Kitchen genius and restaurateur Francis Balbarin, the New Yorker who opened Burgers and Brewskies in the Philippines with his creative takes on burgers, was in Manila for a weeklong takeover of James and Daughters in Estancia Mall.
He had done a pop-up of creative Filipino food at the restaurant Tsismis in New York and his creations were a hit: bite-sized crispy belly confit that is later drowned in sinigang broth made using watermelon and tomatillo, tamarind and lemongrass (yes, lemongrass); sous vide pork belly binagoongan and fried eggplant logs served on a puree of Bicol express; and his version of the Waray dish hatok but using grilled prawns, sayote and kalabasa fondant, plus coconut creamed spinach and soft shell crab tempura.
So I was curious as to what he would serve at James and Daughters. I thought that he would serve the Tsismis menu but he has made it a personal policy not to repeat menus. And what a blessing that was as this time, he created a nine-course menu that was truly mind-blowing.
He started with the street food of his childhood. While his family moved to New York since he was young, he has vivid memories of his childhood in Tondo, where he enjoyed fishballs and even “betamax” (dried chicken blood shaped into cubes then grilled) on the street. For starters, he served a trio of Tondo street food but upgraded: sisig croquetta, which was to die for at first bite, followed by a betamax boudin noir (French blood sausage) combo; and then something to resemble street pork barbecue but sous vide pork belly.
And then it was a series of wins: For a taste of chicken inasal, he made an inasal butter, which he lathered on really thinly sliced mille crepe cake-like potatoes. This was followed by a sinigang sa miso but as a gazpacho. He served escabeche but as a roulade. He served puchero but with his take on mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish made with fried green plaintains mashed with chicharones and garlic.
But for me, the winner of his nine-course degustation is his tinola. For this, he cooked down chicken feet and bones of organic chicken to create a gelatin of concentrated tinola broth. The broth also had in it other tinola components like sayote. Then he topped it with—get this—patis “caviar”! What a brilliant, avant-garde interpretation of the humble tinola. Best of all, when you taste it, it is unmistakeably tinola!
He finished strong with something that all Filipinos are familiar with: street food. On the side streets of Manila, you will see vendors selling green mangos and singkamas that you dip in bagoong (shrimp paste)—except he made it a dessert: sorbet and ice cream! He created the most refreshing singkamas sorbet and beside it was green mango ice cream. And not to be missed is the bagoong except it’s—get this—caramelized! The stay of Kiko in Manila this time was way too short. I hope he will have another opportunity to showcase his kitchen genius again.
Until then, congratulations Kiko! You are truly a kitchen genius and congratulations to James and Daughters for a successful pop-up! Thank you Chef Jonas Ng for flying him in for us to partake of his brilliant creations through your kitchen. Please bring him in again if you can!
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