For some reason, I’ve associated one-word names that sound stately or intimidating—or coolly smug—to bars and high-end dance clubs in the metro. There’s Encore, formerly Embassy. Then, Government, Alchemy and Ascend. These club owners seem to have a liking for these kinds of names. That’s why you can’t blame me that when I got an invitation to visit The Establishment, I imagined another club with cordoned sections and hefty bouncers.
So, I went, one afternoon. I had to ask a roving security guard where it’s located. He gave a brief description, “white building.” True enough, I round the corner and saw a pristine white edifice, where the office of MTV Philippines used to be. The Establishment looked intimidating already, with only a small sign near its double doors to indicate that it is, indeed, the restaurant I was looking for and not an embassy. High white walls, closed doors and no see-through windows to peer through from the outside—the place does look scary to meek diners. I pushed open one door and met the smiling eyes of a house greeter, who immediately ushered me, to my relief.
Once comfortably seated in the Crystal Room and after mulling over the menu, I dropped all pre-conceived judgment about The Establishment. It’s not achingly expensive, to my surprise. Their prices can actually rival that of the other restaurants’ in the Fort Entertainment Complex, while some restaurants in Serendra are even more expensive. And it’s also not just a club or a bar, but a real restaurant—with a head chef who used to work in the famed Nobu Restaurant in New York. So, I relaxed and decided this is the real deal and not just another club’s poor excuse for a dining section.
The Crystal Room is one of the three venues under The Establishment’s roof. Like the restaurant’s walls, everything in this room is pristine white—the tables, the dinnerware and the couches. Its high roof ceiling is adorned with customized chandeliers. There is an air of quaint elegance that refrains from being stuffy because of the room’s minimalist look. I dubbed the place a perfect date venue because of its intimate vibe.
I was on for a full-course meal prepared by Executive Chef Godfrey Laforteza, who was omakase chef in Nobu, New York for six years. He was later assigned to open Nobu in Hong Kong before he became Executive Chef for The Establishment. The first thing he served me is the Salmon Carpaccio with Balsamic Sesame Paste (P310), an appetizer comprised of light pink salmon, red cabbage, cucumber, red onion and small strings of seaweed (kombu). The first bite is an explosion of flavors and texture as sweet meets sour and soft meets crunchy.
Salmon Carpaccio with Balsamic Sesame Paste
The fresh salmon was marinated for three days, which sealed the taste of balsamic vinegar and got rid of the “fishy” taste. The dish is like a tastier and healthier kind of sushi, owed to the presence of fresh veggies and the sprinkling of sesame seeds.
The next dish might as well be my best food discovery of the year. Although it’s quite early to conclude, I just know there will be few soups that can rival the Mixed Mushroom Soup with Shitake Bacon and Truffle Foam (P245). I have undying love for bacon, but to mix it with truffle oil and mushroom? It’s so overwhelming, my pulse shot up as the soup touched my lips.
Mixed Mushroom Soup with Shitake Bacon and Truffle Foam
Sigh. It tasted like bacon cream and the flavor lingered in my mouth, almost teasingly. The odd-looking stems of mushroom that tasted like meat are called shimeji mushrooms. They punctuated the dish with a kind of sublime nuttiness I haven’t encountered with soup before. If you should order only one item from The Establishment menu, get this.
For my vegetable fix, there’s the Crab Salad with Berries Chi Chimi Vinaigrette (P260), which is comprised of crab sticks, mixed greens and puree of raspberry, blueberry, cranberry with Japanese 9 Spice. The greens are fresh and crisp, which made it easier to appreciate the berry sauces. The addition of almonds gave texture and gritty flavor to the softness of the ingredients. It is the hijiki (black seaweed), though, that made this salad refreshingly unique.
Crab Salad with Berries Chi Chimi Vinaigrette
On to the main courses: the first one being the Broiled Black Cod Miso (P650). It is black cod (gindara) marinated for three days on Japanese white miso, broiled, and then served with Japanese pickles. The fish is really fresh, its meat soft but firm. So, eat everything, especially the skin! I used to peel the skin off fish because it’s “malansa,” but this one is not. It’s caramelized, cooked to a delightfully chewy state.
Tasting portions of Broiled Black Cod Miso (R) and Pan-Seared U.S. Angus Beef Tenderloin with Lychee Truffle Sauce (L)
Broiled Black Cod Miso
The main course perfect for meat lovers is the Pan-Seared U.S. Angus Beef Tenderloin with Lychee Truffle Sauce (P990), garnished with roasted mixed vegetables. This is probably the most curious-sounding dish in The Establishment because of the usage of fruit as sauce. Not surprisingly, Chef Godfrey executed it perfectly. The tender and juicy meat melted in my mouth and blended with the sweetness of the fresh lychee. However, the (not so) secret ingredient is actually ginger, which gave the dish an interesting lift and made it unforgettable.
Pan-Seared U.S. Angus Beef Tenderloin with Lychee Truffle Sauce
For the finale, of course, The Establishment’s signature dessert: Pistachio Jateu De Lupe (P375), which is twenty layers of paper-thin crepes filled with pistachio crème. Kudos to Pastry Chef Mara de la Rama for perfecting this masterpiece. Each crepe layer is indeed so fragile-looking, it’s almost sacrilegious to destroy it. I loved how the rosemary oil mixed with the pistachio cream and how every layer is so flavorful but delicate at the same time. It did remind me of my grandma, because of the fragrant rosemary, but don’t let it hinder you. The rosemary worked like an intoxicant and made me wish for seconds.
Pistachio Jateu De Lupe
In an effort to burn what I just ate, Marketing & PR Manager Kitchie Diaz toured me around the place. Out the door of the Crystal Room, The Establishment branches to two more rooms: The Hall; a multi-purpose events place and lounge open from 5:00 pm to 2:30 am , and Tulipan; a small cocktail bar perfect for private drinking sessions, open from 5:00 pm to 2:30 am.
Choices, that’s what The Establishment brings to the table. That’s why diners can even have their meal customized according to their budget. Chef Godfrey advises to call 1-2 days ahead of time, though. Party at night at The Hall with different bands and DJs or enjoy free-flowing drinks (4-5 choices) and pica-pica (real food) from 6pm-9pm during happy hour. There’s a myriad of things to do in The Establishment. So, set aside those feelings of fear or intimidation, and you’ll find there’s more to enjoy beyond those white walls.
For more information or to make a reservation, visit http://www.establishment.com.ph
*Food photos in article are in tasting menu size.