Andrew Masigan, the businessman and brains behind XO46 and The Visayan Room, had been talking about doing a restaurant focused on Visayan food for some time now.
"There's really no serious restaurant for Visayan cooking," he told me sometime last year, when he was still thinking about The Visayan Room. Since then, he and his wife Sandee, along with XO46's Chef Christian Kalaw, have done their homework religiously and put together a menu of serious Visayan food.
They made numerous research trips and food-tasting trips all over the Visayas in search of the best the region has to offer, and from there they put together the menu of The Visayan Room.
I happened to be in Cebu one time last year, at about the same time that they were on one of their food research trips; and we'd all had a big tasting dinner in one of Cebu's best restaurants. They ordered a feast even after they'd already spent the whole day visiting all kinds of restaurants in Cebu -- from the fanciest places to the dingiest holes in the wall -- just because they felt they needed to sample anything and everything that was delicious and Visayan. The only requirement was that these places served really good Visayan food. As long as the food was good, they were a go.
HARD AT WORK
And talk about serious eating here. Throughout dinner, these guys did nothing but compare notes on the food, and compare it to food they'd eaten elsewhere as well, and also review the kitchen and restaurant operations. That's how serious they were -- and are -- about doing Visayan food as well as possible.
It's not just about research either. Andrew's mother is a Visayan from Dumaguete who loved to cook so Andrew really grew up in a household that ate good Visayan food everyday. His grandmother was also an excellent cook.
He recalls: "I still remember how my Lola Carmen would spend hours preparing jewels of kakanin for the family."
Coupled with the kind of meticulous research they did to put together the menu, and their desire to really create Visayan food that Visayans and other Filipinos as well can be proud of, the result is a winner of a restaurant. It's just had a soft opening so not too many people know about it yet -- so go and be among the first to try this great new place out.
The Visayan Room is not very big, as it's almost like an annex to XO46, which serves more mainstream Filipino food; but it's done up very nicely in a mixture of traditional and also stylish contemporary interiors, so that the effect is attractive and inviting.
& FOOD WITH A TWIST
The food is wonderful. Some dishes come with a twist -- they have a linguine in a batchoy sauce, for instance -- while others come as pure as you can get them: old-fashioned cooking with authentic ingredients. Either way, everything is good although I'm not sure if it's good for your health. Filipino food almost never is good for your health, and few good things are really good for you.
But the food's delicious. As Andrew himself says: "It's really honest cooking without the usual pretenses. Everything's as authentic as can possibly be."
(Mixed seafood with spicy coconut sauce)
Lapu-laapu, mussels, shrimps and squid simmered in coconut milk,
laced with chili and spices
Cebu Lechon Belly
Slow roasted succulent pork belly stuffed with local herbs
and basted with oil and local sea salt
(Sauteed swamp cabbage with shrimp paste)
An Ilonggo favorite, it&s crispy kangkong
sautéed with bagging and chicharon
La Paz Batchoy
Another Ilonggo favorite, it's egg noodles
topped with generous servings of chicharon, toasted garlic
and roasted bone marrow -- plus slivers of lechon.
And just in case you want to observe Lent properly and still eat well, The Visayan Room has a host of Lenten specials that include:
Young jackfruit stewed in coconut milk
and flavored with shrimp and dried fish
Kinunot na Lapu-lapu
Pinaasim na Tilapiang Malutong
LEAVING ON A JET PLANE...
Food aside, I had a really nice and relaxing time just catching up with old friends before getting on a plane for my next destination: Colombo! I've been there, and I've done that, so I don't know why I feel this way; but I'm really excited to visit Sri Lanka again tomorrow.
Good night for now. My next blog entry will probably be from somewhere along the Indian Ocean, perhaps with that whisky in hand and another epiphany somewhere up in the air...
THE VISAYAN ROOM at XO46
Le Grand Tower
130 Valero St., Salcedo Village
Tel. (02) 553-6632
ON SALE EVERYWHERE NOW