Romulo Café in Kensington: A homey, authentic journey into Filipino cuisine
If this was a one-word review, Romulo Café would be described simply as homey. For those new to Filipino cuisine, this West London restaurant provides a pleasant introduction to the full flavours and thick sauces used throughout the South Asian country. The Romulo family decided only in 2016 to set foot in the United Kingdom and further enrich London’s food scene – their first venture opened in Manila a decade ago.
The inspiration behind this visionary chain is general Carlos P Romulo, grandfather of Sandie and Rowena (owners of Romulo’s restaurants in Manila and London respectively), Philippine ambassador to the United States, and the first and only Filipino to win a Pulitzer Prize. His love for food has become legend.
The culinary tradition was passed down the line, and today Romulo Café’s tables are laden with some of the best dishes – not only giving an impressive overview of the culture, but also of its tasty produce.
The drink menu offers a fair selection of wine, but it’s in the cocktail list that creativity thrives. Playing with colours and the exotic flavours coming from the Far East, the concoctions are carefully prepared to impress the eyes as well as the taste buds. We started with a Titas Margarita, a fruitier take on the classic margarita, with Passoã and purée of passion fruit – half of which is left floating in the glass. More classic is the Old Fashioned Papa, rum and orange bitters on the rocks. What really leaves this reviewer excited, though, is the presentation for the Moloy Dai Tay. This sweet-sour drink is made of Disaronno amaretto, Grand Marnier and pineapple juice, with a teaspoon of Don Papa rum, served in a Tiki mug. After being set alight, the half lemon on top is turned to pour in the rum.
From the platitos – the tasting plates combining traditional Filipino cuisine with British produce – we first try the Sizzling Chicken Inasal Sisig, which arrives truly sizzling on a hot pelt pan. The diced thighs are superbly marinated in annatto, green chilli and garlic, filling the mouth with contrasting though fully enjoyable flavours. An equally delicious fresh option is Kalamansi-Cured Tuna Ceviche, in which the tender fish is cured with lime, ginger and beetroot chips.
Ginger is an ever-present ingredient, as proven through the subsequent mains, which are accompanied by some light and balanced ginger rice. Although the shellfish prove very succulent, the Coconut Chilli King Prawns are a bit doughy overall, probably due to the olive oil and coconut milk. Hitting the mark instead is the Dingley Dell Pork Belly Adobo. Diners are to be warned: this is a pretty fatty dish, but the cooking in soy, garlic and rice vinegar makes the meat extremely palatable. And it would be impossible to forget the trio of potatoes as a side, offering a very interesting combination.
The Young Jackfruit and Coconut Stew that comes next is a real discovery. This fruit, common in South Asian cuisine, is not usually found in the Western world. Stewed in coconut cream and finished with annatto oil, its fleshy texture is exalted in this dish, steering away from monotony with a touch of chilli and ginger.
The surprises don’t end here, as the first of our desserts to arrive is a shade of intense purple. The Ube Cheesecake is made out of yam, a vegetable similar to sweet potato, but starchier and a bit less sweet. The purple variety not only offers an original presentation – and initial bewilderment – but also a particularly fresh flavour, which is not excessively sugary.
The meal comes to a fitting conclusion with the second pudding selection, Sans Rival. As the name already reveals, the dish draws its origin from the French occupation – once again, proving the versatile approach of Filipino cuisine, which reflects the multicultural influences on the country itself. With a base of dulce de leche buttercream and layer of chewy meringue, the cake is sprinkled with grounded pistachio and accompanied by vanilla ice cream.
A cosy atmosphere, friendly staff and traditional recipes transformed into delightfully appetising dishes: Romulo Café ticks many boxes for those looking to embark on an authentic journey into Filipino cuisine.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Maria Barrios
To book a table at Romulo Café, 343 Kensington High Street London W8 6NW, call or visit their website here.