As Scott Manson finds out, Kensington’s Romulo Café & Restaurant is flying the flag for London’s finest Filipino cuisine….
Well, this is a first. In over a decade of reviewing restaurants, I’ve never tried Filipino cuisine. In fairness, I’m based in London and they’re pretty thin on the ground here. There are a few pop-ups doing their take on fried chicken at various food markets, but not the sort of thing that would sit happily on the pages of this website.
Step forward, then, the wonderful Romulo Café & Restaurant. Something of a well-kept secret – known mostly to those living near its home in the quieter end of Kensington High Street – it’s time for this place to be celebrated as one of the capital’s best little local dining rooms. And don’t be fooled by the name. This is not a café, but a low-key luxe restaurant complete with marble-topped tables, a decent wine list (with many great wines by the glass) and impeccable service.
Although it feels like a cool indie one-off, it’s actually part of a small group of restaurants with branches in the Philippines. It takes its name from the grandfather of one of the owners, General Carlos P. Romulo – former diplomat, statesman, soldier, journalist, publisher, author and one-time president of the UN General Assembly. On the strength of my visit, I’m sure that this distinguished gentleman would be proud of what his granddaughter Rowena has achieved.
On entering, Romulo Café & Restaurant instantly has that warm, fun feel that’s the hallmark of a good neighbourhood restaurant. It may have been my first visit, but it felt like I was a valuable regular customer – the waiter affable and friendly but never over-attentive.
The menu is long, so I’d recommend asking for a few explanations. However, if you want to plough straight ahead than I’d say our order was as near to perfect as can be. Eat the following and you’ll leave full and utterly content. The warm, fluffy Filipino rolls are perfect for soaking up every bit of the spitting-hot chicken sisig – strips of chicken in achiote, ginger, chilli and garlic. Another must-have is the signature dish of Dingley Dell free-range pork belly adobo, slowly simmered and served with a trio of potatoes. There’s rice, of course – we ordered way too much of the fragrant garlic fried rice, but luckily there’s also a doggy bag option for those who can’t quite manage everything.
Oh, and the confit duck leg bao bun plate is fabulous – fluffy bao buns meeting tender duck in a Filipino take on the Chinese crispy duck, with pancakes on a sharing plate. Veggie diners are also in for a treat, with the jackfruit and coconut stew offering spice and fruitiness in equal measures.
It’s a relaxed, homely place, but without feeling twee. Perfect for a date, but also good for a lively night out with friends. And in an area of London dominated by more ‘‘serious’’ temples of gastronomy, Romulo Café’s elbows-on-the-table informality, combined with some sterling cooking, makes it a great ambassador for Filipino food – the unsung hero of Oriental cuisine.
For more information, go to www.romulocafe.co.uk.