VIRGINA LLAMAS was a homemaker who prepared impeccable signature dishes. Her husband, Carlos P. Romulo, was appointed as the Philippines’ permanent delegate to the United Nations with the rank of Ambassador the day after Manuel Roxas was sworn as the first president of the Philippine Republic. In 1946, the family settled in Washington D.C. — their home for the next 14 years. It was at that time that Virgina introduced Filipino cuisine to American guests and foreign diplomats. Her recipes served as inspiration for Romulo Café’s home-cooked dishes.
Even as it honors tradition, Romulo Café wants to keep things interesting and updated so it will be introducing seven new dishes to the menu beginning the first week of July.
According to Sandie Romulo-Squillantini, restaurant owner and granddaughter of Virginia and the Ambassador, she and her husband get their food ideas from meals they have outside the restaurant and then give their suggestions to the executive chef.
“I would say 90% of our menu is composed of my lola’s recipes but we’re injecting new ones in order to keep up with the times,” Ms. Romulo-Squillantini was quoted as saying in a press release.
“I like something that’s simple but done right,” A1 Rebueno, Romulo Café’s executive chef, told BusinessWorld during a media lunch on June 4, about how he came up with new dishes.
“Fortunately, [A1] understands our concept. So it’s not hard to get him to do dishes we all agree on,” Ms. Romulo-Squillantini told BusinessWorld. “We really want to be true to our concept, which is home-cooked meals.”
“I keep the flavor Filipino but how I present it is different. Or I substitute some of the ingredients — but at the very core, it’s still Filipino. We want something modern, something new, but we still want it very relatable to the Filipinos. So I try as much as possible that it’s still traditional in terms of the flavor but a bit refreshing to the eyes.”
After whetting our appetites with some Chicharon bulaklak (deep-fried ruffled fat) partnered with pinakurat, a local spiced vinegar — new on the menu — we went on to the main event.
The main courses —to be added to the menu next month — followed, namely Sizzling sinigang na bulalo (sour-soup style bone marrow) steak in which the fattiness of the beef was cut by acidity from the sinigang’s tamarind; Adobong pula confit, based on the chef’s grandmother’s recipe which is a Batangueño-style adobo (meat stewed in vinegar) with prepared with tomatoes; Cochinillo de Cebu (Cebu-style roast suckling pig) paired with spicy vinegar; Grilled boneless bangus (milkfish) served with a relish of green mangoes and Romulo Café’s signature soy-based dipping sauce; and Ginataang langka (jackfruit in coconut milk).
The meal ended with Pan de sal (salt bread) and leche flan (crème caramel) pudding. The dessert made it to Inquirer Lifestyle’s Best Desserts Book 5 this year even though it was not on the menu yet.
The introduction of new dishes is also their way of attracting younger diners.
“We want to make our dishes a little more modern but still keeping the traditional taste,” Ms. Romulo-Squillantini said. Romulo Café has three branches in Metro Manila — Sct. Dr. Lazcano cor. Scout Tuazon, Tomas Morato, QC; Jupiter St. Bel-Air, Makati; and at the Azumi Hotel in Alabang. For details visit www.romulocafe.com. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman