These days, it seems as if everyone is all about the pig. The porcine creature has been making a comeback on menus—belly, cheeks, trotters, and all—even popping up frequently on restaurant names. Although The Black Pig (2/F, The Commercenter, Commerce Ave. cor. East Asia Dr., Filinvest, Alabang; 808-1406) does have a leg of the famed, black-hoofed Jamon Iberico on display, that is not what The Black Pig should be known for. Yes, the charcuterie is excellent—salcichon, lomo, morcilla, and de cebo—but the star of this neighborhood joint is the wonderful cooking chef Carlos Garcia is delivering.
Apart from his stints at Restaurant Roussillon and Restaurante de Vinis, Garcia was a resident at London staple Gauthier Soho for 10 years, where he met one of The Black Pig’s proprietors Tricia Macdonald. A renowned chef in her own right, she was in the middle of a stage at his one Michelin star restaurant, cooking with Chef Garcia for several months. Convinced to move to Manila rather than just consult, Garcia is now turning out dishes European in style and flavor, but inspired by local ingredients—in fact, aside from the charcuterie, most of what you see on the menu is homegrown. Vegetables are often swapped for what’s in season, and the menu avoids what can’t be sourced in the Philippines. Even the plates are sourced from local artisan potters.
Chef Garcia’s style is perfect for the current dining scene emerging in Manila: it has a local focus, it’s relaxed but ambitious, and it doesn’t shy away from being boldly simple. It takes guts for a chef to serve plates with just a few ingredients in a town where salty, fat, and sweet dominate.
The food can seem a little understated to some, but the execution makes the ingredients shine and taste more of themselves. A beautifully presented squid ink risotto is probably the best in Manila. Often, a bowl of this can become cloying or heavy, but this is none of that. The squid ink provides an umami-rich accent to the broth, which embraces the rice without coating it in a thick sludge. Accompanying pearls of squid give bite without being rubbery, and the surprise of capers cut through the richness with their acid and brine. Seriously a stunning dish. Another stunner is the poached egg, on top of a deep-tasting mushroom puree, with crunchy soldiers of toast as edible spoons for the tasty, viscous mess. Mackerel is slow-cooked, salty and sour, with shaved radish and a deceptively simple avocado puree that adds an entirely new dimension.
Even the bread, baked in-house daily, was a sleeper hit, the mini baguette echoing a sourdough texture, but with a sweetness requiring no butter or olive oil. Desserts may have been a little weaker, with the exception of a velvety-smooth chocolate praline mousse, straddling the line between bitter and sweet.
Despite a few seasoning errors on a few of their dishes, and the gritty texture of a crustacean bisque, the Black Pig is impressive for such a young little place. It is confident, but never pretentious, and the latest Alabang venture that will soon be the local watering hole, offering specialty cocktails, as well as local micro-brewed craft beers and Holgate beer on tap. The team here is ambitious and knows their stuff: the interiors are tasteful, the wines well-curated and priced, and the food a wonder to eat.
Sometimes, it’s not always about the pig.
This article first appeared in our March 2014 issue.