Chef’s Table by Chef Bruce Lim is the latest freestyle dining by-reservation-only restaurant in Manila. It is set on the rooftop of Tablescape Studio, which is hidden along Kalayaan Avenue, near Fort Bonifacio.
Chef’s Table will probably get my vote for the best restaurant in 2009. It offers a unique dining experience in the heart of the metro. Imagine eating inside a private kitchen studio that Chef Bruce uses for the Tablescape show, where he demonstrates how the dishes are cooked, plated and served. We were the first commercial customers — so let me share our experience with you.
We requested to have a freestyle dinner with the only parameter being “Surprise Us”. We wanted variety in the course. Most of the group didn’t have any food restrictions, so we let the Chef surprise us with his creations. We opted for the P1,000/head 4-course menu, which included dessert.
Chef Bruce created a menu revolving around the theme Classic vs. Twisted. He fell in love with Filipino cuisine because of his Kapampangan grandmother. It is the reason why most of his creations are based on ingredients that can be sourced locally but are cooked in very interesting ways.
In each course, there were two choices that were split among the group. For example, since we were 6 in the group, we were served 3 soups and 3 salads for the first course. This way, we got to taste a lot of dishes. Normally, everybody gets the same meals throughout the course.
1. Soup and Salad: Chefs Salad vs. Roasted Tomato Halaan Cream Soup
The meals are prepared right in front of you by Chef Bruce. He entertains you with stories of how he prepares the food and his awesome travel around the Philippines through the Travelscape show. He also plays a game of guess-that-ingredient (which I failed miserably because I don’t cook).
Chefs Salad.Mixed greens tossed in a roasted shallot vinaigrette and topped with sun-dried cranberries, toasted almonds and ricotta cheese.
The classic salad, composed of arugula and lettuce, is dressed with a roasted shallot (sibuyas tagalog) vinaigrette with cherry, red wine vinegar, pepper, olive oil and mustard. Frankly, it was ordinary and it failed the “Surprise Us” criteria.
The halaan soup was unlike anything we had ever tasted. It was inspired by an IIoilo dish that uses a roasted tomato technique.
The clams were sauteed with ginger, garlic, onion and oil before they were steamed in white wine. Then, the clams were separated from the soup before the dish was served.
Roasted Tomato Halaan Cream Soup.Classic clam and ginger soup, spiced with roasted tomatoes and enriched with cream.
The combination of roasted tomato, the bitter taste of clam, and cream with drops of basil oil was almost magical. I’m not sure how those different tastes complemented each other, but this soup generated “ang sarap…” comments consistently.
Verdict: For course #1, the twisted dish won over the classic one. (Note: Don’t forget to order this Roasted Tomato Halaan Cream Soup!)
For appetizers, the theme was raw: a twisted kilawin dish vs. a classic tartare.
Shrimp Ceviche.Fresh prawns mixed with lemon juice and sake, then tossed with mangoes and apples for crunch.
For the kilawin, the raw shrimp was mixed with apple and mangoes. Apple juice, lemon juice and sake were used instead of vinegar. Finally, it was topped with chicharo sprouts. This twisted kilawin dish was inspired by Enteng, the kilawin king of Bacolod. He runs a restaurant called Yellow Chicken along Banawe.
Tartare Duo. Fresh Salmon and Tuna mixed with aromatics and topped with crispy kamote chips.
Tartare is defined as finely chopped meat or fish that is seasoned and served raw. In this case, it was a combination of raw tuna and salmon sashimi-grade fresh from the seaside market. The salmon was placed on top of the tuna with small cucumbers surrounding it. This was topped later on with kamote chips to add texture and height to the entire dish.
The tuna was mixed with sesame oil, while the salmon was mixed with roasted shallot oil. Chef Bruce taught us how to identify the shallot oil. It was by exhaling through our noses after a bite of the salmon. You should be able to taste it at the back of your throat.
Verdict: We all loved the Tartare Duo of Salmon and Tuna! This is a classic that you should not miss in Chef’s Table.
3.Main Entree: Potato-Crusted Salmon vs. Steamed Fish
For the main entree, ube (mashed with potato) was used as a bed for the steamed Lapu-lapu.
The Lapu-lapu was cooked to perfection. Chef Bruce finished it off with a hot oil technique and sesame oil for aroma.
Steamed Fish. Steamed Lapu-lapu fillets sitting on a bed of ube mash.
The combination of sauteed kamote tops and togue was inspired by a Korean dish that Chef Bruce discovered would go very well with the Lapu-lapu. We would have to agree.
I asked Aidan if he would cook for me someday like Chef Bruce, and he said he would cook pizza for me. 🙂 Syoti Joshua was more eager to go around the kitchen and watch the cooking action on the kitchen table.
The sauteed wilted kangkong was used as the base for the salmon.
The potato-crusted salmon was baked with kasubha oil and szechuan peppercorn. Kasubha oil was created by Chef Bruce from Safflower (like Saffron). The salmon was pan-seared medium rare to retain its juiciness.
Potato-Crusted Salmon.Fresh salmon layered with potatoes and pan-seared to medium rare, sitting
on a bed of wilted kangkong.
Verdict: We all loved the Steamed Lapu-lapu with its side dish of Ube Mash and Kamote Tops + Togue. The Salmon was promising, but the meat itself was bland.
Finally! The dessert was what Aidan was waiting for. Honestly, I was not impressed with the desserts.
Fresh Fruit Salad.Seasonal fresh fruit topped with a lemon honey yogurt sauce.
Fresh homemade yogurt was used to wrap up the fruit medley of chico, grapes and honeydew. The kids did not like the taste of yogurt.
Creme brulee. Decadent cream custard crusted with sugar topping.
Aidan and Joshua were fighting over the creme brulee, so we had to order another one.
Thank you to Michelle and Chef Bruce Lim for the wonderful dinner. Such a nice couple! We didn’t mind staying there for 2 hours for the entire dinner and spending another hour talking about Chef Bruce’s culinary escapades in the high-roller casino in Las Vegas, his Filipino culinary discoveries, their love story and Tokyo drift.
If I were to summarize the experience, it was like being a judge on an Iron Chef show, with Chef Bruce competing against himself.
From Edsa, if you are coming from Megamall, take a U-turn in Buendia. Go straight until you see the Rockwell flyover, then you turn right at Kalayaan. Go straight to C-5. After passing under the bridge, you will see LBC on your right and Cebuana Lhuillier, Tambunting pawnshop and a Kalayaan wet market on your left. Turn on the first right at E. Jacinto St.
Stop at the building with Lims Folding Furniture on the ground floor. Chef’s Table is located on the third floor / rooftop with a lighted garden. Michelle’s driver will assist you with parking inside their compound and guide you to the Chef’s Table studio.
The stairs leading up to the kitchen studio are lined with bamboo, lights and other green elements, which aim to transport you to a different place.
You’ll pass by Chef Bruce’s grandmother’s garden, which has different herbs that he uses as ingredients for his dishes.
A koi fishpond with a turtle and catfish will surely entertain your kids.
The garden is usually used by Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino as a set for their shows.
Chef Bruce and Michelle will greet you in the well-lighted kitchen studio where they shoot Tablescape and Chef’s Table. There is a TV monitor at the back, which they sometimes use to show cartoons to pacify the kids. The Chef’s table is a long table with benches, which could comfortably seat 10 people. The entire kitchen is also a showcase of the couple’s collections from their travel around the Philippines.
Btw, I suggest you bring your own wine while they don’t have corkage yet.
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