How Romulo Café and Restaurant is helping to deliver on Filipino’s unfound potential

A menu revamp at the Kensington-based restaurant hopes introduces people to regional dishes.

14 August 2019

Throughout the past few years, Filipino food has been regularly touted as a cuisine to watch, but it is yet to hit the heights that some have anticipated.

Since 2016, however, Romulo Café has been out to buck that trend, and underwent a reinvention last month, which included a revitalised menu from executive chef Jeremy Villaneuva.

It has also been renamed Romulo Café and Restaurant to “further emphasise its fine Filipino dining credentials”, says its owner Rowena Romulo.

The new evening menu is a range of classic Filipino dishes combined with a twist from the Romulo family.

“A lot of the recipes we use have come from the Romulo family get-togethers in the past,” Villaneuva tells Food Spark. “Each person would bring their specialty dish, and this is the foundation of the classics we have in the evening menu. This also means that we’re able to offer some dishes you won’t get in other Filipino restaurants in the UK – some I haven’t even seen in Europe.”

Villaneuva highlights the Ilocs-style miki noodle soup – an especially regional dish that was developed to present “something different” to the lunch menu.

“It’s also known as water pasta, or water-based noodles,” he explains “It is noodles that have been cooked in a soup made with pork and flavoured with annatto seeds and smoked milkfish. I’ve never seen it in the UK – in fact, I’ve never seen it outside of the Philippines.”

Other standouts for Villaneuva include the Bangus al Ajillo, a fillet of milkfish scented with garlic, parsley and calamansi lime and the Dingley Dell crispy pork hock, a dish consisting of boneless crispy pork hock with tomato shrimp sauce and kalamansi seasoned soy sauce.

Filipino chefs making moves

To raise the profile of Filipino food in the UK mainstream, Rowena recently featured on the Gaby Roslin show on BBC Radio London.

“After my appearance, we hope people will start asking for our braised grass fed British rib of beef, or beef tadyag, and other Filipino dishes, which went down really well with the guests,” she says. “Gaby, who’s vegan, loved our young jackfrut and coconut stew.”

She is optimistic that such positive feedback can finally kick-start the Filipino trend throughout London and the UK.

“I hope it will be a trend in 2019, 2020, 2021 and many years to come,” she says. “There is always something new to discover about Filipino food. From our ingredients – purple yam [ube] and jackfruit are just the tip of it – to the way we combine these to create really sensational flavours.

“Look around you, and you’ll see a growing confidence among Filipino cooks, chefs and entrepreneurs to make a mark on the UK food scene, whether it’s through full-service restaurants like ours or pop-ups and supper clubs.” 

Recent additions to the London dining scene include Kinilaw & Buko with its Filipino version of ceviche and ice cream, while Gamma Gamma also borrows from the cuisine for some of its dishes.

Elevating the cuisine

Rowena takes inspiration from one of the “doyennes” of Filipino food – the late Doreen Fernandez, who was recently featured in the New York Times.

“As they say, she always wanted Filipino food to be treated as a cuisine, with all its attendant techniques, methods and unique flavours,” she comments.

“I hope in the UK, Filipino food is already considered a cuisine in its own right, but that would have only come about because we Filipinos have tried to showcase the best of our food, using quality ingredients and not taking shortcuts [and] also improving the presentation of our dishes.”

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