Romulo Cafe opens in London, wants Brits to try Filipino flying fish
LONDON, United Kingdom – I was looking at the restaurant from the street when a Caucasian man was sending off an apparently satisfied young Filipino group of friends, dressed in London chic, promising to come back with more friends as they were putting back on their coats and scarves.
Popular Filipino restaurant Romulo Café opened its first branch overseas on posh High Street Kensington in the British capital. But don't expect the restaurant to look like its counterparts in Manila or its staff to be exclusively Filipinos.
The family name insignia is recognizeable and so are the memorabilia on the walls of the Georgian townhouse. But the flowered wallpaper and the elaborate ornaments back home are replaced with a more contemporary look.
"This is London. We want it to look modern. While we definitely want to cater to the Filipinos, we also want to cater to the locals. It has to be in line with the times, " said Rowena Romulo, Romulo Cafe London managing partner and sister of restaurant founder Sandie Romulo Squillantini.
Cafe Romulo London is a venture to join efforts by Filipinos worldwide to introduce the country’s rich food and cultural tradition to the world.
"Filipino food was largely unknown in London. I think it was high time that we put Filipino cuisine on the map given that London is one of the gastronomic food centers in the world," said Rowena.
The dream is to make Filipino food as mainstream as, say, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. "I kept asking myself: What's different about ours? Why aren't we making the same mark when we are truly East meets West, right?," she added.
She wants Brits to occasionally set aside fish and chips to try the restaurant’s Flying Fish and their meat loaf for the family pride, Lola Virginia's Chicken Relleno.
"When we talk to the people here, we try compare it to dishes they are familiar with," Rowena said.
Strategically located in a cross of residential and business areas, 343 Kensington High Street is a 10-minute walk from shops and the tube, and where Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and reality television judge Simon Cowell live.
It's an area that has always been familiar to Filipinos. Two nearby Catholic churches are frequented by Filipinos. It's also the former location of the Philippine embassy.
It offers starters costing £5-£10 (P335-P670) and main courses for sharing cost £10-£18 (P670-P1,206). It’s definitely steeper than the Filipino restaurants in Earls Court, the place for Filipinos to have hole-in-the-wall feast for less than £10 (P670).
Romulo Cafe is for those days you may want to dress up a little bit or perhaps have a glass of wine before you start your 3-course meal. Or when you want foreign friends to try Filipino food with the elegance of the top restaurants in Mayfair, a comparison from friends that tickles the owners.
"It's smart elegant. We’re not fine dining. I don’t have tablecloths. It’s about bringing comfort food, plated differently with Michelin service,” Rowena said.
You can start with pork sisig (£6.50). Share a plate of Tito Greg’s Kare-Kare (£18) with your Flying Fish (£11.50) or Chicken Relleno (£12.50). End with halo-halo (£7) or Suman Latik (£5.50). Order Adobo Romulo Style (£14.50) and they'll pour the sauce as they serve it on your table.
"We have to have be at the same standard of every other restaurant in Kensington High Street. I need to be at that level to be able to say, compete," she added.
There is a dining area for everyone. There's a bar for those who want to stay for drinks, the lounge for those who just want to snack, the biggest area for proper dining, and a cozy room downstairs for private events. It's a 70-seater restaurant. The private area can accommodate up to 20.
It is best to make your reservations and pre-order the food, especially if you're coming in late like we did. They ran out of Crispy Pata! And don’t expect the sisig to be sizzling. I loved it all the same, but others might only like it Trellis style. Some of the recipes are also adjusted to locally available ingredients.
The restaurant is the Romulo grandchildren's way to celebrate the heirloom recipes of Virginia Romulo and the political contributions of Carlos Romulo, the first Asian to have served as the president of the United Nations General Assembly. Take a tour around the restaurant and, just like the Manila restaurants, the walls of Romulo Cafe London serve as a historical tour. They are lined with photos of the couple with US President Richard Nixon, Pope John XXIII, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy.
"I hope that this is one of the many restaurants that we will be opening in the UK," Rowena said.
Romulo Cafe London may be reached at telehone number 020 3141 6390 or firstname.lastname@example.org. – Rappler.com
*£1 = P67
Carmela Fonbuena is a Rappler multimedia reporter. She is taking her masters degree in the United Kingdom as a British Chevening scholar.