This Is What Happens When Two Japanese Chefs Cook A French Dinner In Manila
A multicultural degustation held at Epilogue revealed surprise after culinary surprise combining Japanese creativity, French techniques, and even a few Filipino touches
Yoshiaki Ito, the chef-owner of Paris’ one Michelin-starred L’Archeste, recently flew to Manila to cook with an old friend, the Manila-based Chef Hiroyuki Meno of S Maison’s Epilogue. Together, the two chefs produced a four-hands degustation over three nights, that had the lucky ones who had booked seats raving about the nine-course gastronomic journey they had been taken on. Both Chefs Ito and Meno are Paul Bocuse-trained, and the courses were a creative outpouring of their Japanese roots, French experiences, and a side trip to the Filipino market! Yes, it was that unique and enjoyable a dining experience
The elegant Epilogue in S Maison with Chef Hiroyuki Meno presiding over the kitchen | Philip Cu-Unjieng
Half in jest, I’ve often commented that these degustation or tasting menu concepts are more a case of “no me gusta-tion” as I’ve found that chefs either ply you with too many courses so you’re full by the time the more impressive main courses come out, or it’s more of the chef “showing off” without a true thematic overlay. In Bangkok, I’ve experienced three degustations, and enjoyed Sühring (rated No. 4 on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list) and Paste (No. 28), over Gaa (at No. 16, the highest new entry on the list). For me, a degustation is about imagination and creativity without foregoing taste, as well as “hitting the spot” when the meal ends. It’s giving the familiar a touch of the exotic or unusual, and making the inspired combination of flavors that mingle together and explode when you put them in your mouth, right before you swallow. It’s that element of surprise that I enjoy.
Early Thursday morning, Chef Meno brought Chef Ito to our local market. The idea was to incorporate unexpected local flavors into their signature dishes, and come up with impromptu creations. It was freshness in ingredients they were after, aiming to combine these with some of the food items Chef Ito brought with him from Paris, including summer truffles and Liveche mayonnaise. The fact that giant groupers were also made available—I gleaned this from a photo posted by Alyanna Uy whose family owns Epilogue—had me doubly excited, as we know how Japanese chefs are wizards when it comes to seafood.
Rather than describe course after course, I’d like to discourse on the playfulness of the two chefs, and how this came out through two overriding themes I detected in the menu they concocted. One was the theme of “What you see is not just what you get!” with the chefs constantly playing with revelation and surprise. For example, for the cold Gazpacho starter, we were served a bowl with bell pepper mousse and a creamy dollop of burrata. Chef Meno then went from seat to seat to add gazpacho spuma—yes, it was foam—to the bowl. As cold soups go, this was one of the most flavorful that I’ve enjoyed.
The wonderful and refreshing cold Gazpacho | Philip Cu-Unjieng
With the Yellowtail & Crab course, the naked eye could only see slices of seared hamachi and radish, with big “peas” of Liveche mayonnaise and basil. Only when I went through the hamachi slices did I find the hidden crab and eggplant.
Yellowtail and Crab with Liveche mayonnaise | Philip Cu-Unjieng
The next course, named Foie Gras, arrived as a bowl of whitish foam. But it was only by digging in with my spoon did I discover the poached foie underneath, as well as the very delicious risotto made of local adlai grains and moringa!
Foie Gras with adlai and moringa risotto | Philip Cu-Unjieng
Even the Vacherin dessert, in the shape of an ivory-colored meringue globe, had secrets to reveal. I had to break the shell to find the treat within, a mango-calamansi sorbet.
The Vacherin with a mango-calamansi sorbet as the reveal | Philip Cu-Unjieng
The second unifying theme was the use of Filipino ingredients, which consistently provided flavor surprises. The St. Jacques cold appetizer featuring Hokkaido scallop with a singkamas rémoulade took our breath away—it was that good!
A trio of starters: St-Jacques Scallops with singkamas rémoulade, Beignet of pumpkin flower with aged Parmesan and dalandan jam, and Pissaladière featuring iberico pancetta, summer truffle, and mornay | Philip Cu-Unjieng
The Giant Grouper was the perfect amalgam of the talent assembled, with the grouper prepared like gindara, Japanese style, but with a bouillabaisse broth poured into the bowl, for that French element. Then floating with the grouper was chayote for that Filipino tinola twist. This seafood course was ambrosial.
Giant Grouper in bouillabaisse with lemongrass, banana heart, chayote, and fennel | Philip Cu-Unjieng
The Wagyu Tenderloin MB7 main course was served with classic French béarnaise sauce topped with slivers of truffle. But lo and behold, nestled on top of the greens were morsels of sisig. The truly wonderful thing was how these elements all worked together to give us something familiar yet different.
Wagyu Tenderloin MB7 in béarnaise, with summer truffle, and a sisig “inspiration” of pork mask cooked in Pedro Ximénez sherry | Philip Cu-Unjieng
By the dinner’s end, it was this element of whimsy and readiness to stretch our palates that made me fully appreciative of how these two chefs had brainstormed to make this dinner a paradigm of imagination, friendship, and true collaboration. It wasn’t like one course could be identified with Chef Ito, and the next with Chef Meno. Instead, like jazz musicians, they were improvising or “jamming” together, and we were the lucky recipients of their combined talents.
An “epilogue” of a photo with, from left, the writer, Issa Litton, Yoshiaki Ito, Hiroyuki Meno, and Alyanna Uy whose family owns Epilogue | Philip Cu-Unjieng
Epilogue, S Maison, Conrad Manila, Seaside Boulevard corner Coral Way, Pasay City, (02) 816-7088