I broke several of my own rules with respect to this restaurant visit and this post. First, I generally do NOT visit a new restaurant until at least two months AFTER it has opened. Second, I try not to take photos or do a post based on one visit, unless I feel we tasted a large proportion of the menu offered, or it is a foreign restaurant that I do not plan on returning to soon, and third, I never identify myself to the chef, wanting an experience just like any other diner would likely have. La Girolle was just 2.5 weeks old when we visited, I brought a camera anyway, and the chef has been a reader of marketmanila.com for several years, and used to email me while he was working at several starred restaurants in Paris. So I let the chef know I was there for dinner, and we paid for everything we ate and drank. He never asked me to write about the place, I chose to do so totally on my own. And I only met the chef in person that evening at the restaurant. So let me say this up front, consider this post the equivalent of an amuse bouche, a pre-appetizer as it were, as I suspect the chef has a lot more up his sleeve, and I have only lightly grazed on his repertoire. But I wanted to get the word out there sooner rather than later for folks who may enjoy this type of meal…
Mrs. MM was out of town, and a friend and I decided on a last minute dinner out, but as usual, couldn’t think of a place… until I remembered La Girolle had opened, so I rang them to ask if they could take two for dinner, which they did. We arrived at the Blue Sapphire Building in Fort Bonifacio, were told there was no parking for the restaurant on the premises and we parked at an open lot nearby, just a minute or two walk away. At the lobby of the building, we were met by a staff member of the restaurant, who escorted us to the second floor, through a locked door with fingerprint recognition devices, and down a hallway to the restaurant. To say “hidden” would be kind, but I was anticipating a special treat, so the rigamarole of getting there didn’t bother us much. The restaurant has roughly 30 seats. We were seated at a window table, and after a review of the menus, decided on one La Girolle Tasting menu of 9 courses that we split between two people. And we ordered off the ala carte menu as well.
While waiting for the meal to begin, we quickly took in the surroundings. We (friend and I) both agreed that there was a slight disconnect between the dining room and the menu and price points. It felt like we were in a high rise office building, which did, in fact, look out on a parking lot and a 7-Eleven. The tile floors, lack of ceiling and other hard surfaces were a bit at odds with the fancy french food theme. The bathroom jutted into the dining room, a bit out of place, but perhaps with no other place to put it. Let’s just say the dining room wasn’t the reason to be there. The kitchen, however, in plain sight for most diners, was a thing of BEAUTY… This was obviously a chef’s dream, superbly appointed, large (almost as large as the dining area), equipped with the good stuff, tons of stainless steel, a serious stove, expensive toys, wicked heat lamps (I know, I have been in the market for some and a pair of them cost as much as a motorcycle!), vacuum pack machines, etc. So the capital was poured into the kitchen in a big way… and I love that. But I do wish a little bit more of it was invested in the dining room as well, for the customers’ benefit.
So let’s talk about the food. Up top, a refreshing amuse bouche of soba noodles with a light citrusy dressing garnished with carrots, slivered snow peas and finely diced black olives. Delicious, refreshing, a palate opener and harbinger of good things to come. This was gone in two fork fulls, and I am grateful to the kitchen for accommodating our splitting the tasting menu between two people, as it meant double the plates, plating differently, etc. Oh, and not to mention the amount of cutlery needed, all provided by an efficient and attentive staff. Next up, a tartare of Australian Lamb Loin, which was delicious, and brave for Manila, I would think. More than half of pinoys seem to shun lamb, and let alone raw lamb. But I like lamb and this finely chopped meat, combined with a tomato confit, some rosemary and black olive puree was very nice. Garnished with some onions, deviled quail’s eggs and just sprigs and hints of this and that and you start to appreciate the artistry, training, skill and technique behind all of this… There was serious work on these plates, and so far, so good. The next course was a visual delight, a “Mille-Feuille of Brie and Ricotta Cheese” served with beet root, carrots, apples, caramelized nuts and a gastrique sauce. I must have been talking and not paying attention, but from the photos, I am not sure where the mille-feuille comes into the picture… What is traditionally a puff pastry with stuff between the layers, this seemed like a slab of brie in a sort of terrine like concoction. It was good, and the pairing with the veggies was delicious. But could this have been the La Girolle salad instead? The purslane (greens) suggests this could have been the latter (as I have seen both menus)… hmmm.
Next, we had the “Pied de Cochon” or pig’s feet, braised(?), shredded, and breaded and fried. The small log lay on a perfectly square bed of sauce gribiche (eggs, capers, mustard and herbs typically) and served with more minced black olives and again, the deviled eggs. This wasn’t one of our favorites. It would have taken a lot of work to do this, but in the end, it was a bit heavier yet blander than I would have expected, and in a dinner with many highlights, this didn’t stand out. I should mention now that this type of meal is perfect for wine buffs, who can pair this type of menu with half a dozen fantastic wines, but while I like wine a lot, I don’t know it anywhere nearly as well as food and prefer that someone else does the wine pairing… The next dish, above, was a plate of salt-cured torchon of foie gras, served with caramelized fruits and vegetables. This was excellent, and the two fried balls on the foie are actually fried grapes. This was visually arresting, delicious, generously proportioned, and eye-catching. I mentioned to my friend at this point that the chef was good with the fruits and veggies, which the chef later confirmed by saying that he had worked the veggie stations in several of his jobs in France…
The tasting menu was now half done, and we were presented with a small serving of sorbet to cleanse the palette. I have to say, I was getting pretty full at this point and we had the a la carte stuff arriving between these dishes as well… Next on the tasting menu, some grilled tuna stuffed with achovies, served with green vegetables, and an olive emulsion. The dish tasted fine, and was a bit out of the ordinary, but our tuna was cooked all the way through, and I prefer it served rare instead. Once tuna colors all the way through, it gets a bit tough, but again, that’s a personal preference, and maybe most other diners expect their fish cooked through.
The star of the tasting menu had to be this 48-hour sous vide short ribs of beef. Melt in your mouth tender in a way so special you have to think this took some time to achieve. Sous vide is a method of cooking with the ingredient vacuum sealed and submerged in warm water for a length of time. The meat, or whatever, is gently cooked, and loses none of its flavor at all. It’s been very chi-chi for a decade or so, but with outcomes like this one, you can appreciate why its a technique that is beloved by many a chef. Served with stunningly clever bernaise beignets, the bernaise sauce placed inside grapes and fried, perfectly done vegetables and a mouthwatering beef jus, this was by far our favorite dish of the evening. Serve me this a la carte and I will be back for more, again and again. Gejo, if you are out there, are you seeing many of your produce items used in such a spectacular manner? You should be proud. Gej, of Kitchen Herbs Farm supplies some of the greens, veggies and garnishings for the restaurant I understand… This is perhaps a good time to note that the skills required to put out plates like this are WAY BEYOND the ordinary cook. Take the tourne of carrots and other precise classic cuts of the veggies, they are a serious pain in the ass to do, and while most diners may not appreciate that, I did. Tourne-ing a potato or carrot with seven perfectly even sides and more pointed at one end and the other, is not easy. I actually have a tourne knife, but I would have to practice on a thousand carrots and cut my thumb several times if I were to achieve a decent example.
Dessert on the tasting menu included a chocolate pot de creme, of which I could only have one spoon full, I was that “fed up”… And as if mirroring my current poll on chocolate vs. lemon people, the chef sent out a beautiful caramelized lemon tart with a caramelized sugar dome. This was very good, and cements my view that I do indeed prefer lemon to chocolate on most occasions, and would have loved even more lemon custard in this example. The blowtorch used to caramelize the sugar also burned the edges of the pastry.
A couple of (hopefully) constructive observations, if I may. A tasting menu is meant to showcase the vast capabilities of the chef(s) and the kitchen, and to bring diners to great and varied heights of taste, texture, flavor, etc. It’s about small sublime dishes that leave you wanting more. Some chefs, like Thomas Keller, send out 15 course tasting menus and try to never repeat an ingredient or garnish, and that is one end of the spectrum, I agree. At La Girolle, I thought the black olive puree appeared too many times over the course of the tasting menu — on the noodles, the tartare, the pied au cochon and again on a soup below. Olives are quite strongly flavored, so they can overwhelm. If knife skills are paramount in this type of cooking, the nitpicker in me would mention that the diced beets and carrots that appeared in two dishes weren’t of a uniform size, a minor slip-up, precision-wise. I know, I know, this doesn’t really matter to most people, but I thought I should mention it anyway, as the price of the dinner was up there… Finally, caramelized nuts and/or caramelized sugar appeared on four dishes and they worked nicely, but caramel has a tendency to get chewy in the humidity of the tropics, and if that happens, it can take away from the dish, as it did that night. All of this is said in light of the fact that we truly enjoyed the dinner, but are just being very detailed about the quibbles…
From the ala carte menu, we ordered the pumpkin soup, here a half portion of it, served with thinly sliced raw okra (great texture), cheese and the olive puree.
We also had the “Pan Seared Duck Magret a la Dragee” which was perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful, and served with braised red cabbage, chayote (according to the menu, but I don’t recall seeing it anywhere, but saw young soybeans instead) and duck jus.
We also had a Delice au Chocolate with Mascarpone sorbet. This was delicious. We were so full I couldn’t have more than two spoonfuls, but it was so nicely textured, and intensely flavored. I should have brought the rest of it home. :)
The bottom line? I think we only saw a hint of what Chef Ian Padilla and his team are capable of. He mentioned after dinner that he was once vegan/vegetarian and worked the vegetable stations at several restaurants… so I would love to see more of this in future menus. He plans to change his menus every couple of months or so, and I think that over time he will hopefully find his groove, and that of his customers… I love it when folks who are passionate about their craft, open restaurants to share it with us, the folks who will never cook that way. If you enjoy this type of French food, drop by La Girolle and see what Chef Ian has prepared for the day… I believe the lunch and dinner menus differ. They have a private chef’s table right beside the kitchen if you want to experience that. Call in advance for a reservation. The tasting menu was PHP3,000, a three course a la carte menu PHP1,750 + service.
2nd Floor Bleu Sapphire Bldg
30th Street corner 2nd Avenue
Taguig City, Metro-Manila