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Josh Boutwood Opens Revitalized, Reimagined New Helm

This is Boutwood in his element, inviting you into his kitchen domain

The genius behind any restaurant (and its chefs) doesn’t lie in just one dish or one style of cooking, but in its evolution over time. It’s something that can be said of Chef Josh Boutwood and his five-year-old Helm, which has just moved to a bigger, more ambitious space. This marks chapter two in Helm’s ongoing story, and the timing couldn’t be better. 

Josh Boutwood can be described as someone who is constantly in motion. After he opened The Test Kitchen in 2017, more restaurants—Savage, Helm, a relocated The Test Kitchen, Ember— soon followed in quick succession as testaments to his boundless energy, creativity and ambition. His latest project is the reimagining of Helm which used to be hidden in a less frequented corner of Bonifacio Global City. But since April Fool’s Day, the formerly “indie” Helm has gone “mainstream” with a glamorous new address smack in the center of Makati’s central business district. With pricey tasting menus trending around the metro, it makes sense for Boutwood to bring Helm to the next level, building on the years of experience he has with this menu format.

Chef Josh Boutwood | Helm

Before this move, diners would wait weeks, if not months, for one of ten coveted seats at Helm’s counter set around an expansive kitchen. It was fine dining at its coziest, where diners could enjoy the tasting menu while observing the kitchen goings-on and conversing with Boutwood and his chefs. The very identity of Helm seemed to hinge on this idea of interaction in close quarters. So I was curious to find out if this experience would still work in a more high profile location. The answer, it seems, is both yes and no. 

The space

The new Helm is now ensconced inside the vast and still largely unoccupied The Shops at Ayala Triangle Gardens, the newest, swankiest luxury mall in town sitting on one of the most prime pieces of property in all of Metro Manila. With its high ceilings and dark tones, the restaurant interiors feature an interplay of cement, metal and natural wood, with the Japanese kintsugi (the art of mending a cracked vase with gold) as its central motif. Hmm, perhaps an apt metaphor for Helm’s pursuit of culinary perfection through the craft of rendering what is imperfect beautiful?

From ten seats in the first Helm, the new restaurant now seats 24 inside—four each at two separate counters—and the rest in stand-alone tables. The restaurant also takes advantage of a wide al fresco terrace, adding 20 more in outdoor seating, where diners can enjoy unhampered views of Makati’s CBD in all its congested glory.

Seats at the al fresco terrace | Helm

Invited to a dinner preview ahead of the restaurant’s April 1 official opening, I walked into what seemed like an entirely different restaurant from its origins. But as I settled into my seat at one of the counters and began the meal itself, the old Helm energy—relaxed, elegant, familiar—began permeating the space once again.

What Boutwood has essentially done is to amplify the old Helm vibe, removing any fixed boundary between the kitchen and dining areas, with the chefs roaming freely around the space to cook and serve. Diners see everything, even a glimpse of the dishwashing area, but without the distracting clutter and noise. The chefs do their final plating at two kitchen island counters with large exhaust hoods hanging overhead and hi-tech quartz countertops that hide induction cookers underneath, so they can warm up sauces right in front of guests.

The boundary between kitchen and dining space has gone | Helm

The menu

In trying to describe Boutwood’s style of cooking, I can’t find any ready labels to latch on to. His focus has always been on ingredients, their intrinsic properties and their many possibilities. At first impression, this approach may seem too nuanced and unremarkable, but thanks to Boutwood’s combination of technique-experience-creativity, he manages to coax surprising things out of seemingly simple ingredients. 

The 14-course preview dinner that Boutwood served us still felt quintessentially Helm, with its meticulous balance of flavors and textures, its global influences, its reverence of ingredients, and its well-documented use of the number three as an organizing element. But this new menu also felt “looser” and more instinctive compared to the more theme-oriented ones he had been doing at the old Helm. This menu builds on flavor and texture combinations that speak to Boutwood’s multicultural background, from European inspirations to tropical touches throughout. But rather than being a mishmash of flavors, the courses flowed harmoniously, punctured by quite a few standouts that elicited oohs and aahs from our table.

A focus on ingredients; pork, red cabbage, celeriac pork sauce, spring onions (left), and striploin, fermented mushroom purée, beef tendons, and green peppercorn oil (right) | Helm

The bite-sized snacks set the tone for the dinner, like mini teasers rife with European references, from fish and chips, onion tart with raw beef and horseradish, to fjord trout with juniper. His Asian side was reflected in his seafood courses—a dish of mussels with lemongrass and chili, followed by a delicate hamachi hiding under a sweet coconut milk film (acting like a solid “sauce” to the fish) tinged with kaffir lime and yuzu notes. 

Fjord salmon (or trout) with juniper, fish and chips, mussel dashi. | Helm

The egg course was just as memorable, involving a solid yet still creamy egg yolk smothered in a potato espuma with barley and kale, topped with puffed Japanese rice. I was also enamored by the duck dish, with its tangy soursop or guyabano jam cutting through the richness, and a delicate cauliflower mousse to help bridge the two elements.

Duck, cauliflower purée, guyabano purée, duck sauce and black pepper gel | Helm

Of course, it is not a Josh Boutwood meal without his signature sourdough. Because when a sourdough is this good (slow fermented for three days), it deserves its own separate course, which I savored with generous swaths of whipped and burnt butters until not a crumb was left.

While Boutwood is not a pastry chef, he still manages to whip up beautiful concoctions that bring satisfying closure to his tasting menus. From a refreshing coconut, mango, vanilla delight, he followed with a bowl of burnt and dark chocolates both light and decadent at the same time, with extra unctuousness from a rich white chocolate sauce, and complemented with dark Robusta coffee. It was one of my most memorable chocolate desserts in a long time.

Coconut, mango, vanilla delight (left), and the burnt and dark chocolates (right) | Helm

Helm is currently only open for dinner with a choice of an 8-course or 12-course tasting menu, priced at P5,800 and P8,800 respectively. Boutwood promises a shorter lunch menu coming soon to cater to the business crowd. 

While I do miss the old Helm, I am happy to say that this chapter two is a welcome development in Helm’s ongoing story. The extra space allows Boutwood and his chefs to flex just a bit more, giving them more room to experiment and evolve, but without losing sight of what made the first Helm so intimate and comforting. I feel privileged to have enjoyed Helm’s chapter one, and look forward to what chapter two brings forth.

Wagyu Studio Collabs With Manila's Best Chefs In Series of Extraordinary Tasting Menus


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Helm by Josh Boutwood | 0915 909 8647 |FB: @helmmnl | IG: @helmmnl |3rd Level, The Shops at Ayala Triangle Gardens, Ayala Avenue corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati

Photos courtesy of Helm