in lard. This last one is my favorite.
Perhaps the highlight of the meal (any meal involving me, actually) are the desserts. In keeping up with Chef Tatung's Filipino theme, the dessert table provided the best offerings. Now, these aren't just your regular desserts slathered with sugar. These are probably the richest and creamiest desserts I've had. The leche flan was a revelation, served frozen, and it was the creamiest I've ever had. The warm Tsoknut chocolate cake was good, too, but I quickly forgot about it when I had the pichi pichi with quezo de bola.
I'm not really sure how to describe it because I've only tried the pichi pichi Amber offers and I love it, especially with cheese. But Chef Tatung takes it on a whole different level. The pichi pichi itself is soft, almost fluffy, and like eating a cloud. But when you add the richness of the melted quezo de bola, it provides an interesting texture that made my eyes roll in delight. I'm not sure how many plates I had, but suffice to say that the waiters replenished the dessert twice after I started hoarding.
Chef Tatung's is that restaurant that provides good food and a good atmosphere. Its almost-hidden location makes it an ideal place for intimate meals with loved ones, and the interiors can add drama to any meal. The place can seat a hundred people but it feels cozy. For the best experience I suggest the Sunday buffet, so you can try all of the chef's best dishes amidst a calm and relaxing day.
Otherwise, the restaurant is open daily for ala carte meals from 11AM-11PM.
|How to get to Chef Tatung's|