Rowena Romulo brings a more contemporary twist to Filipino cuisine with London restaurants Kasa and Kin Soho

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You don’t have to speak Filipino to understand the basics of Kasa and Kin, the new restaurant from Romulo Café owners Rowena Romulo and her partner Chris Joseph; a rudimentary understanding of Spanish and English will lead you to determine that this is “home and family”. You also won’t need to know much about Filipino cuisine to understand the essence of Restaurant Soho – along with their new baby, Romulo and Joseph serve the food from the Southeast Asian island of. a way they hope will see her cross from the still relatively unknown in the capital to the general public.

As is the now too familiar story in a world of Covid, that was not the original intention when Romulo, having run his eponymous restaurant in Kensington for nearly six years, came up with the idea of ​​opening one. a second. In 2019, when the idea sprouted, the plan was to replicate the success of the original restaurant, serving traditional Filipino dishes such as sizzling inasal sisig chicken marinated in annatto – an orange-red ingredient made from achiote seeds. ; oxtail and oxtail kare-kare; and the pork belly adobo, in a chic and warm dining room. Two years later, the dial changed: glamorous family portraits came out, with a modern and bright interior the look of choice and an Insta-friendly fast-food and casual menu being served.

“It all started before the pandemic,” says Romulo as we meet around plates of sizzling chicken; a seafood mix made with lobster and noodles; and grilled eggplant sautéed adobo style among others in his restaurant in Kensington. “After five years it was time to consider a second location and open a number two Romulo in central London. That was the original idea. But when the pandemic hit, we thought maybe we should do more snack food and have a bakery. During the pandemic, we cooked a lot, so our range of baked goods was expanded. “

A meal for all occasions

Located on the site famous for hosting the first YO! Sushi on Poland Street in Soho (it was more recently a branch of Comptoir Libonais), Kasa and Kin is a multi-faceted operation in part due to its size. Too big to be just a bakery or even a combined take-out concept, it was decided that it would have a more serious catering element as well. During the day (11:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.), Kasa and Kin offers a casual dining offer before moving to a more traditional restaurant in the evening (5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.).

“We were looking for places to bake and take out and came across the site,” says Romulo. “It was too big so we were like ‘OK what else can we do?’ Kasa and Kin is meant to be contemporary and to help Filipino cuisine in the UK become more mainstream. Being in Soho we had to do something more fun and dynamic because [Romulo Café] is very classic.

Michelin-starred chef and consultant Pat McDonald, whose CV includes The Savoy, and executive chef Jeremy Villanueva are behind the more contemporary menu. Lunch options include a selection of hot broths – chicken tinola, beef bulalo, jackfruit, and greens utan (a Filipino vegetable soup) – as well as kilaw-style bowls marinated in chili chicken, spicy shrimp and jackfruit and avocado options; and chilled rice paper spring rolls.

There are also hot main courses of kare kare beef; sticky BBQ pork; crispy chili chicken; and a grilled eggplant and a warm pandesub sandwich made from pandesal Filipino bread filled with sliced ​​marinated rib-eye with cheese and onion humorously called the Fili Cheese Steak. Dishes range from £ 4.50 for broths to £ 12 for hot dishes and can be eaten in or taken out.

“Kasa and Kin are meant to be
contemporary and helps Filipino cuisine
in the UK become more mainstream “

For those looking to try a range of dishes, the restaurant also serves a lunchtime ‘imbento box’ with a choice of spring rolls, hot broth, rice, noodles or salad base and hot topping for 19, £ 75.

Dinner, on the other hand, is a slower affair that capitalizes on the current resurgence in popularity of robata grill in the capital. The lights are dimmed and the sizable cocktail menu emerges – calamansi, a prominent Filipino lime – as a precursor to yakitori barbecue pork belly sticks; baby squid; duck with five spices; shrimp with red pepper; butternut squash; and cebu chorizo.

Prices are competitive for Soho, with sticks around £ 4-7 and sides of garlic fried rice, sautéed cabbage back and potato wedges around £ 4.50. That said, a “luxury” menu of items such as fresh lobster in the shell; Iberian pork loin; wagyu beef; and scallops see prices rise dramatically – up to £ 28 – and show Romulo’s intention that Kasa and Kin be seen as something high beyond casual dining.

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Serve Filipino Food in Kensington

With its varied menu and multi-faceted approach, Kasa and Kin is a statement of intent for Romulo. It’s also a natural progression for an ambitious restaurateur tasked with helping put Filipino cuisine on the London map.

A former banker whose CV includes JP Morgan and Citi, Romulo left her 32-year-old finance career to follow in her sister’s footsteps, who ran several Romulo Café’s in Manila, Philippines. After traveling the world but now settled in London, she and her partner Chris opened Romulo Café in Kensington in May 2016, a restaurant serving dishes passed down from her grandmother.

Once the location of the Philippine Embassy and close to the nearby Earl’s Court Filipino supermarkets, the convenient West London location was an obvious choice. Romulo also describes it as having the feeling of the neighborhood she wanted for her family restaurant.

Since its launch, the restaurant has achieved exactly what was intended – offering a taste of home to London’s Filipino community, but also attracting a cohort of foodies interested in expanding their culinary repertoire. On a weekend, the 60-seat restaurant can accommodate 150 to 200 seats per day with 60% of customers coming from the Philippines.

The Romulo Café serves traditional family dishes. “I never use the word authentic because who really knows what is genuine?” Particularly in the Philippines where the food is very much based on our history. We were a Spanish colony, then the Americans came; our neighbors are Chinese and Malay so you will see the fusion in our food.

“We offer the most classic dishes because that’s what Filipinos living in London crave. It’s not adventurous, it’s the food they lack – they want that taste of home. For non-Filipinos, they can get used to our textures and flavors.

Adobo, a stew of meat, seafood or vegetables cooked with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and black pepper, is one of the country’s national dishes, but every family has its own. own recipe and its own cooking method, explains Romulo. “Mine is my grandmother’s. “

The restaurant pays homage to the Romulo grandparents in the decor as well as in the kitchen. Photos of his grandmother adorn the walls while a space is dedicated to the awe-inspiring life of his grandfather Carlos P. Romulo, who was a general in the United States and in the Philippine armies, chairman of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Ambassador to the United States, Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Pulitzer Prize recipient of correspondence.

“When you come to my restaurants, it’s like I’m inviting you to my place,” she says. “The restaurant is in honor of my grandfather and my grandmother.

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A restaurant for the social generation

No family portrait hangs from Kasa and Kin and the bright orange and green color scheme and industrial-style decor are worlds different from the cozy atmosphere of Kensington Restaurant. Although very different, Romulo has tried to retain the essence of the original restaurant with the creation of what she describes as an “interactive” mural that reflects the four “f’s” of Filipino hospitality: family, friends, party and flavors.

The more modern design has a sense of place, she insists. “After five years, Soho is ready for contemporary Filipino flavors in a contemporary restaurant.

“I have always dreamed of opening in Soho. We know the crowd in Soho is different; we are not presenting the classic dishes but something that we think they will enjoy and appreciate.

Sohoites will soon be spoiled for choice in this regard: you wait for a Filipino restaurant to open, then two come with Chef Ferdinand Montoya opening the Sarap Filipino Bistro at 10 Heddon Street later this month. , an evolution of his more casual Brixton restaurant Sarap BAon.

Kasa and Kin’s range of pastries and desserts in particular seems to have had an eye on the younger Instagram crowd who probably wouldn’t have set foot in Romulo Café. His brightly colored shaved iced iskrambol dishes – a purple through the use of ube purple yam – are topped with mini marshmallows and cotton candy while an equally striking black charcoal pandesal is shown in the video being torn to reveal white macapuno cream filling.

“It has always been
my dream to open in Soho “

Other desserts such as the tsunami and ube cheesecakes are made so that when ‘unwrapped’ their fillings ooze impressively, then there is the purple ube martini, all of which provide visual filling for the age of. social media.

This appeal to a younger audience and a more widespread appeal means that Kasa and Kin could eventually move beyond the capital and even the borders of the UK.

“When we created the brand, it was the one we wanted to export internationally,” explains Romulo. “The Romulo Café is hard to replicate because the family wants someone to run and not many of us want to work in the restaurant business – it’s just my sister and me. So we were like ‘why not turn to something different that is easy to replicate? “”

If successful, Romulo sees no reason why his sister, who runs three restaurants in the Philippines, couldn’t open a Kasa and Kin there. The company has even been approached by someone who wants to open one in Madrid, but “let’s open the one in London first,” she said.

“We now have three different models; we can just open a bakery and pastry shop, so if a site suits us better we can take it, or we could just do the robata grill or even just grab and go. This multifunctional model is more suited to this ongoing pandemic, because you never know what will follow. “

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