Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s a tricky thing, opening a Filipino restaurant in the Philippines. You have to give people a reason to go out of their way for something they know how to make at home, or already have trusted suppliers for.
To set themselves apart, many restaurants offer Filipino food done “differently,” occasionally with mixed results. It’s difficult to strike a balance between the homespun and the out-of-the-box. It takes a place like Toyo Eatery, the new restaurant by Chef Jordy Navarra, to dare to be inventive with Filipino food without losing sight of the traditional flavors we crave.
Located at The Alley, a new compound at Karrivin Plaza along Chino Roces (near Whitespace Manila), Toyo opened its doors last March to rave reviews.
The first thing you need to know about Toyo is the idea behind its name. Navarra named the restaurant after the Filipino word for soy sauce for the condiment’s ubiquity and its deceptive simplicity. “If you go past its availability and go deep into soy sauce composition and making soy sauce, I like the fact that it has minimal ingredients but it has a very, very complex taste,” Navarra says. “Even if it’s simple and everyday, there’s a lot of technique and knowledge in making it.”
It’s something that stands as a working philosophy for the restaurant itself, where every dish, while made with familiar methods and ingredients, offers an unexpected level of nuance.
Navarra adds: “There’s, like, spirit animals and stuff. For cooks, it’s like ‘spirit condiments,’ and ours is toyo.”
A story in seven courses
Toyo’s offerings are best enjoyed through its seven-course tasting menu (P2,900 per person) or its three-course set menu (P1,000 per person). A handful of dishes are available à la carte in case the set meal servings leave you hankering for more.
The garden vegetables (P480 à la carte) are made from all the vegetables in the folk song “Bahay Kubo,” prepared in different ways, then incorporated into one cohesive albeit complex dish. “There’s a cultural side to it ‘cause it’s a folk song,” Navarra explains. “It’s fun, it’s playful, everyone understands it. All Filipinos know it.” He adds: “Ingredient-wise, it’s very, very local kasi all of the vegetables in the song are local. And then taste-wise, it tastes very Filipino kasi that’s the terroir of the Philippines in terms of the vegetables.”
The three-cut pork BBQ (P380 à la carte) plays on the classic street fare by using three different cuts of pork brushed with reduced pork broth and served with coconut cider vinegar. “We wanted it to look like barbecue, still taste like barbecue,” Navarra says, “pero you can sort of taste na there’s something a bit different, but it’s not not barbecue.”
Another highlight is the grilled belly and loin of bangus with Toyo Eatery silog (P580 à la carte). The fish is served perfectly grilled on a bed of spinach, while the silog’s sticky rice, raw egg, and crispy fish skin make for an exciting amalgam of flavors and textures.
For dessert, Toyo serves a traditional cassava cake, baked in a charcoal oven and finished on a grill to give it an ulterior crust. The chocolate truffle is another surprise, as it’s filled with a combination of caramel and patis, the latter setting off the former’s sweetness perfectly.
What’s in a name?
When Toyo started, Navarra sought to create an atmosphere that was welcoming and distinctly reminiscent of our culture. He wanted the service to reflect the warmth of Filipino hospitality.
It’s something that’s reflected in the interiors as well, which make for an impressive showcase of local craftsmanship. There are E. Murio rattan chairs, Diretso acacia tables, and capiz-embellished lights by Milo Naval. The warmth of these native wooden pieces stands out against the polished concrete floors and spartan interiors.
All in all, Toyo manages to earn its name. It’s a place that’s unmistakably Filipino in its food and its soul. The eatery astonishes and excites, and it will probably keep you coming back for more, because, like anything Filipino, Toyo never runs out of surprises.
Toyo Eatery is located at The Alley at Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City, open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.