We had lunch at the Chelsea Market Cafe at Serendra Mall, Fort Bonifacio the other day and was pleasantly surprised. It had a menu that read well and from which I could pick several dishes I that wanted to eat, the prices seemed reasonable for such a high rent district and the whole feel of the restaurant seemed positive and cheery for a mid-week lunch… I typically don’t eat at very new restaurants as I understand they need several months to “settle in,” and work out the kinks, but a good friend suggested we meet at Chelsea and we (I & Mrs. MM) agreed. I should mention that other friends have been to Chelsea and complained of appalling service in its opening days. First the setting… I presume they were going after a hippish vibe of the recently gentrified and hottish scene in the Chelsea section of New York City. A large food mall of the same name, Chelsea Market, with lots of restaurants opened in a renovated old Nabisco factory/warehouse. What used to be warehouses and drug shoot up nooks is now home to the hottest restaurants, clubs and highrise apartments for yuppies in New York. We ate in Chelsea the last time we were in New York, let’s just say naming a restaurant after an area can be just that…naming a restaurant. The whole “market” aspect of this new restaurant in Serendra is lame at this point, they threw in say 6-8 stainless steel shelves and are re-selling or stocking goods from other retailers such as Flavors N’ Spices 50 from meters away at Market!Market! (I love that shop, btw), Gourmet Cafe Coffee, etc. – Suffice it to say the market side of this set-up is mostly for “show” at the moment, and I don’t think they have any serious revenues from the food products for sale. The restaurant itself has high ceilings, is bright and airy and is a nice place to watch the pedestrian activity outdoors… but it is what I would describe as “chic on the cheap.”
On closer inspection, very good design intentions are executed in sometimes, shall we say, “economy implementation.” It is, after all, in a newly constructed mall and the neighborhood lacks the authentic feel of a resurrected blighted part of town. Tile floors, bare walls, and a total lack of soft material results in a cacophonous room where you either barely hear the desired conversation or you have to talk very loudly to be heard. I hate that noisy aspect of most new restaurants, but it is a trend I am on the losing end of. The place is a tad warm, despite new airconditioners and a final little criticism… they have bizarre (not hip) odd shaped gray plates in weird unworkable shapes and frankly, wickedly ugly glasses. But the place is a function of economics, I am sure, and the owners are savvy businesspeople, so they spent what they felt they could recover… so enough about the place, what about the food?
Before we even ordered, the table was presented with a cutting board with some warm focaccia and a whole baked bulb of garlic. Nice touch. Freebies always make one feel good. And bread freebies play to our basest instincts of “good things.” The garlic, however was almost tasteless — which is what happens when you start with a large, imported, nearly tasteless Taiwanese or Chinese garlic bulb. Bread was pretty good. Next, I had an arugula salad with green apple slices, blue cheese or gorgonzola and walnuts with a balsamic dressing. This was well done. Nice small arugula greens in abundance. A salad I would recommend for anyone who likes slightly bitter greens. A table nearby ordered the same thing and they all said it was too bitter for them and left theirs nearly untouched… why did they order it then? We had squash soup with some goat cheese I think and this was also very good. It had an odd film of fat (perhaps from melting cheese) and water on the surface which I suspect came from the cover of the large holding vat they used to keep the soup, but otherwise it was nicely flavored and definitely something we would order again. We also ordered a small pizza which arrived hot and with a super thin crisp crust. Fresh tomato slices, a tomato sauce and cheese and thin shavings of portabello mushroom were sitting nicely atop the crust… a garnish of more arugula leaves was nice but I was beginning to feel like the chef had cornered the Philippine market for baby arugula and needed to use them on everything. The taste of the pizza? Pretty good.
For my main course, I ordered the appetizer dish – Beef carpaccio. My main complaint on this one? Look at the outer 1/2 centimeter of the beef in the topmost photo above… it is oxidized, freezer burned, whatever. You should NEVER serve raw beef smashed to paper thinness that then looks like a bruised and battered individual. NEVER. The taste of the dish was fine (discoloration does not mean bad meat, just ugly meat), the creamy dressing on the sweet side, but the visual of the dual colored beef was a serious no-no for any self-respecting chef or restaurant, I would think. And again, quit with the arugula garnish, guys. If you can’t pull this dish off with a proper beef red, pull it from the menu or use tuna instead. Our table also ordered a pastrami sandwich and while it looked good, it had about 12 square inches of pastrami in it, far too little of the delicious meat for the volume of bread provided… of course if you are used to pastrami sandwiches in New York, you actually get more meat than bread there… This tasted okay, it was just skimpy on the meat.
For dessert, I ordered the lemony pavlova concoction which looked okay but wasn’t memorable in taste… fairly well made meringue with too little lemon curd, which oddly had the texture of one of The Kids processed fruit by the meter, and whipped cream. Not a repeat order for me. We also got the watermelon and kalamansi sherbet (which technically may have been a sorbet) that was clever and refreshing and a raspberry sherbet that lacked raspberries. Finally, a hazelnut gelato that tasted pretty good, but I would guess was not made on the premises. With several softdrinks, coffees and teas, this meal, good for four, came out to roughly PHP3,200 or PHP800 each. We would definitely return to this place to try other items on the menu. For me, a nice lunch spot with a lunch type menu and the value for money seemed just about right…