Say Southeast Asian kitchens and what springs to mind? Thai and Vietnamese for me. But what about Filipino cooking? I have to admit that I don’t think I had Filipino food until I had the pleasure of eating at Romulo Cafe, a homey little restaurant on Kensington High Street.
Perfectly located for Kensington Olympia, the stunningly elegant exhibition hall that stages the likes of the Condé Nast Traveller’s Luxury Travel Fair and The Spirit of Christmas, Romulo Cafe is an unassuming place in a neighbourhood full of grand town houses. Inside, it’s decorated with family photos and mementos from owner Rowena’s personal collection of her grandfather’s life and career. The eponymous General Carlos P Romulo had a distinguished career that saw him being President of the UN General Assembly, Chairman of the UN Security Council, winning a Pulitzer Prize for journalism and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, among dozens of other accolades.
Rowena serves some of her grandfather’s favourite dishes at the cafe, using her grandmother’s recipes and adding her own little twists. The results are homey, flavourful dishes that taste strikingly familiar but yet are completely different to the Southeast Asian flavours I am used to. The standout dishes were the sensational pork sisig (chopped belly of pork, pickled apples and caramelised shallots topped with a fried egg), the to-die-for crispy beef short ribs (slow-cooked short ribs with a honey chili glaze and a jicama coleslaw) and, of course, the signature dish adobo chicken (marinated chicken, twice cooked and served with glazed shallots and a heavenly sweet potato mash). The sautéed water spinach topped with roasted pork was a delightfully light side dish to complement the rich mains.
To say that the portions are generous would be an understatement. For a small person I have a surprisingly large appetite, but even after considerable effort I barely made a dent in my main dishes. And it seemed like my fellow diners, who were – reassuringly – mainly Filipino families dining out together, were struggling with the same task. One after the other, I saw them leave with their leftovers neatly packaged in boxes, no doubt ready to be dished up for the following day’s lunch (which was exactly what I did with mine).
I have not met friendlier staff than the beaming people who work at Romulo Cafe. It was clear that they were hugely proud of the place and their national cuisine. It was the sort of place where you leave on first-name basis with the whole team and you’re finding a date in your diary to return.
The Travel Nova’s Verdict
I was hooked from the first mouthful. Romulo Cafe has placed Filipino cooking firmly on my culinary radar. Delicious food that is fantastic value for money. In Kensington. Yes, such things exist!
Romulo Cafe (website)
343 Kensington High Street | London W8 6NW | UK
*This post was sponsored by Romulo Cafe. The views expressed are my own.