Venetia van Kuffeler tastes authentic Filipino food at Romulo Café
In London’s saturated restaurant market, it is surprising to learn how few good Filipino restaurants are in operation. Until now, that is. Former banker and restaurateur Rowena Romulo convinced her family that 2016 was the perfect time to launch Philippine cuisine in a way that London has never seen before. Following its success in Manila, Romulo Café London now offers a taste of the Philippines in the heart of Kensington.
The restaurant celebrates the legacy of Rowena’s famous grandfather, General Carlos P. Romulo. Growing up in a sprawling family compound, Rowena and her sister Sandie, their parents, cousins, uncles and aunts would all gather at the ‘big house’ for their meals. Their elegant grandmother, a former beauty queen, Doña Virginia Llamas Romulo, presided over the table laden with unforgettable home-cooked favourites.
Their grandfather’s epicurean tastes were legendary, cultivated during a distinguished career as Philippine Ambassador to the US, President of the UN General Assembly and as the Philippines’ longest serving Secretary of Foreign Affairs. General Carlos P. Romulo was also the first and only Filipino to win a Pulitzer Prize and be awarded the highest American civilian award, the Medal of Freedom. And he loved food, especially ice cream.
Romulo Café London’s ambience is a reflection of the old family home; appealing interiors are decorated with bamboo and wicker furniture, and the stylish palm print wallpaper is covered in original family photographs of their grandfather’s various encounters with US Presidents Nixon and Kennedy, along with a number of foreign ministers and popes. The restaurant offers four discrete dining areas: the General’s Bar, the Ambassador’s Lounge, the Diplomat’s Dining Room, and a space for private dining, meetings, receptions or parties in the CPR Library.
A mesmerising combination of four culinary traditions – Spanish, American, Malay and Chinese – I’m told that Filipino food is served in the relaxed spirit of sharing. The menu offers appetising small plates including Tinapa Rolls of shredded smoked fish with red eggs and tomatoes wrapped like spring rolls, deep fried crispy squid with a chili honey and garlic glaze topped with spring onions or a fresh pomelo salad. For the main course, guests can take their pick from delights including Binagoongan Boneless Crispy Pata (deboned crispy pork leg) sourced from British farms, served with aubergines, tomato and shrimp sauce or the signature Flying Fish, standing proud on its crispy filleted flanks. This is deep fried tilapia served with the restaurant’s special sauces: spicy vinegar, shrimp paste and soy sauce with lime. Delicious! The Adobo is served ‘Romulo style’ with twice cooked chicken and pork belly accompanied by glazed shallots and sweet potato mash. Puddings include Sans Rival, a modern Filipino desert made with dulce de leche buttercream, cashews, and sweet, chewy meringue. Various homemade ice creams are also on offer.
Run under the hospitable eye of Rowena, Romulo Café is a charming spot to take friends or colleagues for an authentic and delicious dining experience.