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The New Classics

Romulo Café’s legendary recipes, old and new, must live on

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By SOL VANZI 

Images By NOEL PABALATE 

Owners Sandie Romulo-Squillantini and husband Enzo Squillantini with Chef A1 Rebueno

Owners Sandie Romulo-Squillantini and husband Enzo Squillantini with Chef A1 Rebueno

Over the years, Romulo Café has built a faithful clientele of food lovers who are so familiar with the restaurant’s heirloom dishes that they usually order without looking at the menu. But they will have seven good reasons to consult the menu now, to pick among seven dishes introduced by Romulo Café’s executive chef, A1 Rebueno, which will be available beginning the first week of July.

We were fortunate to be among the invited few at a recent sneak preview of the new offerings.

The first dish was Sizzling Sinigang na Bulalo Steak, which was a big improvement with the use of tart tamarind sinigang broth in lieu of the customary greasy cream gravy.

Adobong Pula Confit is a Batangueño dish cooked with tomatoes and achuete, inherited by chef A1 from his lola. “I did it confit style. I submerged the chicken leg quarters in olive oil and achuete oil then slow roasted it for several hours in the oven,” explained Chef A1.

 Chicharon Bulaklak

Chicharon Bulaklak

You can also find Romulo’s special Conchinillo de Cebu. “We incorporated a lot of Filipino flavors into the Spanish cochinillo, specifically Cebu lechon flavorings like garlic and tanglad. We don’t serve it with lechon sauce. Just like Cebu lechon, our Cochinillo de Cebu is paired only with spicy vinegar,” said Chef A1. A serving of this suckling pig weighs roughly two kilos, and must be pre-ordered at least seven days ahead .

 

 Sizzling Sinigang na Bulalo Steak

Sizzling Sinigang na Bulalo Steak

Grilled Boneless Bangus is a simple fare served with a relish of green mangoes and Romulo Café’s signature soybased dipping sauce. Instead of wrapping the fish in banana leaves or foil, it is grilled directly over the coals for a stronger smoky flavor. The fish is large and meaty, with a flavor unique to milkfish grown and caught in Bonuan, Pangasinan.

Chicharon Bulaklak is a classic Filipino bar chow done right—crispy with the right amount of seasoning. It is partnered with pinakurat, an organic spiced vinegar.

You can also find innovative dishes like Ginataang Langka. “We extended our list of vegetable offerings and added something you don’t usually find in restaurants,” added chef A1.

 Adobong Pula Confit

Adobong Pula Confit

Pan de Sal and Leche Flan Pudding is a treat that made it into Inquirer Lifestyle’s “Best Desserts” book five, the 2019 edition. “Instead of just dipping day-old pan de sal in coffee, I thought it would be fun to repurpose the bread into a dessert. Then I added another Filipino element, the leche flan,” he confessed.

“I would say 90 percent of our menu is still composed of my lola’s recipes but we’re injecting new ones in order to keep up with the times,” says Sandie Romulo-Squillantini, granddaughter of Carlos P. Romulo. General Romulo was secretary of foreign affairs for 17 years and elected president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1949. During World War II, he was aide-de-camp to General Douglas MacArthur, and as a journalist won the Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

Ginataang Hipon sa Kamias

Ginataang Hipon sa Kamias

In the ‘50s, when General Romulo was the Philippines’ ambassador to the United States, his wife Virginia was famous in the diplomatic circle, serving Filipino food to famous international guests.

“It’s interesting how my lola was ahead of her time. She had to tweak a lot of the Filipino dishes to serve them to the elite,” Sandie disclosed.

An article published in the Manila Times in 1963 described how Mrs. Romulo camouflaged adobo for the American table by using a whole crown of pork and marinating it in the classic garlic-vinegar mixture. The guests unknowingly partook of what looked like a crown roast of pork with all the trimmings, but with the taste of adobo.

Chef A1 uses the same principle when conceptualizing menu items for Romulo Café.

Cochinillo de Cebu

Cochinillo de Cebu

“I keep the flavor Filipino but how I present it is different. Or I substitute some of the ingredients but, at the very core, it’s still Filipino. We want something modern, something new, but we still want it very relatable to the Filipinos. So I try as much as possible that it’s still traditional in terms of the flavor but a bit more refreshing to the eyes,” he explained.

Ginataang Langka

Ginataang Langka

During the media lunch, guests also tasted a couple of Romulo Cafe’s heirloom dishes: Lola Virginia’s Chicken Relleno, Boneless Crispy Pata Binagoongan, Tito Greg’s Kare-Kare, Flying Tilapia and Baby Pusit in Garlic, Humba with banana blossom and fried bananas, and Ginataang Hipon sa Kamias topped with latik.

Romulo Cafe has three locations in Metro Manila: Quezon City (32 Sct. Dr. Lazcano cor. Scout Tuazon, Tomas Morato), Makati (148 Jupiter St. BelAir Village), and Alabang (Azumi Hotel 2205 Market St. Muntinlupa). Romulo Cafe is also in London (343 Kensington High Street London, W8 6NW 020-3141.6390) 

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