If Chef's Table restaurant were a man, he is most likely to come with a warning: "Be careful. Too perfect to be true." For one, he's of a renowned pedigree (with 'TV Chef' Bruce Lim at the helm of the kitchen). He's also got the looks: stunning, classy, and -- more importantly -- meticulously clean. His address isn't to be snubbed as well. He's grounded in an upper-class district, yet far enough from the areas populated by the hoity-toity.
But just like dealing with the blessed sons of Adonis, approaching Chef's Table by Bruce Lim doesn't happen without hesitation. For sure there's some scar hidden amidst the perfection, right? No one and nothing is perfect, after all. So is it the food? Will you shell out your hard earned money for a meal that is so-so at its best? Well, my flawless lunch at the Chef's Table instructed me to answer no, and no. And until I find that flaw, I'm considering myself lucky to have met this "man."
Tall, Bright, and Handsome...
A step into Chef's Table is enough to impress even the most fussiest diner. Its high ceiling is a claustrophobic's dream; the resto appears higher than it's wider.
They went for the minimalist look: brown focused decor, linen-free tables, and basic wooden chairs -- and they nailed it without being bare and boring. Bright daylight is welcomed in by the glass facade, ample enough during lunch time. To further enhance the appeal of their angular ceiling and walls, well-positioned accent lamps are switched on. Whoever designed the place surely left no room for criticism.
...with a Famous Name to Boot
Cooking shows are now a dime a dozen, and so are the "celebrity" chefs that represent them. While there's certainly an advantage to having your face and skills showcased on television, it isn't enough to make me a fan. Sure I've seen Chef Bruce on TV. Yeah, he carries an episode well. But it wasn't until I talked to him in person that I was really impressed. It took one question for me to know why this celebrity chef stands out.
"Let me get this clear. You are of Chinese heritage. You grew up in San Francisco, yet you came here to cook Filipino food? Why?" I asked him. "Well, my grandma --the best cook ever-- is Kapampangan. I learned to love Filipino food because of her. Besides, Chinese cuisine is so out there. It doesn't need help. Filipino does. I want to put it on the spotlight," he easily answered.
Now that's a chef with a purpose, not some spotlight hogging person who happens to cook. Chefs with purpose make soulful food; more often than not, their dishes come out inspired and exceptional.
And Is Fulfilling In Many Ways...
What happens when a chef, classically trained in French cuisine, gets hold of local ingredients like tuyo, tahong, and langka? A unique, schizophrenic menu, marrying the old techniques with the new, with an array of trendy dishes all worthy of trying at least once.
To get the point, order the Inasal na Chicken Caesar Salad (P280).
Inasal na Chicken Caesar Salad
Everyone has their version of Caesar's salad, even I make my own sometimes. Chef Bruce's version spruces up the classic recipe by using the charred chicken recipe dear to Filipinos. The chicken slices, which are too plenty to be classified as toppings, are evidently smoky. There's also your usual greens (perfectly crunchy, by the way), queso de bola shavings, and a patis flavored vinaigrette. In-your-face simple, and each of the ingredients is enjoyable on its own.
Among the starters, Fried Pusit (P230) is the most-ordered.
No surprise there. It is only here at Chef's Table that I've had fried squid that tender, to the point that it's just a notch tougher than pork fat. I share Chef Bruce's sentiments that squids don't have to be in the usual jerky form. The wondrous flavor of the seafood, not the flavor of the oil, is much more distinct when oil-blanched. To cut off the fat (or the fake sensation of eating one, rather), an ensaladang mangga salsa is provided.
Based from the above mentioned dishes, you may now have gotten the idea of the kind of food served in Chef's Table. Though outright simple, the performance of the dishes here are measured by the perfect combinations of textures and flavors. The Calamansi Tuyo Spaghetti (P210) again exemplifies how it's possible to be impressive without trying really hard.
Calamansi Tuyo Spaghetti
I would know because I watched how they prepared the entire dish from start to finish. It was so simple that sautéing the tuyo in butter has got to be its most complicated step. But that doesn't take away the fact that this dish is difficult not to like. It's salty, and at points properly tangy. I could eat this every day.
But not every dish here is easy to replicate. The Prawn Aligue My Way (P350) wrapped and cooked in banana leaves isn't.
Prawn Aligue My Way
I have to disclose that I am biased to anything with prawns and aligue. Anything prawn plus aligue, even when cooked by a ten year old, is good enough for me to eat with gusto. Therefore, you must know that I'm trying hard not to type too much superlatives as I praise this dish. I love it. I love the idea of having to open the banana leaves to reveal the bright orange melee as if opening a present. I love, too, how neither the prawns' nor the aligue's flavor was overpowering. Not so, that I managed to pair it with Aligue Rice (P65). Lastly, I think that the addition of the cellophane noodles, Singaporean style, was an ingenious idea to add a little more class to the fare. Now, did I go overboard with the superlatives? I thought so.
But despite my praises for the Prawn Aligue My Way, if I were to recommend only one dish from among those I've tried, I would mention without hesitation the Chill-a-fino (P550).
This dish isn't picturesque as, say, a steak, but nonetheless it deserves the spotlight. This is Chef Bruce's personal favorite. It's evident. He knows his way around Lapu-lapu. "It's all about timing," he says, seeing how delighted our group was while finishing off the plate. The fish is cooked superbly--Asian soy based style--then is escalated to greatness by the ube mash that can't be found elsewhere. "Somebody told me it (ube mash) can't be made. I did it," Chef Bruce shares. This dish possesses an indulgent balance of sweet and savory. It best shows his mastery in the kitchen.
Mains are excellent, but the desserts are no exception. If you were to order one, try Chef Bruce's Buko Pie Martini (P150), served steamy. You'd never want your buko pie in another way after this.
Buko Pie Martini
And as if a steady food program isn't enough, Chef's Table's alcohol list further impresses. The NCR (No One Can Run--P180)-- a wicked concoction with brandy, tequila, gin, lambanog, mango, and chili--is a must-try.
No One Can Run--including you
Watch the kitchen in action
A chef's table, technically, is a single table right inside a restaurant's kitchen reserved for very important patrons. To dine in this coveted spot can be likened to watching your favorite band practice in their very own studio; only in this case, it's a chef who is set to entertain you with his off-the-menu creations.
Chef Table by Bruce Lim does this job and it does this pretty well. Is it really perfect? I say don't take my word for it as this may be just love at first sight. But sure enough, our first date got me hooked, so it's likely I'll be back for more.