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This New Degustation Restaurant Breaks the Rules With Sustainability in Mind

Tandem Manila’s debut 10-course dinner menu will take your taste buds on a deliciously memorable journey

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Tandem is at Greenbelt Hamilton, Makati

Degustation menus have been in the Manila food scene for quite some time now, with more and more creative food gods jumping in the fine dining industry to show and flaunt their culinary prowess. A degustation, commonly known as a tasting menu, is a dining experience characterized by a series of meticulously chosen dishes, each presented in smaller servings compared to conventional full-sized courses. The aim of a degustation is to offer diners the chance to explore a diverse array of flavors, ingredients, and culinary techniques within a single meal. This type of menu is typically found in upscale dining establishments and is crafted to highlight the epicurean talents, inventiveness, and use of premium-quality ingredients by the chefs.

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Recently engaged chefs and the gastronomy geniuses behind Tandem, Mikee Lopez and Alex Tan

Power couple and chefs, Alex Tan and Mikee Lopez, are a tandem of a Michelin-trained cook and a nerdy culinary scientist, respectively. With their strong dedication to food, service, and sustainability, these two have been wowing their dinner guests in their 20-seater restaurant at Legazpi, Makati. The interiors are airy, minimal, with wood as the dominant natural element. A row of plants add a nice touch of green to the dining area’s back wall, while the muted, local ceramics remind me of Japandi’s minimalist sophistication. Simple pendant lights dangle from the ceiling, and few tasteful art pieces hang on their walls. The open kitchen gives their guests a close view of the busyness and action their small army of chefs go through during each dinner service. It was a sight to behold.

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Tandem’s interiors
When we settled into our seats, we were welcomed by Chef Alex with a quick introduction on the inspiration behind their debut menu. Each course highlights a popular local crop, an homage to our agricultural heroes—our Filipino farmers. Each crop is creatively cooked and presented, I’m imagining it as a splendid science experiment. I never thought I’d be so impressed and elated with a crop-centric, 10-course dinner, but there I was, oohing and aahing as they served me every plate. But what’s truly most awe-inspiring is how they are committed to a zero-waste kitchen, reasonably utilizing everything, which the dishes profoundly and delectably carry. 
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L-R: Cassava (with scallop and furikake), Onion, Onion & More Onion, and Mung Bean and Shrimp

The dinner opened with Tandem’s “snacks.” If snacks were always excellently and meticulously prepared and cooked like these, then please, let me snack all day! This three-piece beauty is packed with so much flavor and textures, but it’s the onion snack that blew me away. For sustainability, it’s all about technique, resourcefulness, and creativity. Chef Alex shared, “That one’s just flexing the versatility of onions, but also where we can maximize them from our previous prep. Then the shells of the shrimp for the mung bean tart snack—we make an oil out of it, then that's what we cook the shrimp with (plus bagoong, or shrimp paste butter). We then keep the shells and make a roasted shrimp stock, which we turn into a sauce for our pescatarian friends and guests.”

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Tomato

A refreshingly cold salad that’s impressed us with its complementing ingredients, this starter dish demonstrates the detail-oriented and intensive skills of Tandem’s chefs. Variations of tomato (cherry, smoked, demi-sec, pickled, powdered), compressed watermelon, basil oil, balsamic reduction, and tomato granita (semi-frozen, smooth, crystalline ice) dance gracefully on the plate. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of procedures done to put this dish together. Of course, it’s still a great embodiment of their zero-waste ethos. “Tomato granita is made from the tomato trimmings, like the core and the watery insides. We blend it and then pass it through a cheesecloth, reduce the liquid, and make the granita. All the stuff that doesn't make it through the cheesecloth, my fine dining training would have told me to throw away, haha! But instead we just lay the stuff out on the dehydrator for a couple days. We blend it, and it becomes tomato powder. We peel the skins off of the tomatoes we choose to smoke. We also dehydrate these skins, and add to the powder,” shared Chef Alex. 

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Potato

For the third course, Chef Alex served us a crowd-pleaser: the potato. With the star of the dish being the potato gnocchi, its tenderness allows you to gently chew while tasting the soul of the potato from the espuma, perfectly balanced with mussel salad, ikura, and dill oil, garnished with fresh dill, and the cherry on top—the potato chicharron. Made from the stock where the potatoes were boiled, this crunchy surprise is a pleasant way to break through the overall doughy texture of the dish. Beware though, this vegan chicharron will make you crave it again and again with its satisfying crunch and rich, savory flavor. 


I won’t go over the full 10-course menu to leave room for mystery and surprise when you go, but my favorite for the mains would have to be the Cabbage. 

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Cabbage

Cabbage, on its own, is a humble crop I’ve grown up with. My mom usually sautés it in garlic and onion, adds a bit of seasoning and lots of ground pork. I love this simple cabbage dish, especially having been a carb-ivore growing up. Pairing it with rice was the sensible thing to do. The way Tandem elevated the cruciferous vegetable was way beyond my dreams. Purple cabbage puree, charred cabbage, Australian wagyu striploin, and beef jus were carefully assembled on a nude ceramic plate, and a bowl of kimchi fried rice cooked with beef fat from striploin topped with fried cabbage was served beside it. It’s usually not acceptable to add a side of rice in a degustation menu, but as Chef Alex confidently said, “We occasionally like to break the rules here,” and I am happy they do. That kimchi fried rice exploded with a medley of savory flavors in my mouth and left an imprint on my palate (and heart).


To maximize the short shelf-life of cabbage, the shrunken ones are fried to turn into the garnish on the kimchi rice. “It’s still super flavorful, and the lackluster appearance is remedied since everything turns brown,” Chef Alex added, sharing with us his passion for sustainability. 

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Pineapple, and Calamansi+Mango+Banana tray

For a palate cleanse, the pineapple dish came with pineapple sorbet, coconut gelee, and flowers. The presentation was so delicate and delightful, as the shiny coconut gelee elegantly draped over the smooth pineapple sorbet, sprinkled with flower petals. This mild and cool tarty sorbet cleared my palate of lingering flavors as it refreshed my taste buds. The soft acidity of the pineapple sorbet washed out the residual flavors from the previous courses, so as to not interfere with the flavors of the final desserts Chef Alex and Mikee prepared for us, one of which was the Calamansi, Mango, Banana. 


This wonderful assortment of desserts carry their sweet trifecta: 

For the Calamansi—calamansi curd and meringue cookie 

For the Mango—mango bar and smoked sugar

For the Banana – chocolate and banana truffle and banana powder


The Calamansi element of this sugary treat is unforgettable, with the calamansi curd being so smooth and creamy with just the exact amount of tartness I enjoy, while the meringue cookie had an airy, crisp bite. It’s the dessert that makes our native citrus fruit proud, and it’s perfect for calamansi lovers, like me. The Banana chocolate truffle definitely ranks in my top 2 from this sweet ending (it was incredibly smooth), while the Mango comes in last, only because I think they could’ve pushed the fragrant and fleshy fruit much more in the mango bar. 

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After my first Tandem encounter, what I take away is this—degustation in fine dining can be sophisticated yet still relatable, while breaking the stereotypes of what is. They aren’t cuisine-focused here, they like to tell stories instead. It can be luxurious but still grounded, with a (green) mindset towards longevity and zero waste. Tandem is surely the new kid on the block in a city of degustations, but they've got game. With a passion for plant-forward recipes that’s still balanced with animal produce and meat, chefs Alex and Mikee are more than ready to enchant and captivate foodies, especially those with a penchant and heart for sustainability. Watch out, Manila. This tandem is here to stay.


Food photography by Lourdes Batac


Tandem is located at Greenbelt Hamilton, Legazpi St., Makati City. They currently have 2 dinner seatings available on Tuesdays to Sundays: 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM. Follow them on Instagram for more updates. To book, call or text Tandem at (0906) 003 6112.


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