The latest concept from the SumoSam restaurant group is now open in Makati. This time around, the group is showcasing for the first time French and American cuisine, and also, the restaurant is Chef-driven -- it has Chef Joseph Margate at its helm serving offering comfort food that marries his creative sensibilities with classic French technique. This is the chef's second restaurant in Manila (first being Bait's) ince returning to his motherland after years of being overseas, working in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and France.
Roux French-American Bistro is located at Greenbelt 3, taking the space which was formerly Balboa. Named after the buttery sauce thickener hailing from France, Roux will be using roux (a thickening agent made from flour and butter), pronounced "roo," in some of their soups and sauces, like the bouillabaisse (a seafood stew from Provençal) and bourguignon (a beef stew from Burgundy, France).
Wondering how the chef was able to streamline both American and French food (both cuisines being very broad and diverse) into the menu at Roux, I ask how he conceptualized the dishes. "It's simpler than you think," Chef Joseph tells me, "you take traditional French bistro dishes -- like the bourguinion, beef tartare, croque madame, French onion soup -- and I peppered it on the menu. I took fresh ingredients and put it on flatbread, some truffle I put on the pasta." He adds that a lot on the menu is pretty personal -- favorites which he likes to cook and eat. "When you go to cooking school, you are taught the very basic French techniques, and I've always had a love for it. I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast in the United States so that I could be closer to Europe; I went to Paris a lot, to Rome a lot."
His appetizer of Cured Salmon with Warm Potato Salad (P248), for instance, is his personal favorite. The dish is inspired by the chef's first time to Paris, that day when he finally got the courage to try speaking in French (after practicing with his tutorial tape in his Walkman) to order a salmon and potato dish. "I've never been able to put the flavors on a dish, I've always wanted to put the flavors on a menu," he shares. This cold starter is fresh and so satisfying to my tastebuds that I can see myself having it as my main course. His take on the French rillete will please those who love pâté with a rustic appeal; the Pork Rilletes with Brandied Prunes (P248) has a great texture to it, and is served with strips of flatbread rather than toast. Customers might be surprised to see a spaghetti section on the menu--while it is indeed Italian, it's appeal is also undeniable in American cuisine. And also, it is the chef's ultimate pasta preference. "I'm obssessed with spaghetti," Chef Joseph reveals, "it's my best comfort food. I think comfort food covers the entire menu, that is how I approached it." His love for pasta garnered a special section on the Roux menu. The Spaghetti with Spanish Sardines and Roasted Garlic Butter (P348) is simple and comforting, a bowl exuding warmth and happiness in a bowl with each forkful of the pasta giving you mix of salty from the fish and tang from the lemon zest, and added texture from breadcrumbs.
Making use of the pizza oven of the previous restaurant which it replaced, Roux offers six different kinds of flatbread pizzas good for sharing. The Potato Flatbread with Brie and Roasted Garlic (P368) which the chef amusingly nicknamed 'the carbocide,' takes two starchy carbs and marries them in the oven with cheese and garlic to bake a meatless but delicious pizza, as a lot of work still goes on with every component, such as flavoring the potatoes beforehand to achieve a good balance with the garlic and cheese. The Bacon, Caramelized Onion and Ricotta Flatbread (P438) is an easy pick to be a crowd pleaser, as one cannot go wrong with using the freshest ingredients, and adding bacon.
While Chef Joseph satisfies the hungry with his French-American food, mixologist Alyona Vinogradova-Jeffery stirs in some fun with the restaurant's beverages. "What we have here is 'farm to bar' concept," the Russian master bartender shares. At Roux, expect drinks to be as fresh as they can be, from juices to herbs, incorporating as much local ingredients as possible into the mix. Signature cocktails of Roux include a version of red or white sangria called Mathilde (P250), a refreshing reconstructed Bloody Mary called Garcon (P250) garnished with sili and bacon, and La Folie (P250), a bright flavored cocktail of muddled cucumber and pomelo with gin. Jeffery suggests a pairing of the Garcon to go with the restaurant's cured salmon appetizer, while the La Folie is best sipped with an order of the crispy pork shank.
Chef Joseph both traveled and worked in France, as stagiaire in a couple of restaurants. On his second trip to Paris (as a cook), he shares that he would enjoy eating at an Alsatian restautant (Alsace is one of the smallest regions in France). "We would have pork hock and beers every night. The pork was braised with cabbages and apples, but here, we fry it --- we're in Manila." He is referring to his golden, deep-fried version at Roux: Crispy Fried Pork Shank with Potatoes, Sausages, and Choucroute (P1,399). Fans of crispy pata will enjoy the familiar indulgent crackle and crisp of the pork shank, and accompanying the leg of pork are flavorful homemade sausages I found to be so great that hopefully the kitchen can add it as ingredient to their flatbreads and spaghetti. The pork shank is laid on a bed of choucroute, an Alsatian version of the German sauerkraut.
The Tender Beef Bourguignon with Roux, Local Mushrooms and Potato Puree (P538) is what the chef considers as the restaurant's star dish. The classic French comfort food is indeed cooked until very tender, braised in red wine, and served with a very velvety-smooth potato puree. The slow-cooked beef casserole, considered 'peasant food' in the past and now being enjoyed in many ways and forms, bodes well for the Filipino palate -- we do love our local stews and saucy dishes punchy with flavor, and this one is no less flavorful.
While the savory lineup at Roux comforts, more people need to know that Chef Joseph Margate creates stunning desserts. They aren't fancy at all and lean into the comfort food kind of offering, but his sweet lineup at Roux is glorious enough to make me want to be territorial with food, swatting away with my spoon the other utensils attempting to dive in my dessert. In his new restaurant, the French tarte Tatin (fruit tart) has been interpreted as a banana filled pastry rather than the usual apple with the Banana Tarte Tatin with Salted Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream (P299). The warm and crisp tart, loaded with caramelized bananas and shimmering with luscious golden caramel, is made extra toothsome and irresistible with a scoop of ice cream. The ala mode works well here, cold hitting the warm, slowly melding together for a playful dessert experience on the palate.
Roux's Chocolate Pots de Creme with Salted Peanut Butter Sauce and Madeleines (P308) is something peanut butter lovers should definitely order, as it may have the power to make one go weak in the knees. Pot de crème is a common dessert in France similar to custard or flan, its name indicating that the creamy dessert is served on a small pot-shaped container. The chef serves his chocolate version with a salted peanut butter sauce, and Madeleines on the side. While the tiny bite-sized French cakes were delightfully warm and fluffy, they for me serve as appeasing bites when I've completely cleaned out the custard bowl empty, spoon hitting porcelain. The supple, silken texture of the pot de creme is so fantastic, and I can best describe the dessert as the lovechild of foie gras and peanut butter cups. And as I am emptying the bowl clean, I am telling myself already to visit Roux very soon to have another order of this sweet and creamy delirium.
Roux French-American Bistro Chef J. Margate is now open at the 2nd Level of Greenbelt 3, Makati. Like Roux on Facebook (/rouxph) and follow on Instagram (@rouxph).