Each time I visit Boracay, a trip to this D'mall establishment is always cheery and summery, just like its zesty name. Lemoni Café and Restaurant (or simply 'Lemon' for short) celebrated its 8th year anniversary last September 2013, and still remains as a must-visit restaurant when you find yourself in this popular Philippine beach.
Lemon's space, at any time I visit it, is always happy. Lively and vibrant as its namesake, splashes of citrus brighten up their interiors. Even if the establishment is not by the beachfront, an ideal spot for any Boracay establishment, the folks of Lemon were able to bring in the colors of summer into their space, making meal time and coffee breaks even more enjoyable.
"Some people thought we were just ice cream and cakes, and that we don't serve food," Julia Lervik, co-owner of the establishment, shares. Levrik, Lemon's main chef and baker, has lived in Boracay since 1990. She and Sarah LaBrooy, her business partner, thought that time that there was no big place for desserts in the island. With their mutual love for brunch and breakfast fare, they felt that Boracay needed a place that offers exactly that--a good breakfast, some nice cakes, and great dessert. "Then this option came up, with D Mall," Julia says. "The place is called Lemon Cafe because I'm a chef and a baker, and lemon---I love it in food and drinks and cakes. You can find things like it--calamansi is my favorite. All those citrus, I like that. Here in the Philippines, we like something sour, so somehow we thought it was a good name, and then the concept came about."
In the beginning, Julia shares, there wasn't really a crowd for this kind of food in Boracay. It took a while for the people to try it out. "We're a little bit expensive compared to the hole in the wall types here. But here, everything is homemade, real food. We created something we believe in and love, and we are very blessed and lucky that other people like it too," she says.
The establishment is really known for their breakfast, salads, and sandwiches, but Lemon can whip up heftier dinner items as well, and would like to showcase them to both locals and tourists alike. And so they have changed their cafe label to cafe and restaurant. "It's all the food that we like to eat, and we based the menu on things that you can find here--tuna, prawns, shrimps, things like that," tells Julia. "We try to get as much as possible from here, use local products as much as we can. The bakery is upstairs, we do all the baking from there."
Before our lunch was served, we took some sips from three fruity beverages: Watermelon Ginger Crush (P100), which is as soothing as salabat but with a cool and sweet finish thanks to the watermelon, Mint & Pineapple Crush (P120), apparently a hit with Chinese and Korean tourists, and Mango Lemon Crush (P130), which blends tropical flavors for a sweet and tangy combination. "I like these three because they're really colorful, and also, these are our best sellers," Julia shares.
If you are a creature of habit, then a trip to this restaurant for breakfast or brunch will probably have you zero in on their Pinoy tapa, two eggs and garlic rice (P350), their forever best-seller, or their Eggs benedict (P260), two popular comfort food dishes that veer into familiar yet delicious flavors as always. If you allow yourself to try something new, however, then order a local take on the Eggs Florentine with their Poached eggs on smoked tanigue, water spinach and hollandaise (P360). If the classic variation of the Eggs Benedict replaces ham with spinach and occasionally adds smoked salmon, Lemon's Filipinized spin uses a pair of poached eggs coated with hollandaise, and underneath the summery pair is seared kangkong neatly tucked in with smoked tanigue.
"A simple thing like a poached egg, when done right, is like the best," Julia gushes. I poke the poached egg with my knife; it's wobbly at first then gives in to the sharpness of the utensil, releasing its gooey lava of lush orange yolk and spreading itself to the bread and fish. Oh Julia, I defnitely agree!
For a little bit of everything, have the Lemon Lunch Box (P490), which is a combination of the cafe's soup of the day, wild salad greens drizzled with a sweet and tangy raspberry vinagrette, and your choice of sandwich and dessert listed. Lunch Box is good for one hungry traveler or a couple of foodies wanting a light afternoon meal. For the afternoon our company of three shared the lunch box of salad, a bowl of velvety and sweet pumpkin soup, and club sandwich with chicken, shrimp, and bacon smeared with pesto mayo in between the thick, fluffy slices of homemade focaccia bread. If you'd pick rice over bread, you can swap your sandwich for a rice topping of either beef teriyaki or basil chicken. For the dessert included, you may choose among the following: coconut panacotta, chocolate peanut butter mousse, caramel pot de creme, or tropical mango parfait.
Should you find yourself at Lemon seeking a full meal or heartier fare for dinner, their main courses do not disappoint from palette to palate. Pretty and colorful plating will first delight your eyes, before satisfying your tastebuds. Begin with the Lemon's fish cakes with sauteed spinach and laksa sauce (P280). Drawing some inspiration from Asian cuisine, this dish keeps its light summery theme with hues of tangerine and golden brown on a plate. Two breaded mahi mahi cakes make up an island surrounded with thick laksa sauce; some spinach hide underneath the cakes.
Tiger prawns, grilled and served with spinach and coconut risotto (P650), is an old personal favorite. My first time to have this dish was in 2011, and I was glad Julia had it served for lunch that day. Risotto is extra lush with echoes of gata in every spoonful, its creamy consistency clinging to your fork with morsels of spinach in tow. Two plump pieces of prawns sit on top of the bed of sticky rice, entwined and ready to be untangled and devoured slice upon slice to pair with the chewy risotto.
Never Part with Tart
You should never miss out on dessert in this restaurant that houses their own bakery on their second floor. Not only do they create their own sweets, Lemon is also an in-demand bakery for custom cakes for special events on the island like birthdays, weddings, and the like. If it isn't the word of mouth of their pastries and sweets that draws you into the place, then it's the colorful display of desserts just by the cashier counter. For whatever type of sweet tooth, they have a sweet thing just for you: cookies and cupcakes, mousses and cakes, cheescakes and pies, muffins and rolls---laced with chocolate, with cream, with spice, with fruit, and all things nice.
Their Mango Madness (P150) is always a hit, showcasing the national fruit in a soft and creamy mini cake, light and easy on flavor the way classic mango floats are lovingly made. For February, a special cake of the month is featured: Strawberry Mousse (P170) is a dense chocolate cake with strawberry mousse prepared fresh. Making it extra photogenic is strawberry glaze, a topping of fresh strawberries, and a curl of white chocolate.
If your sweet tooth ventures into the sour and tangy field of sweetness, then get ready to pucker up with the Classic Lemon Meringue (P160), a tart with tartness shaming all lemon tarts. I feel (and know) this dessert is quite an acquired taste, as in our table of three, my two other friends only had a spoonful to taste and found it too sour. "Oh, but I love it!" I exclaim. More for me then, I whispered to myself. This is the pastry that drew me in Lemon Cafe, with its filling so sweet but downright more tangy that every lemony zing it zaps into my mouth is only briefly abated by the fluffy and harmless meringue, and the crunch and crumble of the crust. It was delirious happiness, my cheeks and mouth puckering up and eyes squinting ever so slighty with every bite.
Long Live Lemon
Julia shares that Boracay is a supportive community of restaurateurs, especially for older restaurants that have known each other and have grown together through the years. For Lemon Cafe's part, their bakery supplies bread to several restaurants in the island. "Boracay is like that, we help each other if we can," she adds.
Through the years, Levrik has seen Boracay evolve into this massive food destination, where a stroll in the beach can mean a trip for your tastebuds to experience different cuisines. Many restaurants have come and go, and Lemoni Cafe & Restaurant still stands strong and is considered an institution in the island. "It really is hard work," she shares, when asked what the secret to their longevity is. "You have to take care of your product, you have to make sure you deliver. And we have a fantastic team."
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Lemoni Café and Restaurant is located at D'mall Square, D'mall D'Boracay, Station 2, Boracay Island. Open daily from 7am to 11pm. Call +63 36 288 6781 and 288 6782. Visit http://www.lemonicafeboracay.com and Like their Facebook page (Lemonicafe.Boracay) for more information.