By Sol Vanzi
In the 1970s, good English food in London was a classic oxymoron. Change came with the flood of immigrants and vast amounts of capital from oil-rich countries invested in everything from historic hotels and plush stores to pubs and restaurants.
By the 1980s the city’s air was scented with herbs, spices, roasted lamb and beef, overpowering the mild scent of fish and chips, the predominant item on the menu of British food purveyors. A decade later, pubs were serving exceptionally good food, giving birth to a new restaurant-cum-bar term: gastropub, a fusion of gastronomy and pub.
Gastropub perfectly describes a venue that combines high-end upscale cooking techniques with the casual dining experience of a pub. The atmosphere is laid back while the food is always comfortable with a gourmet tweak.
LOVE AT FIRST BITE
Thanks to a couple of friends, we discovered a gem of a gastropub in a part of town not usually associated with gourmet treasures. Hops & Brews is smack in the center of busy Makati Avenue near Kalayaan, on the ground floor of the new I’M Hotel.
On its list of specialties is comfort food from all parts of the world, which we initially thought was far too ambitious for a small hotel bar. It took only a few bites to realize how wrong we were.
First course of our shared main courses was galbi jim (Korean beef ribs), which was so tender we needed only forks, not steak knives. The meat was cooked in a sous vide for 24 hours and basted with thick homemade spicy Korean, then served over kimchi rice.
Another Asian favorite, nasi goreng rice, (Malaysian fried rice with shrimp and mahi mahi) starred firm cutlets of fish known in the Philippines as dorado because of its golden color at the peak of its freshness.
Hainanese fried chicken influenced by a famous Singapore dish was given a new treatment. The marinated chicken cutlets were coated with a mixture of several flours for a unique flavorful crust.
EUROPE AND THE MIDEAST
To represent Europe and the Mediterranean, pasta was tossed in an uncommon and savory sardinas aglio olio, which showed off sardines preserved in virgin olive oil topped with grated aged cheese.
Lamb tajine from Morocco and Northern Africa was cooked and served in colorful authentic vessels called tajine. The dish was greaseless, indicating that the chef skimmed off all the fat rendered during the cooking process. The fork-tender meat and its natural gravy were served atop a mound of couscous.
The tajine vessels were acquired overseas, indicating meticulous attention to details by the gastropub’s management.
YANKEE SOUL FOOD
Representing American cuisine was a huge grilled cheese sandwich utilizing homemade bruschetta, artichokes, and several cheeses. The sandwich was almost bigger than the serving plate.
Capping the comfort food feast was a unique blue cheese and honey ice cream followed by iced cube coffee utilizing single-source coffee beans.
Living up to its name, Hops & Brews also serves a plethora of coffees, craft beers, wines, classic and signature cocktails made with premium liquors.