We had several meals at Lu at Rockwell just before and during the Easter break. It’s safe to say we have probably ordered and tasted some 50-60% of the menu, and several dishes ordered more than once. But this post comes a little late as the fates seemed to keep getting in the way. First, my laptop had a nervous breakdown, and since the photos of our meals at Lu were taken just recently, there was a very real chance that I had lost them all, with no back-ups. That was a 10 day interruption there. Once the computer crisis was resolved (THANK YOU iStudio Serendra for your superb service and attention), and I sat down to write this post, I realized my little notebook where I had jotted down copious notes about the meals at Lu had gone missing. Three days and the whole house and cars turned inside out and it seems the darned thing is well and truly lost. The only thing I can think of is that I left it on the table during our last huge meal at Lu, and thankfully I think it only contained notes on Lu, not other restaurant meals as well. I am pretty sure there was nothing embarrassing or evil in my notes, more like hurried chicken scratches punctuated with emphatic circles to point out which dishes really made an impression. So forgive me if I get the names of the dishes or sauces wrong, I am doing this post from memory…
One Sunday morning, we decided to eat lunch out and after eliminating dozens of potential places, friends suggested we have lunch at Lu. We figured that after four months or so since its opening, it would have worked out the kinks and settled into its skin. We had a brilliant lunch in a nearly empty restaurant. We started with their wildly popular plate of three starters: hummus, eggplant caviar and pico de gallo, photo up top from another visit in the evening. The eggplant caviar was superb, smoky, flavorful and dense (not watery). The hummus was delicious and topped with several spices, swirls or oil, chilis, etc. almost to distraction. The hummus had been blitzed, I think and was extremely smooth, and I personally prefer that it has some texture, but this is a quibble. The pico de gallo was the weakest link in the platter but overall this brought a smile to our faces… Next to arrive was a plate of zucchini blossoms and goat cheese fritters with a bit of tomato sauce and these were very well executed at our lunchtime foray, but a little less consistent the second and third times we ordered the dish. Let me say for the record, however, that these were probably SQUASH flowers and NOT zucchini flowers just to be accurate. Mrs. MM is a huge fan of fried squash flowers and this definitely passed her discriminating palate. A sprinkle of spice added that touch of something just slightly unusual…
At that first lunch, we would go on to order a gambas al ajillo with angel hair pasta which was very good, the second time I have had this idea of melding a very comforting favorite gambas with spaghetti (the other time just recently in a Cebu restaurant). We also had the fish and chips that was likewise sprinkled or infused with a curry or some other spice if I recall correctly. We tried the corned beef burger which all of us tasted and stared at flummoxed, not sure what the point was, and this was definitely lost on us… But while not everything was a slam-dunk yum, what we talked about with enthusiasm at our table is that we had finally found a place willing to use spice and flavor in a more experimental manner. Who wants to eat something at a restaurant that you can make better at home? This was exciting, and frankly, a little out of left field. Dishes had us guessing what the spices were, and while everything was familiar, the treatment of the dish had a twist that we did appreciate. Several dishes came with a choice of two dipping sauces, savory or sweet, and if you speak to Luis de Terry, the chef, you quickly get the feeling that this is a guy who lives and breathes food, whose passion is infectious, who has a clear point of view about what he wants to present to diners. Not all the dishes work for everybody, but I suspect almost every body will find something that they like on Lu’s current menu. On another evening, we returned with several friends to a packed dining room and we ordered at least 14 different plates/dishes to see what the kitchen could produce…
The prawn and shiitake mushroom lumpia met with mixed reviews with some liking it and others lukewarm. This arrived with a sinamak or vinegar based dipping sauce and a second choice sweet syrupy sauce. What is interesting here is that the kitchen expects diners to fiddle with their dishes, to experiment with a range of flavors, thereby covering a wider range of tastes with the exact same dish. I appreciate this effort, but I think most folks would settle on one or the other sauce and if they kept returning to the restaurant, they would eventually not even need the alternative sauce.
I thought the argentinean hand-chopped beef empanadas were very good. And I loved the chimichurri sauce that came with them. The second sauce was a yellow pepper dip I think, but I thought the chimichurri was a great match for the well executed empanadas.
Over several visits, we ordered Lu’s “jewelled” couscous thrice, the first time presented with a brilliant plate of this dish, freshly made couscous chock-full of chopped dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, olives, chickpeas and sliced almonds. I thought the first iteration we tasted was EXCELLENT, with everything looking and tasting fresh and light and recently made. It had just the right balance of lightness from properly made couscous, sweetness from the fruits, brine from the olives, freshness from the peppers and other veggies, crunch from the nuts and brightness from the lemon dressing. I would even say it was the best couscous salad I have ever ordered in a Manila restaurant. So of course we ordered it again on our next visit (photo above) and while it was still good, and contained many of the same ingredients, it fell a little flat, tasting almost like it had come from a large tub of couscous, probably made much earlier in the day. It had lost its unique brightness and had gone from brilliant to commonplace. With a fully packed restaurant and small kitchen with frenetic activity, I can see why it would make logical sense to make this before the evening rush, but it’s amazing how big of a difference there was between the dishes on two different occasions. On one of our visits we also had a mandarin orange and goat milk’s cheese salad that was very good.
Next up was an “apricot and prune moroccan lamb stew” and this was quite good. A bit on the sweet side due to the dried fruit so if you tend towards sweet dishes, this might be for you. I am less fond of sweet main courses but this was executed nicely, presented beautifully– a very generous serving of tender lamb with lots of couscous, and nice big almonds.
Next was a massive wooden board with a hanger steak done two ways, one slathered in chimichurri sauce and the other under some cheese. There were also paprika fries, a green salad and an onion relish on this tray. From what I understand, this was an attempt to present a dish the way Mexicans serve their steak. I LOVE hanger steak, it’s such a good cut, not often seen in Manila restaurants, but possesses so much flavor. We kept debating what spices had been used to flavor the meat but in the end, it was a long list of fresh herbs and spices, and that may explain the slightly “muddled” view we had of the steak. Again, I appreciate the effort, but like with some of Lu’s French customers who request this hanger steak just barely seared on the grill with only salt and pepper and none of the other distractions, I think I would like the simpler version better, served with lots of fries…
The grilled turmeric chicken served with a pomelo salad and rice was a winner. It was moist, flavorful dark meat beautifully spiced and grilled. I thought the chicken might have been brined but a word with the chef yielded the answer… a long soak in a flavorful marinade before it was grilled. The result was an incredibly tender and flavorful piece of dark meat served with rice and an unusual salad on the side.
We tried several of the desserts, and felt the dark chocolate and hazelnut terrine was perhaps the best of the ones we tasted. We also had the apricot and walnut baklava but after 3 days off for the Easter break, I suspect the serving we got was older than it should have been; it shouldn’t have left the kitchen.
The Peanut Butter & Jelly dessert is incredibly rich, sweet and over-the-top. If you are a fan of peanut butter, you might want to try this.
I am told that Lu has quite a busy scene in the night time and they have a number of interesting cocktails on offer if you move with the chic crowd and need a watering hole with a few plates of munchies thrown in. But here’s the deal. If it were up to me and you are going for the food, avoid the evening rush and crowds, eat at Lu during the calmer lunch time hours, and over one or two visits, find the dishes that strike a chord with you. Mrs. MM and I both liked this restaurant and it is now on our short list of places to eat when we want to eat out, eat something different but not unfamiliar.
Luis (Lu) de Terry’s passion for food is obvious, and for us, that is always a good starting point for any adventure. As with other restaurants we frequent, the owners of Lu are almost always present, and THAT is something that deserves a round of applause. Their presence definitely makes a difference as far as service and the overall dining experience. As for the meals/dishes themselves, overall I would rate Lu a 7.5-8/10 when you balance the choice of dishes on offer, the manner in which they were executed, the inventiveness of some spice combinations, and the price points they seek. The service levels we experienced on our several visits were very good by Manila standards, but several friends felt they have had erratic service in the past, and I hope that in the months ahead Lu gets more consistent service and continues to hone its menu offerings. We will definitely be back for more of what Lu has to offer.
Note: I found the notebook, on my desk in Cebu… :(