Home-style Filipino cuisine in Manila
Designer Ivy Almario’s elegant touch is evident from the moment you step inside Romulo Cafe in downtown Makati in Manila. Exquisite contemporary design complements hundreds of black-and-white historic photographs. It’s the sort of place that entices you to peer into every nook and cranny, wondering what delightful surprise is behind that screen, or around that corner.
But it is the elegant simplicity of home-style Filipino cuisine that’s elevated Romulo to the forefront of Manila’s dining scene.
Almario, and restaurateur husband Yong Nieva, have created three Romulo Cafes in Manila, and another in London.
Named after Philippine diplomat Carlos P. Romula, the cafe should really be named after his wife, Lola Virginia. Romulo takes its inspiration from Lola Virginia’s personality and talent as an exemplary hostess entertaining dignitaries in Washington DC in the 1940s and 50s.
She introduced Filipino cuisine to world leaders at a time when mangoes were considered exotic in the US and serving whole seafood was considered barbaric.
At the time, she surmised her conservative guests weren’t ready for her to serve the Filipino suckling pig delicacy known as
lechon. Instead, she created a ‘less offensive’ chicken dish adapted from her grandmother’s Spanish recipe.
Chicken Rellono is a sort of meatloaf-like stuffed chicken to please conservative palates of the 1950s. The family recipe has been adapted to tantalise modern palates and now takes pride of place as the signature dish at Romulo Cafe. It is sensational.
Romulo is all about enjoying fine food in exquisite surroundings where diners are made to feel like they’ve been invited into the private dining room of a close friend.
“Long lingering conversations with friends, lots of laughter and generous second helpings are encouraged,” says Nieva.