An allium refers to the bulb that fruits beneath the earth, at the base of a plant—chives, scallions, leeks, shallots, onions, garlic. Though humble in appearance, an allium’s textures and tastes can vary when cooked in certain ways. Eaten bare, an onion breaks with a crunch, and peppers the mouth with its spice. When simmered on a butter-lined skillet, it loses its intensity and becomes a saccharine, meaty jelly.
Chef Mark Tan’s Allium, like the troupe of vegetables it takes its name from, puts heavy emphasis on seeing through the varied layers of a single ingredient. Tan, though backed by a culinary backdrop that spans being classically trained at The Kitchen Academy in LA—and working the kitchens of Providence, Bazaar by Jose Andres, and Eleven Madison—made the conscious decision not to zero in on just one cuisine. Here, there is weight on pushing the boundaries of flavor that a lone element has the capacity of bearing.
Though most restaurants of this caliber offer dishes à la carte or as a set, Allium (G/F Grand Midori, Bolanos St., Legaspi Village, Makati City; 519-1088) sets itself apart by providing two degustacións: a four-course Market Menu and a grandiose 10-course Cart Blanche. The latter is almost like a dare to the willing, with its indulgent number of dishes and threats of drink pairings (nope, not just wine) looming in the near future.
The Market Menu lists itself like a choose-your-own-adventure story, with an introduction that begins with chilled starter options like bluefin tuna with pickled chanterelles or lobster salad with Hokkaido urchin. The idea here is that you build your meal, course by course, according to your preference. Hot starters lend themselves out in bites of wild mushroom ragout and buttermilk fried oysters with yuzu, as well as gold nuggets of crispy sweetbreads on a brown butter sauce that tastes like a spicy butterscotch syrup.
Tan’s entrees are more telling of his culinary past, with familiar tastes of duck confit and braised veal cheeks maintaining their characteristic qualities. The desserts are surprisingly jaunty, one of them an ode to his brief stint at New York’s Le Bernardin through a Laiskonis Egg. Hollowed-out eggshells are filled with a decadent chocolate pot de crème, caramel, and flakes of Maldon salt.
In spite of turning to other cultures for the flavors they create, Allium abides not just by one cuisine; rather, it fuses a multitude into a complete dining experience. Chef Tan’s dishes are an amalgamation of contradictions, where classic culinary traditions and tastes are heightened by innovative technique.