First famous for its Tinapa Rice and most iconic for their fiery ice cream flavor, 1st Colonial Grill is a casual homegrown Filipino restaurant specializing in Bicolano favorites that have teased and appeased appetites of locals and tourists since 2004. It currently has branches in different parts of the Bicol region: Legazpi, Daraga, and Naga.
Staple comfort food, affordable set meals, and the signature flavors of Bikol dishes–most notably their love for labuyo (native chili) and gata (coconut milk)–are the highlights of this popular restaurant. Here are some of the must try dishes when you find yourself hungry in Bicolandia.
A first-timer's visit to 1st Colonial Grill should have at least one order of Tinapa Fried Rice (P255) served on the table. It's a mountain of fried rice is topped with crispy tinapa flakes, slices of salted egg, fresh tomatoes, and thin slices of green mangoes. Grab your utensils and mix everthing in well, so that with every generous spoonful that enters your mouth you get a little bit of everything. It's salty, sweet, smoky, sour; crisp textures meets soft morsels of rice. This maluto ("rice" in Bikol) is 1st Colonial Grill's first and long running best-seller, and it's easy to see why – it boasts of a medley of textures and flavors, it's unfussy, and good for sharing. It's comfort food in every heaping. Tinapa (smoked fish), while a Filipino delicacy that can be enjoyed across all regions, is especially popular in Bicol as some smoke their fish in a way that yields extra flavorful meat. Tinapang Bicol is a good product to bring back home or give as pasalubong — ask locals which palengke (market) stalls sell the best ones.
One of my favorite Bikol dishes is pinangat and it is a vegetable dish I always look forward to eating whenever I visit my mother's home province because it's difficult to find the authentic version in Manila. They say that the best pinangat comes from Camalig in Albay, and visiting this municipality will bring you to streets lined up with many pinangat restaurants offering the delicacy for dine-in and packed frozen to take home. The Pinangat (P99) at 1st Colonial is made in the Camalig tradition, layers of gabi (taro) leaves lusciously simmered with gata and topped with chillies. Pinangat can be cooked with ginger, meat, dried fish, and flavored with lemongrass. If you are a fan of laing, the more popular gata-based Bikol vegetable dish easily accessible in Manila, then pinangat will win you over easily, and perhaps like in my case, will make you prefer it over laing. They also serve Laing (P179) in the restarant if you want to have both.
It was my first time to taste Tinutungang Manok (P259) during our lunch and I have now considered it a new Bicolano favorite — it's easy for me to be smitten with coconut milk dishes as gata is one of my favorite ingredients for both savories and desserts. The dish is also known as 'tinutong na manok sa gata' which loosely translates to chicken cooked in toasted (or "burnt") coconut milk. The tinutungang gata gives the dish a rich and smoky profile, and the slow-cooked chicken is mixed with green saba, ginger, lemongrass, and sili. Utterly luscious and comforting, each spoonful of the saucy chicken is so flavorful, you'll want extra scoops of rice to chase after it.
Surprisingly though, what won me over during that first visit to 1st Colonial Grill wasn't our main course of chicken, but rather, it was a simple looking vegetable dish called Buko Chopsuey (P269). It was a scene stealer and now I wonder why not more establishments serve it, as it is chop suey with buco (young coconut) strips cooked in coconut milk. The sweet and creamy profile the gata and buco strips created in every bite made the chop suey extra refreshing. I wish it was even swimming in more coconut milk just so I could plop my rice on it!
To wind down our lunch, we decided to try a couple of their homemade ice cream flavors, as any 1st Colonial Grill guest should do — not only are they perfect for the summer season, but they are also the most ordered desserts in the restaurant because of the unique flavors available. We ordered Tinutong Ice Cream (P79) and the highly popular Sili Ice Cream (P79), the former an ice cream that is flavored with 'tinutong' (toasted) rice which might remind one's tastebuds of pinipig.
Other popular ice cream flavors at 1st Colonial Grill are Pili (a nut popular in Bicol), Kalamansi, Malunggay, and Cacao; but the must-try of them all is the blushing pink Sili Ice Cream, spicy scoops of ice cream laced with local siling labuyo that customers either really love or really avoid (if they are sensitive to heat). Taking in consideration that each spicy food lover tolerates heat in different levels, the popular ice cream flavor is availabe in levels 1, 2, and 3 (hot to hottest).
I decided to taste the beloved orginal spicy ice cream of Legazpi in Level 2, and my order arrived with two green chilies sticking out of one of the scoops to indicate the level. Was it really spicy? Just deliciously so, as every spoonful was a tug of cold and hot, intriguing and confusing my tastebuds that I needed more of it. The sili tickles the tongue in every spoonful, and I take small sips of water in between licks. Your tongue won't really burn, but the heat creeps in good around your mouth until the throat. If you love it red hot, this is definitely the masiram ('yummy') Bicol treat to challenge your spicy sweet tooth! Maybe on my next visit, I can dare to go hotter with the Level 3. I love a good food challenge.
Visit 1st Colonial Grill at the following branches: Rizal Street in Daraga, Pacific Mall in Legazpi City, Elias Angeles cor. Arana Street in Naga, and SM City Naga. Visit their website (www.1stcolonialgrill.com) or call (052) 483 5888 for more information.