Definitely the best restaurant meal(s) Mrs. MM and I have had in Cebu City recently. Between the two of us, Mrs. MM and I have eaten at this small restaurant five times in the past 2 months and have tried almost 70% of all the dishes on the menu! I reviewed my photos from one meal where I remembered to bring along a camera, and realized the photos were horrific and didn’t do the food justice, so I hesitated to write this post… But it would be even more of an injustice NOT to rave about the restaurant that we have enjoyed so much. Whenever a restaurant is packed with diners, I am too embarrassed to whip out a camera and take photos with a flash, so in darkish dining rooms combined with my mediocre photographic skills, the resulting photos are crappy, and you just have to imagine the dishes I am about to mention. :)
A small nicely designed restaurant that is an adjunct to the culinary school next door, The Corner Table probably doesn’t seat more than 30 guests at any one time. There is an open kitchen so you can see all the action as your meal is being prepared. I particularly like this feature because it gives you an idea how meticulous the cooks and owners are; making the “back of the house” so transparent to all. Trust me, I have seen many a restaurant kitchen of popular places we all eat at and they are often disgustingly maintained and probably wouldn’t pass a decent health inspection. Here, the almost fully stainless steel set up is organized and neat; dozens of cazuelas for the tapas are on the dish racks, and dozens of pans are at the ready to be used on the industrial stoves. The downside of this is of course is the smell and smoke that escapes a bit into the dining area, but for a food-obsessed person like me, that’s perfectly alright.
The tables are well spaced, more akin to a fine dining set-up, but the prices and dishes scream more Iberian comfort food. Tapas and paellas. But WELL-EXECUTED hot and cold tapas. And wonderful and totally sinful paellas cooked to order in roughly 25-30 minutes (no shortcuts here).
I was in my third week of strict dieting and this was the one place I let my guard down for two nights in a row. Yes, we returned the night after to continue sampling what was on the menu! I tried to start off good, ordering an Escalavida or grilled veggies (PHP150), but quickly moved to taste the Gambas al Pil Pil (PHP250) which were incredibly moist and succulent, searingly hot out of the pan with just the right note of spiciness. The waitperson let it slip that the standard was to get diners tapas orders to the table within 10-12 minutes of ordering, and I have to say, the tapas were done to order and on the table very quickly. Other notable nibbles were the Chistorra Frita or fried sausages (PHP230) Chipirones a la Plancha (PHP150) or squid that was nearly as tender as the shrimp, and beautifully cooked and massaged with olive oil and spices. We also had several types of croquetas including Croquetas de Setas (PHP150) or wild mushrooms with truffle oil. While I could dine on say just 3-4 tapas and lots of the brilliant bread that they bring to the table (or order the special bread that Artisan C makes as well) and a couple of glasses of wine, why would anyone want to do that when there is more on the menu?
Another night I tried to be good again by starting with a Ensalada de la Casa for 3 persons (PHP360) that I shared with others at the table, but as the action in the kitchen got a tad frenetic, and the smells of more tapas hit our table, I ended up trying every single dish that came our way. Pinchos or is it Pintxos de Sobresada (PHP180), Croquetas de Bacalao (PHP130), and Pinchos de Atun (tuna in photo above).
One night it was a Paella de Bacalao (PHP750) good for 3-4 with other dishes ordered — and this was a winner! I am a bacalao neophyte but Mrs. MM is a huge fan of the dried salted cod, and let me tell you, this dish was delicious and toothsome. I thought it would be hard to top that but on another night we their Arroz Tinto (I think that’s what they called it) with beef stock, beef tallow and sliced steak and that just put a smile on our faces. A big smile. A “why didn’t I think of that” kinda smile. That’s it in the photo below. It glistens due to the beef fat. :)
On a previous visit, Mrs. MM had tried their Caldereta de Cordero (PHP350) or lamb stew with olives, carrots and potatoes and remembered it fondly. It was bad enough that I had blown every rule in my diet, but we couldn’t resist the dessert menu — some magdalena or madeleines with chocolate and caramel sauce and some cheesecake with raspberry compote.
On the second evening at the restaurant, we had dinner with Mr. & Mrs. Artisan C. who apparently prepared all or nearly all of the desserts on the menu and he had us sample some chocolate souffles (not an easy thing to serve in a restaurant) that were delicious and just the right size, as well as a few canelles he had been experimenting with. Yum. I don’t think all of these will be on offer in the regular menu, but I bet there will be other goodies to try instead…
I think we were one of the first to arrive at the restaurant on our last evening at the restaurant, and probably the last to depart. As we enjoyed dessert, Artisan introduced us to the Executive Chef Joe Mike Lontoc, a partner along with Johann Young and Michael Tiaoqui in the restaurant. They are all also in some way involved with the culinary school next door (The Academy for International Culinary Arts or A.I.C.A.), either as proprietors or as a school director. I had assumed the restaurant was a training restaurant for students of the culinary school but it turns out that only a few slots are made available to the best performing students. Otherwise, it is a permanent staff of kitchen and front of the house professionals. The service was good, attentive and appropriately unobtrusive.
After our teas and coffees, Johann offered to give us a quick tour of the school’s kitchens and I managed to snap this one decent shot of a very well outfitted culinary “classroom/kitchen” of sorts (the lecture rooms were upstairs). I actually inquired about taking a basic course in knife skills, etc. and he gave me this kind of incredulous look…hahaha. Honestly, I have never attended a single culinary class in my life and would probably like to do so eventually… :)
So why did I like this place so much? As with other posts where I rave about a restaurant, it isn’t so much that it was precisely designed and sumptuously outfitted space, that the food was all incredibly inventive and unexpected or that the service was impeccable… it’s mostly about the fact that the place has “heart”, that the passion for cooking and a love of food shines through in the dishes brought to the table. The dishes are very competently executed, using the freshest ingredients and treated like the natural jewels that they are. And they just tasted DARNED GOOD. Throw in the fact that you get all of this and end up paying just PHP400-600 per person (USD9-14) after eating very well (but excluding wine), and you have a recipe for success! The Corner Table was full almost nightly from the get go, so reserving a table was ESSENTIAL or you could be turned away. Cebuanos planning ahead and reserving a restaurant table days in advance is a new concept, really. I understand that the owners were planning to finally open up for lunch soon (if not already) and that should double their capacity to feed Cebuanos and visitors alike who are searching for good tapas and paellas in a comfortable setting at a very reasonable price. Bravo and kudos to the Chefs, Owners and Staff of The Corner Table! We will be back, assuming we can manage to wrangle a reservation… :)
The Corner Table
Juan Luna Street, Mabolo, Cebu City
63 32 2368910