Thursday, November 8, 2012

La Girolle for the 3rd time

Tonight the Travelife team decided to have dinner, just to relax and take a breather from the intense production of our upcoming December 2012-January 2013 issue -- which is looking absolutely fantastic, by the way.

It was also kind of a little send-off party for myself, since I'm flying out to South Africa tomorrow for two weeks of good food, perhaps too much sightseeing, and a bit of hunting in the wild.

Yes, this is the bit of hunting in the wild part....


We started late as everyone came from somewhere, this being one of those five events in one night kind of evening again.

But at about 830 PM, we'd all rushed through our events and were finally assembled in a restaurant for a proper meal together -- and the restaurant we chose for dinner tonight was La Girolle at The Fort.


Someone had told me that La Girolle had come out with a new menu, and I was in the mood for pretty good French food after an intense couple of days trying to get everything done before flying out tomorrow for a V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N.

So La Girolle it was. And when we got there, I asked Chef Ian Padilla to make us his favorites from his new menu. Then we sat around tables and ate and talked for about 3.5 hours. It's past 11 PM and I've just gotten home from dinner.


I'm so glad I was too busy to have a proper lunch today, because I certainly made up for everything at dinner. We had three appetizers and three main courses. And three desserts. In just over three hours.

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Yes. A couple of days ago I was hung up on the number 8. But tonight, the magic number was definitely 3.

Now about La Girolle. Lots of people have differing opinions about La Girolle. Some love it, while others think it needs more salt.

I've had good dishes there and also a couple of dishes that were just good enough. But that was in the early days of the restaurant, when it was going through birth pains just like any other business.

But I've always liked Chef Ian, who owns the restaurant and runs the kitchen so tightly that I swear I could be in Japan. His kitchen is spotless, efficient, and terribly busy -- as well as filled with staff members. The ratio of staff to guests is very high here.

And apart from striking me as a nice guy, Chef Ian's such a hard worker, a perfectionist, and certainly an ambitious chef.

So it was in this mood that I decided to try La Girolle again.


We started with a very picturesque appetizer plate of sashimi-grade tuna from General Santos, which Chef Ian made into a tartare and then served with caviar, marinated daikon and avocado.

This is a big favorite from his old menu, and his customers like it so much that he's revived it into his new menu as well.

This dish, as well as all the others, were so beautifully plated. Almost too pretty to eat.

I said to Chef Ian: "You have the most beautiful plating in Manila."

I certainly meant that. For me, his training in France, at the famous restaurant Taillevent, especially, shows in the meticulous way he plates his dishes.


Then we went on to a mosaic of chicken confit which he combined with foie gras, mushrooms, cabbage, prosciutto and almond vinaigrette. What a combination to labor over for three days, I thought.

Yes, it actually took him three days to make this dish via a combination of techniques too tedious to explain here And then the actual cooking -- which he did sous  vide -- took 10 minutes.

So it took him three days to make this dish, and it took us 15 minutes to finish it. Someone in the Travelife team actually timed us eating this.

I liked this dish too, although I told Chef Ian that I would have served it with a simple green salad with vinaigrette on the side, just to balance the flavors. The dish itself is very nice, but it made me hanker for a sour salad to eat it with, for some reason.

Apparently, that's exactly what they do at lunch, when people just order a one-plate complete meal instead of having eat three dishes for appetizers, three dishes for mains, and three for dessert, like what we did today.

So I wasn't very much off the mark.


Several times while tasting these so very labor intensive dishes and hearing how he created these, I had to ask Chef Ian: "Why do you do this to yourself?"And then I teased him: "You should really get a life, you know."

What I jokingly meant was that he was spending too much time in the kitchen, making these dishes over hours and days.

He not only takes the long and winding road -- the very tedious process -- to create his dishes and then to plate them so picturesquely; but he also changes his menu every two months.

Can you imagine how much experimentation it takes to try and get a menu right every two months? And then so many of his dishes need days to make.

I admired him for his effort, but I almost felt like pitying him for his very hard work as well. Every dish is clearly a painstaking -- in fact, almost painstakingly painful -- labor of love, in a world where so many restaurants take the easy route, if not the short cut route.

His answer was as clear as when I met him almost a year ago: "I want to operate this restaurant to the highest standards possible. I want to be the first Michelin-star quality restaurant in the Philippines."

He's got the talent, the youth and the energy, as well as the very essential ambition; so I'm sure he will go far in the future, especially if he sticks to his craft and practices to make it perfect. And, as I told him tonight, IMHO he should take a month off and travel the world, eating in some of the best restaurants so that he can compare his work with the masters and get even better.

In other words, he should get a Travelife. Haha.

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I think that more experience, too, will serve him well going forward, so he has a bright future ahead. There aren't many chefs with this kind of determination and mindset in the Philippines.

Unfortunately, that also means I -- and other serious foodies, I guess -- hold him up to a much higher standard than the typical French restaurant found in Manila. If he so vocally wants to be in the Michelin league, well, I can't help but compare his food to the Michelin restaurants I eat in around the world.

The world's Michelin-starred restaurants are tough acts to follow so he's literally set himself up. If I'd eaten this same food in some French restaurant around the corner, I would be waxing rhapsodic. But for a chef who wants to be on the Michelin-star level, well, I'm not going to be so easy on the praise.


We also had a salmon plate which consisted of smoked salmon, salmon gravlax, salmon sashimi and creme fraiche. Again, a labor of love. The gravlax alone took two days to cure in beetroot.

This dish was truly very enjoyable. But again, if we're talking Michelin stars, well, I told Chef Ian that the flavors of the pounded salmon at the bottom and the gravlax on top of it should be more distinctly apart.

In top Michelin starred-restaurants, you oftentimes have dishes with a menagerie of ingredients on a plate -- but none of the ingredients lose their individuality without good reason.


Then we went on to the main courses. Yes, we were hungry.

We ordered three main dishes: pan-seared scallops with mushrooms, crispy pig's ears, anchovy aioli and quail egg to start; followed by Norwegian salmon which he cooked sous vide style again and then served with garlic puree and a caviar beurre blanc sauce.

Chef Ian told me: "Once you have salmon sous vide, you'll never go back to eating salmon cooked the ordinary way again."

Frankly, I'm not so hard to convince because I love food cooked sous vide. It's a tedious process, but it's a great innovation because it allows relatively lesser-grade cuts of meat and fish to taste better just via the cooking process alone.

Sous vide food also tastes wonderful and moist, when done well.


Well, Chef Ian was certainly right about the salmon. It was moist and tender, and he dusted it on top with a curry spice. To make the salmon sous vide, he first marinated the salmon in brine for an hour, using a formula of 1 cup salt and 4 cups of water. Then he cooked it sous vide for 14 minutes in 50 degrees.


The last main dish consisted of short ribs done sous vide again. If you follow this blog, you'll know that I'm a softie for short ribs done sous vide. I think short ribs are perfect for this style of cooking, and again, it's a great way to make a relatively less expensive cut of meat taste better.

This is how he does the short ribs...
Chef Ian's version was so tender and nicely done. He served it with peas, a veloute of horseradish, and a bordelaise sauce.

When I first had it with this bordelaise sauce, I kept thinking "red wine sauce" in my mind for some reason; but then the bordelaise sauce grew on me, and I liked this dish enough to say to Chef Ian: "I'd order this again."


We had three desserts to end including a timbale of berries, a strawberry and apple crumble that he served with home-made vanilla ice cream, and a caramelized lemon tart with caramel sauce.

I'm not a fan of strawberry crumble in general, but I tried this one anyway, and it was very nice -- not too sweet and full of real natural goodness. So I ended up finishing this dish.

La Girolle is proud to tell its customers that it never does shortcuts, so the sauces, fillings and everything else are all made of the real things.


The lemon tart, too, is a specialty of the house, and in the short time that La Girolle has been in operation (just over a year), Chef Ian has served this in various ways.

I remember that I once had this same lemon tart a long time ago, and it didn't come with caramel sauce.

But today, this was a clear winner among the Travelife team. Who would've thought that lemon tart and caramel sauce would work well together?

In the end, I ate too much and I even ordered wine with my meal, which I don't usually do unless it's a special ocassion, because I always work too long and too hard to have alcohol always in my life.

But in a way, tonight was a special occasion. Everything is going wonderfully in Travelife, and as far as I was concerned, tonight I was already on another holiday in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

Restaurant La Girolle 
2nd Floor Blue Sapphire Bldg
30th Street corner 2nd Avenue
Fort Bonifacio, 
Tel: 478-4119


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