Of course this would end up on my IG stories. Everything else does these days, after all. The surprising thing, though, is that people have been messaging me all day because of this. “Where is that?” “OMG WHAT?” Different variations of the same kind of reactions: awe, curiosity, with just a touch of envy.
The centre of all of this hullabaloo is Tiyo’s Inihaw na Liempo Sinigang. Yes, this ingenious restaurant has somehow managed to marry two of our favourite Filipino foods and transformed into one delicious item. It is a compromise, they say, of personalities and of tastes. “If you like soup, you can eat the liempo dipped in soup. If you prefer it dry with the tamarind sauce on rice, then go ahead.” It seems fairly innocuous, but I like that they take everyone into consideration.
Let me begin by saying that I’m not the most informed when it comes to Filipino food. I’ve had the usual: Mang Inasal, Kuya J, my Lola’s adobo. Other than that, my experience with local cuisine is pretty much limited to whatever is available in Metro Manila (which, let’s face it, isn’t very representative of the entire country’s cuisine). It’s not that I’m not an adventurous eater; it’s that I don’t quite know where to look anymore. So thank God for Tiyo, Tomas Morato’s latest homage to the Filipino palate.
Welcome to Tiyo Craft Kitchen & Bar
Enjoy a leisurely drink at Tiyo’s posh bar
Tiyo is, without a doubt, a world in itself. It simply screams elan what with its marble countertops, teakwood furniture, and high back leather lounge chairs. In many ways, it is Tomas Morato’s very own French salon, but you know…modern and Filipino. Think of it as a place where all of the ilustrados would hang out if they lived in 2018. Riveting conversation alongside live bands or soft music, depending on which day of the week it is. Jose Rizal would have been proud. He would also have been spotted here drinking the local ale: any of the eight locally brewed craft beers available on tap.
But I digress. Let’s start with the food because after all, that is the heart of Tiyo.
The beautifully plated Three-Fish Coconut Kinilaw (Php420)
We started the night out right with the Three-Fish Coconut Kinilaw, one of the most beautifully plated dishes I have ever seen. Everything on the plate is edible: from the tuna to the malasugi, to the talakitok (local mackerel) and the crispy espada, to the seaweed used as garnish. It looks complex, but it’s simply a delight. Somewhat reminiscent of the Peruvian ceviche, its flavors are crisp and fresh, a definite challenge to what you think you think you know about Filipino food.
Go crunchy or go home! Calamares Negra for Php315
Our second course was the Calamares Negra: chipirones (baby squid) fried in squid ink batter with aligue dip on the side. Crunchy and satisfying, it is served with homemade kamote chips in order to tempt you into another bite. Needless to say, I gave into that temptation.
A delicious twist to your usual pinakbet (Pinakbet Rebusado for Php325)
The Pinakbet Rebusado followed: a fusion-style dish that has eggplant, string beans, sigarilyas, okra, and squash deep fried tempura style. The binagoongan dip was the perfect complement to the crunch, adding more depth of flavor to the usual medley of pinakbet vegetables.
The star of my night, the Aligue Pinoy Wings (Php385)
The star of my night was definitely the Aligue Pinoy Wings. I don’t even like aligue (crab fat), but Tiyo has somehow managed to convince me that it isn’t so bad. Although it is an indulgence (anyone else have high cholesterol?), Tiyo’s wings made it all worth it. I highly suggest you explore the different flavored wings that their menu has to offer, like the Alavar (Zamboangan satay sauce) wings and Tiyo’s Piaparan (Maranaoan curry) wings.
Thickly cut pork liempo with tamarind gravy
It is now the fifth course and we have come to where we had originally begun: the Inihaw na Liempo Sinigang, the piece de resistance. Slabs of thickly cut grilled pork belly are served with a generous portion of tamarind gravy. Sour broth soup with vegetables is served on the side.
Deconstructed sinigang is a Y E S for me (Php495)
Mark and Sam, power couple and part-owners of Tiyo, explained the rationale behind this type of deconstructed sinigang. “Mark hates soup,” Sam said. “But I love it. This way, we get to cater everyone.” And it works! The tamarind gravy and liempo is delicious any way you wish to have it: on a bed of fluffy, white rice, or submerged in warm, zesty soup. I didn’t believe it could work both ways (gravy in soup?), but just try it and I dare you to tell me otherwise.
Nothing beats the classics (Sisig for Php395)
Last but not least (definitely not least), is the food that Anthony Bourdain claimed would win the hearts and minds of the world: sisig. Sisig has become something of a phenomena with plenty of variations and renditions done all over the Philippines. For Tiyo? They stick to the classics: Pampanga-style. No sizzling plate, just a lot of the good stuff: chicharon bits, egg yolk, minced pork jowl, and to top it off, chicken liver mousse. It is an extravagant affair, but one that you shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about. It’s a treat, after all – served only by the best.
Bye Jollibee…1/2jk (Peach Mango Pie for Php210)
Dessert came quickly. Taking on one of the Filipino classics, Tiyo serves a deliciously sized Peach Mango Pie. Although Jollibee’s peach mango pie remains close to my heart (they were the ones to put peach mango pie on the map after all), I have to say that Tiyo serves to be a strong competitor for the number one spot. With a healthy serving of gabi (taro) ice cream (fear not, it is a subtle gabi flavor, not overwhelming at all) and a sprinkle of mint leaves, the peach mango pie is a delicious melange of mango, ice cream, and savory flour crust. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: it is delicious.
Shoutout to all of the Titas of Manila! Streetside Special craft cocktail for Php280. It even has gulaman!
What is a meal without post-dinner drinks? The Italians have their digestivi and I (being a tita) have my buko pandan cocktail. Called the Streetside Special, this craft cocktail pays homage to sunny days spent streetside with a plastic bag of pandan juice and gulaman. It tastes just like the real thing–but with a kick (thanks to a little coconut rum).
Some of Tiyo’s delicious craft beer on tap!
If you aren’t the cocktail type, that’s fine, too, because Tiyo happens to have a wide selection of craft beers on tap. They have eight different craft beers from all over the Philippines, which range from Elias Mango Cider (a bestseller!) to Bulul Tisay Blonde Ale. All of them are naturally flavored and surprisingly smooth. If you aren’t much of a beer drinker, then I highly suggest the Elias Mango Cider, Tropic Haze, and Soothsayer, all of which are light in flavor – perfect for a comfortably long sobremesa. Beer enthusiasts might opt for the Exit Wounds IPA or Monkey Eagle Potion28 IPA, which have stronger tastes and smells.
Much more than what Tiyo is doing with its food and drinks, what I love about this restaurant is that it (quite simply) celebrates being Filipino. And it’s not just about exclusivity or “being an ilustrado”, which in itself serves a very narrow definition of what being Filipino means. Rather, this restaurant makes themselves all about celebrating Filipino intellectualism, connoisseurship, and talent. From its Escolta-esque decor to its multicultural menu (with food inspired by Mindanao and Visayas, as well as Luzon), Tiyo aims not just to bring you out of your comfort zone, but to bring you back home, as well.