Sisig Pork Buns, anyone?
Desiderata Lounge's new menu is the kind of fusion food you need to try.
G/F Infinity Tower, 25th Street, Bonifacio Global City
Open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (Monday to Saturday)
(SPOT.ph) The place is unabashedly luxurious with a strong Roaring '20s Prohibition influence. The vibe is brooding, out-of-the-way—like an eccentric billionaire who prefers to be left alone yet is too fascinating to ignore.
Desiderata Lounge is a beautiful, enigmatic hideaway where mellowed-out party-goers—much like owners Monzit Purugganan and the Zamora siblings Anton, Ina, and Jennie—unwind at the end of a working day for an Old Fashioned or four. The Nix Alañon-designed night spot is adorned with a wood-paneled bar, teal walls, plush couches, high ceilings, and two modernist chandeliers. The description is "cozy opulence," if there was such a thing. It's like visiting your friend's house, if your friend were a Vanderbilt.al
The food is made to match the surroundings, and Catalan chef Borja Duran Cid was asked to develop dishes that are sexy and innovative yet familiar enough to make sense to the young-ish set that frequents the place. Having worked in modern European kitchens in Madrid, he's the right man for the job. The former Barcino chef was recommended to the owners by Donosti's chef Pablo Iglesias (a regular patron at Desiderata), when they needed someone to helm Desiderata's kitchen.
For winding down...
Fusion might be a bad word to some, but Chef Borja's inventive modernist cuisine is proof that the genre continues to thrive in the right environment. He likes to mish-mash textures and cultures and relies heavily on the availability of fresh ingredients. In his hands, bar chow such as Pork Buns (P390) are addictive. Instead of the usual charsiu, he makes patties out of sisig and roasts them. Then, he dresses them with lettuce, pickles, peanut hoisin sauce, and Sriracha for an Asian explosion of flavors.
We were ready to be disappointed with the Scotch Eggs (P350), a current favorite among gastropubs who, more often than not, tend to overcook this egg-inside-a meatball dish. When Chef Borja slices the globe of meat, however, there's a collective "ooh" as the golden yolk gushes out of the egg and onto the crust of fried Abra longganisa. The garlic flavor of the "sausage" is just enough and it's complemented nicely by the side of ratatouille.
The passionate chef is incredibly detail-oriented. For the Parma Fries (P290), he first boils hand-cut potatoes, fries them quickly, then freezes them. The potatoes are quickly fried again at medium-high heat only upon order; seasoning comprises only a shake of Parmesan. The crunch each baton delivers is truly worth the trouble.
The main courses receive even more attention. The Tuna Tataki (P680), for instance, is marinated in smoked sake and served with quinoa, a salted egg salad, and a dehydrated tomato which is bursting with concentrated tanginess that marries beautifully with the fish.
Chef Borja has interesting toys in his kitchen and he happily puts them on heavy rotation. For his Wagyu Entraña (P950), an Argentine-style steak with grilled vegetables and a creamy, chimichurri-laced sauce, he cooks the skirt steak sous-vide for eight hours. The flavors of the marinade are infused into the meat, which retains its tender, pink center.
Lobster Special (P975+)
A shipment of lobsters or curacha from Zamboanga has just arrived, and the chef quickly whips up a special. Cooking as though he is in a Chinese restaurant, he splashes it with hot oil—"Flash-frying, I think it's called," he says—until they're barely cooked through. The taut tails are glorious over a reduced sauce made from the flavorful head juices, then adorned with sherry-marinated pineapples, pumpkin purée, and fried guanciale.
What is a Desiderata classic, though—and a Taguig original—can be enjoyed after a full meal. "Or even when you're drinking and you're craving something sweet," adds Chef Borja. Their Crepe Inutak (P320) is a crowd favorite. The humble rice treat is given an upgrade by wrapping it in crepe, deep-frying the piece, flambéing it in rum, then finishing it off with berry compote, langka, and pistachio ice cream. The effect is a chewy, fancy turon a la mode.
If it's freshly flown in, then it's most likely made in-house. "We do not use liquid seasoning," Chef Borja shares. "We don't use MSG. Most of the sauces are made from scratch." His face breaks into a grin after a thoughful second. "Except Japanese mayo. I love that kewpie. I cannot live without it."
Photos by Hans Fausto