When Filipinos living in London want to celebrate, Romulo is their chosen destination. Peter Morrell and his wife discover why the restaurant is so popular
Filipino food is one of the least known of all Asian cuisines yet it is probably one of the most interesting. With a combination of local ingredients and influences from Chinese traders to Spanish colonists if offers an exciting array of unique tastes, flavours and textures.
The roots for Romulo restaurant were put down in the Philipines when owner Rowena Romulo’s family opened restaurants in and around Manila. The London location is a continuation of that long heritage.
The very warm greeting on our arrival set the tone for the entire evening. We were soon settled into our seats admiring the stylish décor and being impressed with both the light fittings and the vintage black and photos of past Filipino and visiting politicians.
We wanted to make the most of our visit so asked for guidance about which dishes to choose, during the meal, this advice proved to be spot on. The menu is split into sections, the first was the Romulo signature ‘Platos’, these are plates that can be shared with a group of friends when celebrating a birthday or anniversary. Typical dishes included beef and oxtail kare kare a festive Filipino stew and chicken relleno with a stuffing of pork, peas, raisins and chorizo. Other sections were noodles and rice and vegetable sides. Our selection was drawn from the list of ‘Platitos, tasting plates which allowed us to sample meat, fish and vegetable dishes.
Before our food started to arrive we enjoyed light, pillowy home-made rolls which had a slightly sweet taste. Our first dish was Kalamansi cured tuna ceviche. Kalamansi is a lime native to the Philippines and this combined with ginger, chilli, red onion and beetroot made a bright and uplifting start
Next up was sizzling chicken inasal sisig, another Filipino speciality. This was diced chicken thighs marinated in annatto, ginger, green chilli, garlic and lemongrass. The mix of flavourings made it an aromatic delight enhanced by a topping of crispy chicken skin. Dingley Dell pork belly adobo was the next step in our adventure, The meat had been slow-cooked in soy sauce, garlic and cane vinegar (extensively used in Filipino cooking). This was delicious, the pork was very tender, the sauce had great depth and was mopped up by a bed of sweet potato mash.
Our next plate was another pleaser, char-grilled stuffed squid. The stuffing was made with tomato, cheese and onion, and flavoured with garlic and annatto oil. This was another highly attractive taste combination, made even better by the intriguing flavour and texture of the squid ink rice it was served with.
We had two sides, refried rice with a touch of garlic and, what proved to be the biggest revelation of the meal, young jackfruit in a coconut stew. Before the jackfruit ripens it has a savoury taste and will pick up other flavours. Ours had been cooked in a fragrant chilli, ginger and coconut cream sauce. This had created a vegan dish almost identical to pork or chicken and with the same texture.
The drinks menu had a good selection of cocktails and a short but impressive wine list, all at reasonable prices. My wife’s pairing was the Outnumbered Sauvignon Blanc produced on the Matahiwi Estate located on the north island of New Zealand. This aromatic wine had refreshing aromas of citrus in the bouquet. On the palate, there were good flavours of grapefruit and other tropical fruits. The acidity worked well with the food and made the finish bright and fresh.
My match was the Masseria Borgo dei Trulli, a primitivo from Puglia in Italy. The dark red colour was a clue to the robustness of this wine. There were strong aromas of black cherry on the nose and this was joined by dried fruit and spices in the mouth. The well-structured tannins made the wine very smooth and contributed to a fruity and persistent finish.
Dessert was almost beyond us but owner Rowena recommended the Ube cheesecake. This had been made with another ingredient we had never tried, purple yam. For good measure, Rowena added a scoop of purple yam ice cream. Both were delicious and a great way to end the meal.
Dinner at Romulo worked on many different levels. The service was friendly and helpful, the décor stylish and sophisticated, the atmosphere buzzy and upbeat and the unique food was a journey of culinary discovery. An unmissable dining experience.
A meal at Romulo is also very good value for money, expect to pay £45-50 per person including drinks
Romulo Café and Restaurant London,
343 Kensington High Street
London, W8 6NW
020 3141 6390