Romulo Cafe and Restaurant, Kensington High Street
“It is the duty of the little Davids of this world to fling the pebbles of truth in the eyes of the blustering Goliaths and force them to behave!” – what an insightful and great quote from General Romulo, the Pinoy statesman who lends his name to Romulo cafe and restaurant in Kensington and other family restaurants in the Philippines.
I know very little about the cuisine of the Philippines so took along a Pinoy friend to help me order and to give an insight into the authenticity of Romulo. Filipino cuisine has influences from China, Spain, India, Japan and much of Europe. When you order a dish, you might think you half recognise it, until you taste it and discover the unique flavours of this archipelago of over 7,000 islands.
Our very first dish was a good example. Kalamansi cured tuna ceviche is a bowl of deliciousness made with native lime, red onion chilli and beetroot with a kalamansi marinade. The hybrid citrus fruit is something in between an orange and lime and will add a sweet citrus kick to any dish. Here, married with chunks of fresh tuna, it had a delicate fragrant sweetness that contrasted with the sharp notes.
My friend was enthusiastically ordering dishes like the honey glazed chilli beef, Beef Tadyang made with braised grass-fed British rib of beef and served with jicama slaw and Crispy Pata – Dingley Dell boneless crispy pork hock served with tomato shrimp sauce and kalamansi seasoned soy sauce. I’d probably have tried to opt for more fish dishes without her influence, but in the Philippines, pork is King – and if I am honest, I rather enjoyed being led into temptation.
In any case, you might almost be able to believe that Sizzling Chicken Inasal Sisig was healthy. Chicken thighs marinated in annatto, green chilli, garlic and lemongrass sounded good too me
I’m not entirely sure what the rich topping was based on, but the result was delicious, packed with flavour – and I suspect not in the least bit ‘healthy’.
Adobo is often seen as the national dish of the Philippines. Here, a melting plateful of chicken and pork adobo Romulo style – braised tender pieces of Norfolk chicken and Dingley Dell pork belly in a bed of sweet potato mash with a side of adobo jus. My companion was impressed and explained that this dish really only works if the meat is properly marinated for a good length of time so that the spices really meld with the meat. Originally Adobo would simply have been a local way of preserving meat or fish with a spiced marinade. When the Spanish arrived, they named the dish Adobo because it reminded them of their own way of marinating and preserving meat. For that reason, there’s a Pinoy version which is nothing like Mexican Adobo. Whatever the origin of the dish, the version served at Romulo restaurant is delicious and the sweet potato mash (which my friend explained owed nothing to authenticity) was an excellent complement for the spiced, sweet-sour chicken and pork.
One of the more curious dishes for me, but one which made my companion very happy was Pansit Palabok: steamed rice noodles with annatto prawns and minced pork sauce, topped with smoked fish, pork chicharrones, crispy squid, Chinese cabbage, boiled egg, mixed seafood and garlic chips. Pure comfort food, it was quite compelling – despite the imaginative list of ingredients!
Sinigang Stew – Salmon with morning glory, okra, daikon and aubergine in tamarind flavoured stew had a welcomed sourness and piquancy from the tamarind which I really enjoyed. It made a great contrast to the sweetness of the adobo
Confit duck leg bao bun Tatotim was a delicious nod to Chinese influences on the cuisine of the Philippines.
Creedy Carver duck with homemade bao bun, plum sauce, jicama and cucumber was moreish with a filling not unlike a crispy duck pancake.
Needless to say, we did have much too much food – a feast that would easily have served 4. My companion was happy – apparently taking home your leftovers is as common in the Philippines as in the USA.
And we needed to try at least one of the desserts.
Halo Halo is described as ‘a merry mix up of flavours and textures from the exotic islands with ube (purple yam) ice cream, banana puree, jackfruit, leche flan, pandan jelly milk granitée and coconut. It’s relatively light (from the milk granitée) and almost perfumed. We still couldn’t do it justice – and this is one dish that couldn’t be packed to take home.
It wasn’t until we’d got to the end of our feast (and what we couldn’t eat was carefully packed up into containers for my friend’s husband to enjoy) that we learnt the owners of both this and the Manila branches are related to General Romulo. Rowena, in the photo below, is one of his grand-daughters and owner of the London restaurant with her husband. Her sister runs the Manila branches. Many of the recipes are old family ones – and there’s a warmth and love here that you don’t often find in bustling London. My Pinoy friend left vowing to organise her next School Reunion here – and that’s probably the best endorsement you can get!
If you’d like to explore the cuisine of the Philippines without ever having to get on a plane, this is a good place to start. And I’d urge you to do so, whether or not this becomes the next new food trend, you’ll leave with a full belly and a happy heart.
Romulo Café & Restaurant London,
343 Kensington High Street
London, W8 6NW
020 3141 639
Looking for something a little more conventional in this area? We love the Ivy Brasserie, Kensington