Neil’s Kitchen: Twisting around Filipino Food in the South

Westgate Center, Filinvest City, Muntinlupa City

Westgate Center, Filinvest City, Muntinlupa City

This is the first time where I was not completely in control of the content of my post. Most of the food pictures here were taken by some of the people I was with. Having said that, everything turned out fine and I am just rambling now…

I am a big fan of Sinigang. My dad and mom both can make killer versions of traditional pork sinigang. When we still had a tamarind tree in the backyard, dad would actually use fresh tamarind as the souring agent of his sinigang. The meat, big chunks cooked with the bone in for more flavor, was fall of the bone tender. I remember my late Lola Fe (my actual Lola’s sister) lauding my penchant for eating a lot of kangkong whenever sinigang was served. That’s how much I love sinigang. Why am I writing about this? Because I got to try a deconstructed version of sinigang with rice here at Neil’s Kitchen, and I have mixed feelings about it.

Neil's Kitchen 2

Beautiful sight as you walk up the winding stairs to the actual restaurant

Beautiful sight as you walk up the winding stairs to the actual restaurant

This place has gotten super popular ever since it opened earlier this year. It’s the brainchild of a husband and wife team that has made it big in the catering business.

Goodluck on getting a table during dinner service unless you make a reservation (by the way, something that’s still a bit lost to Filipinos even to this day). The whole place is aesthetically beautiful. White walls adorned with different accents and wood fixtures that gives the place a simple yet elegant flair. The place is well lit by natural light in the day time and with soft lighting in the evening. The music is instrumental piano but modern tunes, a very nice touch.

Our little spread at Neil's Kitchen

Our little spread at Neil’s Kitchen

Aside from Cheska and Edwin, whom I have worked with for the past two years, I was with a group of people from the office that I don’t usually go out with so I was a bit apprehensive standing up and taking pictures of everything. There were some pretty important office folks in the table with us. We ordered a ton of food and I only have pictures of those placed near our side of the table. The other table got to try the Sinigang Noodles Soup and Sinigang na Grilled Salmon, it didn’t get to us but they said it was good.

There's also a small bookstore

There’s also a small bookstore

As I said, it’s a pretty popular restaurant and I’ve read so much raves about their versions of Filipino grub. So what are we waiting for? Let’s dig right into that!

Two types of noodle dishes: Shrimp Pad Thai Noodles and Crab Fat Palabok (no picture for the palabok)

Shrimp Pad Thai Noodles

Shrimp Pad Thai Noodles – Not Filipino

I have a general observation about these two: The noodles were overcooked and gummy. But the taste level of both were very different. One was good, the other was meh.

I have not had Pad Thai before Neil’s Kitchen, but I’ve watched enough of the Asian Food Channel to see how the dish is executed. First bite of the noodles and I was blown away – by the overwhelming sourness of tamarind. It was strong! Edwin told me to try it with the scrambled egg and it did dial it down a bit (a bit!). But I seem to remember that the egg should be incorporated in the dish itself, not served as a topping. The shrimp did not reach me anymore so I wouldn’t be able to describe that.

The Crad Fat Palabok was, on the other hand, very balanced in flavor and actually very good. It is very rich, however, and I felt something bad immediately after taking a forkful of the noodles. Be warned, this is not for the faint of heart!

Crispy Dinuguan Fondue

Dinuguan, deconstructed, meh

Dinuguan, deconstructed, meh

The presentation is inventive, but there was nothing that blew me away with this dish. The crispy element was not exactly crispy (or it could just have been because it took some time before it got to me) but were perfectly seasoned. The dugo (yes, it’s cooked pork blood for those not familiar) tasted like something I’ve been getting from our family reunions. I’m thinking that white drizzle on top is coconut cream which unnecessarily brings more calories to the dish.

Bagoong Paella with Kare-Kare

Plus points for the Bagoong Paella

Plus points for the Bagoong Paella

Surprisingly (you’ll find out why later) the saltiness of this paella was just right even with Bagoong (shrimp paste). I can actually eat this on its own but the Kare-Kare really works well with it. The Kare-Kare had nothing special but it was perfect. Put the two together and you’ll be eating Kare-Kare without having to decide on how much Bagoong you need to add. No frills Kare-Kare! I like that.

The consistency of the rice on this Paella was also very good. Sticky but not mushy. It still had a little bite. I can’t say the same for the next two.

 Paella Negra with Calamares

Calamares with Saffron Aioli? Shut up and take my money!

Calamares with Saffron Aioli? Shut up and take my money!

The Paella Negra was a well-balanced Paella as well but the real star here for me was the Calamares. It’s squid cut into rings, battered, and deep-fried goodness. The seasoning was perfect and it was crispy and not rubbery. Applause! It can do without the Saffron Aioli but go ahead if you want.

The rice was super mushy, though. It’s almost to the point of Suman. I’m from Cainta, I know what the real consistency of suman is.

Sinigang Paella with Grilled Pork Belly

One of my favorite dishes - deconstructed

One of my favorite dishes – deconstructed

I was disappointed about this. This is even’t going to be nitpicking.

The most important part of the dish, the thing you’re really paying for, the Sinigang Paella… was super salty. I didn’t get any other hints as they were all smashed by the salt. It was hard to get this down. Guess one of the cooks was too heavy handed this time around? I’ve never seen anybody mention this on their reviews. It also had the same consistency as the Paella Negra.

The grilled pork belly was well cooked, no burnt bits and the meat was still juicy. It’s just not as good as the traditional pork that was boiled to super tenderness with all the flavor seeping into it. The Crispy Kangkong was very good.

Puto Bumbong with Buco Jelly and Toasted Coconut

Just because it has Buco Jelly and put a fancy name on Bukayo it's almost 300 Php?

Just because it has Buco Jelly and put a fancy name on Bukayo it’s almost 300 Php?

I have to be honest, I don’t get why the desserts at Neil’s Kitchen is getting so much praise. Take this for example – I’m glad that the taste of the Puto Bumbong is not as “grassy” as the one you can get outside the church during Christmas time but it’s still just Puto Bumbong. The Coconut shavings have been replaced by the Buco Jelly but to me it will actually look better. And call it as you may, but that toasted coconut tastes exactly like Bukayo and I don’t like Bukayo.

I also got a strong hint of butter. which you can see there is a pool of at the bottom of the dish. Almost 300 Php, why?

Fried Suman, Mangga & Chocnut

Mixed feelings about this

Nice shot! Props to Cheska’s shooting with Edwin’s iPhone 6!

I repeat, I’m from Cainta. The Antipolo suman that’s very famous? It’s actually made in Cainta. We also have sweet suman that’s also pretty awesome though not as rampant as the traditional one. So yeah, I can’t help comparing that to this fried suman. It’s funny, the paellas were too soft like suman but the actual suman was a bit hard.

It may not look good (I wish they were crumbled more finely) but the chocnut was a good touch! I love these things as I’ve said with the Chocnut Coffee at Green Halo and they were a welcome taste on this one. The fresh bits of Mango along with the hefty Mango Jelly were also very good. All tied-up with the coconut cream and this would have actually been a killer dessert. If that soft and sweet suman from Cainta was used for the suman component then I will be hailing this as the best ever!

Ruminations…

Neil’s Kitchen has the ambience down to a T. It’s relaxing and hip, like what you expect of things in the Southern Metro Manila. The food, I’m not entirely a fan off. For all it’s simplicity, the Bagoong Paella with Kare-Kare was easily one of my most favorite dish here. And I’m still sticking with my Dad’s sinigang recipe when compared to the Sinigang Paella with Grilled Pork Belly.

Very fitting for Neil's Kitchen. That Crab Fat Palabok! My heart!

Very fitting for Neil’s Kitchen. That Crab Fat Palabok! My heart!

I’d probably go back some time soon, this time with people I’m more used to being with. But as for this visit alone, Neil’s Kitchen is not something I’d be looking forward to dining in while I’m in the South.

Email me at metromanilafood@yahoo.com.ph

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