Cabel Serves Nostalgia And Fine Filipino Comfort Food
You’ll find Filipino heirloom dishes cooked with no shortcuts, hard-to-find Tausug delicacies, and irresistibly rich durian ice cream!
Just a few months ago, JC Cabel Moreno had no idea how to cook.
“I can’t even fry an egg!” he exclaimed over the dining table as we enjoyed the gorgeous spread of Filipino food prepared for us at Cabel, a new restaurant just behind Malacañang Palace.
Having worked for a major airline in Abu Dhabi for more than 12 years, JC loved the structure and predictability of the corporate world. “I come to work from 9 to 5, I come home, I know my salary will come every 15th and 30th of the month,” he recalled.
But when he came home to the Philippines in December 2018, he found himself immersed in the bustling F&B scene of Metro Manila. His younger brother, Miguel Cabel Moreno, owns and operates Palm Grill, one of the best restaurants in Quezon City and a fervent champion of Mindanaoan culture and cuisine. Born in Sulu and raised in Zamboanga, the brothers (together with their youngest sister Maria Isabel) grew up eating their mom’s Piyanggang Manok and their grandmother’s Kolma and Tiyula Itum. This rich tapestry of unique Southern flavors sets both Palm Grill and Cabel apart from other Filipino restaurants.
JC — who’s fondly known as ‘King’ — accepted various projects since coming back to Manila and wasn’t even thinking about having his own restaurant. But it was in July 2022 when he and Miguel received a tip that Casa Roces, a Filipino restaurant that’s been operating for almost a decade, was looking for someone to take over their lease. The brothers, together with their mom Melissa, decided to check out the ancestral home-turned-restaurant and they instantly fell in love with it. What ensued was three months of their family tirelessly working to update the place (or whatever they were allowed to renovate in the historic structure), finalize their menu, and look for their staff. Everything was well thought out — from the exclusively made rattan dining chairs from local artisans in Pampanga to the hand-painted murals in the comfort rooms done by Nelka Jones, a local artist from Zamboanga.
The home itself (once owned by the Roces Family of The Manila Times, the oldest English newspaper in the country) is well-preserved, its beauty and history respectfully restored and maintained since it was built in the 1930s. Walking around the house, you’ll realize such craftsmanship is very hard to find nowadays: the gorgeous wooden staircase with its rounded rails, the intricate woodwork on the door and doorframe, the elaborate chandeliers (changing designs in every single room), the colorful floor tiles (believed to be Machuca because it has kept its vibrant colors), the old school mechanism used to control the frosted glass windows by the staircase, the beautifully maintained hardwood floors on the second floor, the large windows with art deco-inspired metal enclosures that match the gates, and the expansive garden overlooking the Malacañang Palace. When you visit, make sure to take note of the two metal sculptures in the garden (believed to be by noted Filipino artist Impy Pilapil), the statue of a newspaper boy by the front door, and the life-size statue of fearless journalist and Martial Law survivor Joaquin ‘Chino’ Roces (1913-1988) happily sitting with a newspaper by the second entrance.
In September 2022, King opened the doors to his kingdom — a soft launch of sorts as he tries his neophyte hand in the restaurant industry while proudly waving the Tausug flag.
Taking inspiration from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, King presented to us a menu that celebrates not just Filipino food but his family history. Many of the dishes were food he and his siblings enjoyed while growing up in Zamboanga, often prepared by his grandmother and mother. According to JC, the menu isn’t trying to make things modern and it’s not about giving Filipino food a wild twist. It’s about highlighting beloved flavors done as faithfully as possible. Just as their mom and grandmother cooked with love and gusto at home back then, so does their culinary team at Cabel.
Here’s a taste of the Cabel experience as inspired by the flavors of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao:
From Luzon: Cabel’s Embutido is very straightforward. It’s the traditional Filipino-style meatloaf we all know and love with seasoned ground pork, pickles, raisins, and a hard-boiled egg within. The pork is tender and the flavors are subtle. Best enjoyed with some tomato ketchup to keep it from going dry.
From Visayas: Kansi. This beloved Visayan beef soup is comfort in every sip. The sourness of the broth and almost floral aroma of the lemongrass gives levity to the otherwise heavy beef-based soup, while the abundance of vegetables balances the sinfulness of the marrow.
From Mindanao: Piyanggang Manok. Just like the signature Piyanggang Manok that put Palm Grill on the map, this is the same recipe taught by their mom. Piyanggang Manok is bone-in chicken braised in intoxicating palapa (or pamapa, a paste made of ground burnt coconut meat), chili, aromatics like ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, and a myriad of spices. Some say it’s black chicken curry, but as King pointed out, the color is not really black but a dark shade of green, which is why sometimes this dish is also called Green Chicken. The chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender and succulent with each fiber deeply imbibing the rich and complex flavors of the palapa. This dish is impossible to eat without rice, so go ahead and order some rice sprinkled with bubuk (toasted coconut flakes).
From Mindanao: Kolma. This is another dish King and his siblings grew up eating. Kolma has bite-size chunks of beef and potato cooked in coconut milk with tomato sauce and cinnamon. It has a mild heat that’s easily quenched by the creaminess of the coconut-based sauce.
To wash it all down, we recommend getting the Sago't Gulaman (an ubiquitous Filipino drink often sold by the street made of brown sugar, tapioca pearls or boba, and chewy jellies) and Zamboanga White (a traditional Zamboangeño cooler with cream and refreshing lychee).
Dessert is from Luzon: Inutak. This is not the inutak you know; this is miles away from that dense block of pounded cassava. For dessert, we were served warm and gooey inutak (made of glutinous rice) topped with a thick slab of ube (purple yam). Both elements of the dessert were not too sweet, just enough that you can still enjoy its natural flavors.
From Luzon: Ube Halaya. Ube has recently taken the world by storm, but in its purest iteration, Ube Halaya is a dream. King mentions he prefers his ube halaya on the chunky side as opposed to the smooth and creamy variant often sold at pasalubong centers. Made in small batches by his neighbor’s sibling, the ube was earthy and sweet, both chunky and soft. It’s served warm and topped with chewy nata de coco.
From Mindanao: Durian ice cream. Durian has always been a polarizing thing — it’s either you love it or you hate it, there is no in-between. If you love durian, you will fall head-over-heels in love with Cabel’s homemade durian ice cream. If you hate durian, go ahead and try this version anyway. It’s not as pungent as fresh durian, but its full flavor is still there. And let’s be honest, its flavor is the best part! To say this ice cream is rich would be an understatement; it probably has its own trust fund. It’s literally chilled cream studded with chunks of durian and for some reason it doesn’t melt as quickly as store-bought ice cream, which works to its advantage because this dessert deserves to be savored, enjoyed at a leisurely pace preferably at Cabel’s lush garden. You get two generous scoops per serving with the iconic Lokot-Lokot (a.k.a. “Jaa”), a quintessential treat from the Zamboanga Peninsula made from glutinous rice, water, and sugar. It’s like a lace mat rolled into a cylinder. As it cools, it becomes crunchy, making it the perfect accompaniment to silky smooth homemade ice cream. We’re hoping the day will soon come when Cabel will sell their Durian Ice Cream in pints.
Aside from celebrating local flavors, Cabel prefers purchasing their supplies — like ube halaya, cakes, kalamay (rice cakes) — from small businesses as a way to support them in the wake of the pandemic. Cabel is also home to Miguel’s Barter, a space where local artisans and small businesses can showcase their products, like locally made tablea, homegrown coffee, dried flower arrangements, and even handwoven Yakan fabric and Inabel face masks from Ilocos. At the second floor where private function rooms are located, local artists can display their artworks free of charge for three months.
In the coming months, their in-house bar – aptly named King’s Speakeasy – will open. Despite being still in the works, diners can already order Cabel’s signature cocktails named after their family members, like like the Miguelito (gin, calamansi concentrate, and tonic water), King-Koy (lambanod, red wine, oranges and apples — like a local sangria), Maria-Rita (lambanog, triple sec, and lime juice), or Bernardo (iced tea with rum and pineapple juice).
You can browse through more of Cabel's treasures in the gallery.
Only at Cabel's
Only at Cabel's
Cabel is located at 1153 J.P. Laurel Street corner Aguado Street, San Miguel, Manila. It is open daily from 10am to 10pm. For inquiries and reservations, contact (02) 8550-1781. Instagram: @bycabel.ph.
Photography by: Ching Dee