For British Ambassador Stephen and Denise Lillie, Chef Sam of Old Manila interprets a historic menu of more than a century ago. Chit Lijauco takes you through the courses.
Her britannic Majesty's ambassador to the Philippines, His Excellency Stephen Lillie, scanned the creative menu prepared for him and his wife Denise by Samuel Linder, the chef de cuisine of Old Manila. There were two great reasons for the gustatory creation. Britain was celebrating the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on the 2nd and the Philippines, its Independence Day on the 12th. Thus, a menu of Philippine-inspired dishes fit for a British diplomat.
The second course immediately caught the ambassador's attention: Hors d'Oeuvre 1898. "I was just in Malolos recently, at the old church where the first Philippine Republic was inaugurated in 1898," he said. Seeing most of the Philippines as they can has been the preoccupation of the Lillies. The list of the places they've been to is perhaps longer than any that a native Fili- pino can claim. Having a penchant for snorkelling and the beach, the Lillies (to include their two sons, Patrick John, 15, and Jacob Peter, 13) have been to the great dive sites in the country, the most recent of which was Siquijor. "I liked swimming with the butanding [whale sharks]," piped in Denise. Still on the bucket list are the Cordillera Mountains and Banaue up north for a change from the beach scene.
Going back to the menu, Ambassador Lillie remarked, "The chef must have been inspired by the Malolos Congress." This was confirmed by Chef Sam. An additional historical note from the Swiss chef who joined Old Manila last year was that the menu served during the inauguration dinner was in French and that the wines were from Europe.
His take, therefore, of an 1898 menu comprised Huitre, Crevette roses, beurre radis et Saumon Hollandaise with most of the ingredients sourced locally. The huitre, or oysters, for instance, are from Roxas City. Each fresh oyster was served in its half-shell, with a pipette of two- year-old sukang Iloko (vinegar from the Ilocos re- gion) for flavour. A pair of shelled and deveined crevette, or local shrimps, lay beside the oyster and scattered around were the beurre radis, or medallions of radish in butter sauce. At the end of the line of this mix of flavours and colours was a piece of salmon, whose orange hue contrasted with an ivory dollop of Hollandaise sauce.
The fabulous four were paired with the 2010 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. The Italian wine was light and fresh, preparing the palate for more wines to follow and complementing the dominant sour taste of this course.
Sour, in fact, seemed to be the flavour of choice in this first part of the menu. Before the Hors d'Oeuvre 1898, sour set the pace via the amuse bouche of kilawin (creviche) of lapu-lapu, or fish cooked raw in vinegar. What's special about this starter is the vinegar used. "I sourced the pineapple vinegar that I used here from a local distributor of special Filipinio ingredients," said Chef Sam, adding that the two-year-old Iloco vinegar also came from the same source.
It's the first time for the Lillies to sample kilawin. "Nice. New," said the ambassador, finishing the tiny serving. It was three years ago when he took over this ambassadorial post, his first in fact, and at 43 then, the youngest in this top diplomatic position. "Now, someone else is younger than me," he flashes a boyish smile. Lillie is not a stranger to Asia. After graduating in Modern Languages from Oxford University in 1988 he started a diplomatic career that's been largely focused on the continent, with stints in Hong Kong, Beijing, New Delhi and Guangzhou. Before Manila he was the head of the Far Eastern Group in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
The next course was a bit of a worry. Kamayan, it read, eating with the hands. And in this well-appointed fine-dining restaurant, the couple must have wondered what was to happen next, even though they didn't really express it. Probably because of their youth, or they were really born adventurous, or they have actually tried eating with the hands in India, the Lillies were game to try what Chef Sam has specially prepared.
Before the course was served, there was a bit of lesson in eating with the hands, particularly for rice. But the plate that arrived turned out to be a simple task of rolling three tiny fresh egg rolls. Apart from the fun, the morsels were scrumptious as the flavours of the tuna, duck foie gras and mango blended perfectly. "It's as delicious as Peking duck!" exclaimed Denise, who is a Hong Konger. Perfect as well was the 2009 Villa Wolf Gewuerztraminer that was paired with it.
The main course was a dish of Wagyu beef from Bukidnon province. Chef Sam chose two meat parts to work with: tenderloin cooked sous vide (water bath) and brisket braised like the Tagalog adobo. The meats were accompanied by pandan risotto and tortang talong (eggplant with a poached quail egg on top). "I must confess that the risotto wasn't sourced locally," the chef apologised, explaining that he finds the local rice variety usually used to be "too sticky." The full- bodied 1999 Broman Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley was an excellent choice with this course. Having sampled, by now, several wines from different places in the world, Ambassador Stephen mentioned that the south of England also produces some great Chablis and champagne.
The next two courses wound up this light gastronomic delight. The strong flavour of the Malagos cheese (or goat cheese) from Davao was enhanced by the sweet jackfruit terrine and spiced pineapple. And for the ambassador's sweet tooth ("That's why I've developed a liking for leche flan," he said), crème brulee topped with caramelised Cotabato coconut sugar, sweet Baguio strawberry and pili nut tuille. As the last wine, a 2009 Dr Loosen Riesling was downed, there was a little time for coffee before Ambassa- dor Lillie had to go to his next appointment.