2/F Aleanza Institute of Arts, Autometics Center, 2257 Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City
Open from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. (Tuesday to Saturday)
(SPOT.ph) From its old outpost in Poblacion (where it shared a space with fellow Rob Pengson venture Esqinita), Beso Beso has relocated to a new home along Chino Roces Avenue Extension in Makati City, located within the Aleanza Institute of Arts (also founded by Pengson). The restaurant now fronts a space that’s a touch more refined, with muted gray walls alongside wooden fixtures. Wine glasses rest on marble tables, which are bordered by rattan chairs. “We spent a lot on our cutlery [and] our plates,” explains Pengson. “We’re on this side of Makati now. We wanted to be a little more refined and give the people a nicer place to [dine].” Best of all, he jokes, is the presence of more parking spaces. It’s all dandy, but it’s all meant to give way to what matters the most: the food.
Beso Beso maintains the Filipiniana soul as Pengson originally envisioned it—where he takes aspects of Filipino culture, particularly those concerning the country’s history, and finds ways to represent them in his creations. “When I say ‘Filipiniana’, it’s a collection of the ideas, culture, heritage, [and] recipes of what makes the Filipino people,” Pengson relays. “All our dishes even our ambiEnce is inspired by that—from the time of the pre-Spanish up to this day—we have touches of the Filipino Malay, [as well as] our European Spanish side and even the Asian side.” Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, and other international elements mingle with Filipino ingredients, with a European touch in the techniques employed, to create distinctive takes on the Filipino classics most of us grew up with. There is, for instance, the two-bite, flavor-packed wonder that is the Empanada (P490), which they stuff with a foie gras torchon mousse, eel, and caramelized apple for a sweet-savory medley of flavors.
Compared to the food at the old Poblacion outpost, however, the food is given a more sophisticated touch—partly to keep up with the standards of their new location (where renowned establishments like Toyo Eatery and Txanton are just around the corner), but also as part of Chef Pengson’s vision of reaching global standards. If the Crab Relleno (P450)—their umami-packed take on the stuffed crab dish with more than a whole crab’s worth of meat, smoked seaweed oil, salted egg butter, and a medley of corn puree, corn foam, and strips of corn jelly layered with edible flower petals—doesn’t exemplify this, we don’t know what would.
The refined Filipiniana concept is put forward in their version of Sutokil (P350), a dish inspired by the Visayan classic of the same name. Like the original, their interpretation consists of sugba (grilled), tola (cooked), and kilaw (raw) elements: torched and grilled seaweed mussels with bonito flakes, a pair of clam chawanmushi with tinola oil and malunggay, and pickled oysters with mango, cilantro, and chili, respectively. Notably employing Japanese and Mexican elements, the dish pays ode to our multifaceted history. Each shellfish gives a different flavor profile—the mussels smoky, the clams earthy, and the oysters tart and briny—that nonetheless come together seamlessly, much like the fusion of its different influences and the resulting Filipino culture that arises from it.
Reflecting that, too, is their one-of-a-kind Adobo Paella (P495), which takes the flavors of the Filipino national dish cooked a la Spanish paella. The adobo aspect comes in multiple forms here: an adobo stock, adobo oil, and an adobo sauce that Beso Beso ages for 15 days, taking after the technique that Mexican restaurant Puyol uses for their famed Mole Madre, as well as the Chinese “master stock” for poaching and braising that gets reused for up to a hundred years, absorbing (and imbuing) more and more flavor in the process. The result is a complex-tasting yet comforting rice dish that gets a balancing creaminess from the addition of gata and comes garnished with roasted adobo mushrooms that reinforce its meaty flavor.
Their philosophy also extends to their desserts, of which is the show-stopping Cacao (P350). Hiding within each orb are layers of salabat crust, Don Papa rum and Barako coffee in the middle, and a light (but potent) chocolate mousse body topped with pili nuts and rock salt—which might sound like a mouthful, but all come together for a medley of creamy and crunchy, bittersweet, ginger-y, and rum-y in each forkful. And then there’s their take on Buko Pie (P250), which features coconut in various forms: a coco sugar-oat crust, a coconut macaroon cake filling, coconut meat, whipped coconut cream, and dessicated coconut to top each crispy-chewy, nutty bite off.
“Our goal for Beso Beso is to make it the best you can make it,” Pengson shares. “Every time we meet I remind my team na we’re aiming for world’s best—number one.” He clarifies, however, that this is more an internal objective that keeps them motivated to keep giving their all. “We don’t actually have to win [any awards] . . . basta in our hearts and minds if we’re [the] world’s best that’s good enough for me.”
Photos by Majoy Siason