Long before the tapas craze struck Manila, Calderón has been sitting quietly along a street that shares its name in the city of San Juan. Monchet Carballo, head of QA and Product Development, traces its roots to his food stall in Salcedo Market. “I’ve been there for eight years,” he shares. “The paella, the bacalao, you can find on our menu—that’s where I started selling them. Calderón didn’t really kick off until Marmi started pitching ideas, though. She saw this four-door apartment here in San Juan and made a commitment to get the place before even knowing what to do with it. I figured that putting up a restaurant here would be a really good experience.”
Calderón: Tapas Y Bebidas
Given Monchet’s specialty, he and his partners, Marmi Perez (Marketing) and Angela Melo (Operations), eventually decided to go with homestyle Spanish cuisine for their first restaurant. “We are so familiar with Spanish food,” Carballo remarks. “But there are very few non-commercial Spanish restaurants here in Manila, so we ran away with that concept.”
Located at Calderon Street in Little Baguio, San Juan
There is nothing ostentatious about Calderón. Its interiors are woodsy and warm, and highly reminiscent of a Spanish tavern. A point of interest is the hollowed area below the staircase where wine bottles are stored in a clever, attractive manner. Photographs, painting and other knickknacks on the wall also help bring out the traditional Spanish vibe of the restaurant.
The Paella Valenciana (Pequeno – P780, Mediano – P1,680, Grande – P2,880), one of Calderón’s signature dishes, has the privilege of being one of the dishes that started it all. This dish, adorned with shrimps, mussels and chorizo, is one of the best paellas that I have had in awhile. Though flavourful, it is a much-appreciated familiar assault on the tastebuds due to my affection for the dish. The Paella Negra (Pequeno – P680, Mediano – P1,500, Grande – P2,680), its squid ink-based counterpart, is right there up with it on my list of favourites. I have always loved black rice due to how the squid ink affects the flavour and the consistency of the grains, and Calderón’s version of things does the job more than adequately.
One of the morning’s biggest surprises was the Pollo Iberico (P880), a whole chicken baked in olive oil with potatoes and garlic. “The secret to this is that the chicken is as fresh as it can get,” Carballo shares. “We need time to properly prepare this dish, so people have to order it a day in advance.” This mouth-watering recipe is one of the best slow food any restaurant can offer. The chicken meat is so flavourful and so moist, and the olive oil it is baked in makes the overall experience more worthwhile. This dish is truly in a class of its own.
On the subject of mouth-watering main courses, the Chuleton (8oz – P990, 14oz – P1,500) and the Lengua con Setas (P580) are two of the must-try meat courses in Calderón. The Chuleton is served perfect and tastes just as perfect as it looks on the platter. The meat is cooked to a medium rare state, which allows it to retain the flavour and the juiciness of the cut. This is served with a delicious helping of sautéed zucchini on the side. The Lengua con Setas, or ox tongue cooked with mushroom, boasts of a creamy tenderness characteristic of any good lengua dish. Not to be outdone is the Pescado en Salsa Verde (P520), a fish-based dish cooked in a green herb sauce. What I liked most about this particular dish is that there is a mini explosion of flavours once you take the first bite. Thanks to all its garnishings, the fresh, citrusy flavour ties in well with the natural flavour of the fish itself.
Lengua con Setas
Pescado en Salsa Verde
The Medula Osea Asada (P460), or roasted bone marrow, is one of Calderón’s most unique food offerings. Slices of marrow are served with bread on a platter, which makes for a rather interesting presentation. I have never eaten meat right off the marrow before, so it was a fun experience to partake of this dish. It was fascinating to find out how something so small and so simple could pack in so much flavour.
Medula Osea Asada
We were also given the chance to try their famous Bacalao ala Vizcaina (P300). This olive oil-based dish boasts of a rich tomato sauce mixed in with salted cod and potatoes. All the flavours came together well, with the sauce toning down the saltiness of the cod. This dish is served with slices of bread, the Bacalo’s partner in a match made in heaven. I was also able to try Gazpacho de Lichi (P190) for the first time. This is a refreshing tomato-based vegetable and seafood soup that is usually served chilled.
Bacalao ala Vizcaina
Gazpacho de Lichi
To end our meal, we had the wonderful Torrijos con Helado (P280), Spanish French toast in a sweet sauce topped with fresh fruits. In terms of flavour, it is less milky than the classic French toast, which, I feel, makes a pleasant alternative when you are on the lookout for something a little bit more different.
Torrijos con Helado
For its owners, what makes Calderón most attractive to customers is its small size and attention to quality. “The smallness of the concept and the restaurant itself is intentional,” Carballo says. “People get attracted to that idea because it speaks of so much uniqueness. We wanted to develop a following and some repeat patronage, which is why we went the hole-in-the-wall route.” And their vision has brought them success. Calderón sits in the city of San Juan, small and unassuming, but always filled to the brim with food lovers that have found a sense of belonging within its walls.