Madrid Fusion Manila recently bought some of Spain’s most renowned Michelin-starred chefs and artisanal food and wine producers to the Philippines capital for three full days of masterclasses, markets, presentations, tastings and special pop up dinners.
It’s another marker of the Filipino dining renaissance, as I bleated on at cnn.com. It’s also smart event and destination marketing for both countries but, for the thousands who attended, it was more about the chance to see luminaries such as Elena Arzak and Quique Dacosta in action, telling the stories behind their restaurants and dishes.
One of the dinners saw chef Andoni Aduriz from Mugaritz in San Sebàstian, #6 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, in a ‘four hands’ event with chef Chele Gonzalez from Manila’s Vask restaurant.
Andoni was joind by some of his staff from Mugaritz, notably the brilliiant, theatrical manager, Jose Ramon Caldo. Following cocktails with calamansi and prosecco, eighteen dishes were presented over the course of three hours.
A Mugaritz signature kicked things off, a bowl containing what looked like four smooth stones on a bed of gravel. One bite showed they were humble new potatoes, covered in a mixture of lactose and edible clay. Clever and a marker of what was to come, even if it tasted exactly like a potato.
Anything Andoni can do, Chele can riff on. Isaw are various intestines grilled on charcoal, a Filipino favorite I’ve written up before at Mercato Centrale. Here Chele fashioned then out of shrimp and starch before covering with barbecue flavour, before embedding them in a rock.
One of the dishes of the night next, a macaroon (I refuse to call them macarons) that would grace the vitrine of Pierre Herme, but of course with a sting in the tail. You’d think that the perfectly-executed classic domes would consist of almond, sugar and egg white. Almost – just add some foie gras and substiture egg white for pig’s blood. Brilliant, ridiculous but outrageously good at the same time.
Skipping a couple plates for the sake of your time and mine and straight onto a sandwich made from kokotxas – the Basque word for the throat of the hake or cod. In the pinxtos bars of San Sebastian they were a revelation, here they weren’t particularly memorable when sandwiched between what tasted like rice cakes but were probably far more labor-intensive.
Back on form, if not on fire for the next plate of pork belly on toast, the ultimate bacon sandwich. Finely sliced cuts draped over crisbread with some token greens to try and pretend you care about vegetables. You don’t and let’s not pretend otherwise. Simple, not deconstructed or pretending to be anything else other than a heavenly mixture of pork and bread.
By this stage I’m not sure which chef is preparing which dish. I’m assuming that the next was from Chele Gonzales but when it’s this good, my mind wanders to focus more on how they pulled together a ceviche of yellowfin tuna with strands of arosep seaweed like tiny green pearls. Brilliant.
One of the few misses of the evening came next, a spider crab with pink peppercorn. It was weirdly cloying – best described by a new word added to my tiny Tagalog dictionary, umai. The peppercorn was so scant as to barely register.
Crunchy bread (pronounced ‘Crooonchy’ by the increasingly-entertaining Mugaritz manager, à la Inspector Clousseau) was paired with ‘heavy cream’. It was great in and of itself, but accompanying it was a game for the table of eight to take part in. I won’t spoil it, suffice to say it’s sufficiently unchallenging even after a few glasses of insanely drinkable, big and bold Cartoixa 2007 by Scala Dei winery. The one winner on the table took the spoils, namely a shell of caviar. In common with the rest of the room, she valiantly shared it amongst her vanquished tablemates.
Straight from the Pinoy Flavours Playbook came a small cup of beautiful sourish broth with shreds of sucking pig. Overlaying it was a remarkable new one on me, another ingredient from The Philippines that needs a much bigger global audience, a leaf that is somehow sweet and sour and sharp all at once. It’s known rather brilliantly in Tagalog as ‘Alibangbang’ – no rebranding or marketing needed.
Even if the dishes aren’t large, the wave of them began to blur somewhat. Aussie wagyu needed the accompanying lime to lift it, but the final winner on the savory side was a small bowl with fermented buro rice grains from Pampanga, torched and steamed leaves, pickled red onion and fish two ways. The first was poached, the second was the skin fried to a crisp.
Desserts were a push, even for me. A test tube of goats milk soya with camomile syrup and ginger essence was a DIY affair, but not much to celebrate. Pili nuts (there’s another product that needs to go global) with dalandan, ginger beer and sour leaf was interesting and ultimately harmonious, but the winner of four (count’em) desserts was some beautiful thin slabs of chocolate with stracciatella.
Rounding off an epic dinner was another game, sungka, where shells were replaced by traditional Filipino candies, petits fours to play with. Chefs Andoni (left) and Chele emerged from the kitchen to greet their lucky diners – and hopefully sink a hugely well-deserved glass or three.