Aubergine Restaurant and Patisserie
The strength of the Aubergine entrées is in its classic dishes.
Aubergine is French for eggplant, a versatile vegetable native to India and used in most cuisines of the world, from baba ghanoush to moussaka to eggplant parmigiana. At the eponymous Aubergine Restaurant Patisserie at The Fort, it once appeared in a ratatouille siding. It's more permanent presence is on the purple-hued uniforms of the wait staff of this fine dining restaurant. Tucked on the second floor of the 32nd and 5th Building (near St. Luke's Hospital and S&R), Aubergine serves modern continental cuisine, in addition to a handful of French mainstays like foie gras, duck confit and escargot.
When to Go: On a weekday, the lunch crowd is small and manageable so that's the best time to dine in the restaurant minus the clang and clatter. You can ring them up for a reservation but it's not a strict requirement except perhaps for a Friday dinner, Valentine's Day or if you're a party of, say, ten or more. We arrived 45 minutes late (20 minutes fashionably, the rest because we had a hard time locating the building) but were still graciously ushered to our table. Besides, the restaurant was half-full that drizzling Monday.
What to Eat: I could easily have settled on the Seared Foie Gras or the Oyster Sampler which are foolproof appetizers had I wanted to be indulgent. But I was feeling a bit, well, "cheesy" so I ordered the Melted French Brie de Meaux (P450) instead. The brie melted into a stringy little blanket over a chunk of grilled watermelon that resembled the reddish-pink of a pan-seared tuna. The melon was a bit bland though, as if it waited too long in the sidelines before being asked to dance. The watercress salad, caramelized walnuts and bread crisps added the much needed oomph.
The beverage menu is interesting and healthy with such concoctions as Side Salad (a blend of carrots, celery, orange, and ginger) and the Vitamin A & C Bomb (P220, a blend of apple, orange and carrot). The wine list has an impressive selection from the old and new world's wine-producing countries; the wall-to-ceiling glass cellar near the entrance is even more impressive.
The strength of the Aubergine entrées is when it's a classic dish; so stick to the classics during your first visit. I should have ordered the Duck Confit but, knowing already that it's foolproof and top of the line in terms of flavor and character just like all the ducks I've consumed before, I decided on something different. Cornish hens made me think of the succulent, golden brown fowl gracing the pages of Gourmet Magazine so U.S. Cornish Game Hen Two Ways (P690) it was. One way is oven roasted and stuffed with mushrooms and foie gras, the other way is grilled breast. The stuffing did not help much in terms of brightening up the flavor which was shy of seasoning and character. Unlike the hen I had expected, this dish was not something I could crow about.
Everything about the Grilled Fillet of Chilean Sea Bass (P990), though, was superb–from the garlic-inflected cauliflower and potato mash down to the last bit of bouillabaisse froth. We shared this Aubergine bestseller (good thing I heeded our waiter's suggestion for the second entrée) and licked the plate clean. Other dishes to try include Roasted Pineapple-Glazed Rack of Lamb, Pan Roasted Pork Medallions, and grilled ribeyes and sirloins.
(Left to Right) U.S. Cornish Hens Two Ways and Melted French Brie Meaux - oooh la la!
The electric pepper mill is another matter. With the push of a button, a shower of crushed peppercorns falls on the entrées. A flash of light, which lasted as long as the peppercorn shower, illuminates the plate so the diner can see how much of the spice has settled on the dish. A nifty gadget worthy of a sidebar.
We were comfortably full so we skipped dessert: possibly the Warm Chocolate Fondue Cake with Rosemary Ice Cream or the Crème Brulée with stewed pineapple. We asked for the bill and while we waited, two French macaroons on a glass plate were delivered to our table, on the house. It's a thoughtful (and delectable) gesture that confirmed the comforting vibe the place exudes.
The Scene: The interiors are comfortably-lit and tempered by muted maroons, browns and purples. Droplights mimic the neatly-arranged bottles on the glass cellar. Chocolate pralines and other patisserie products are on display by the front counter.
Although its fine dining orientation may make it appear stuffy and formal, Aubergine is actually cozy and intimate enough to just enjoy a nice (albeit pricey) lunch or dinner. I did not mind the fuss: I let them pull up the chair and sit me down, inundate me with the menus and fill the glass with water the moment it gets half full. After that, we were happily ensconced in our seats, waiting to be surprised with our meal. Service is quick, genuinely friendly and down-to-earth, which put us very much at ease.
The crowd is a healthy mix of the well-coiffed, some expats, professionals, and regular Juan and Juanas on a lunch out; all of them engaged in conversation in between bites, just like us. The activity in the dining area reflects the kitchen which is busy but not frenzied. Every seat has a good view of the kitchen, separated by large glass windows and a shelf of elegant pottery near the back. No screaming chefs or frantic crew running around Aubergine's sprawling 120 square meter kitchen space.
1. Say it right: aubergine is pronounced as "aw-ber-jeen."
2. In the kitchen, one may find students of the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISHCAM) working alongside their mentors. Hans Schallenberg and Chef Norbert Gandler, both industry veterans, conceptualized the school's restaurant primarily for the internship of their best students.
3. Aubergine has daily Business Lunch Specials, with a choice of three courses (P950) or four courses, plus specials for the day written on the board.
4. Check out their website for updates on the menu at http://www.aubergine.ph/.
Aubergine Restaurant Patisserie is located on the 2nd Floor, 32nd and 5th Building, 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. For reservations and inquiries, please call 856-9888.
Images taken by Benhur Arcayan.