Monday, January 19, 2015

First bite at Isla Cafe

Place: Small space. Warm and authentic native decor. Spacious dining tables. Comfortable chairs. Slightly messy kitchen.

Food: Sumptuous and satisfying.

The place claims to be the house of Manila's pansit, puto, and pares. So we want to verify this.

First on our plate is the Pansit Lucban (Php 180): sautéed noodles with vegetables, fried pork belly, bits of longganisa Lucban, and fried garlic bits. It is served with vinegar and a piece of puto. Delicious! No overpowering flavors, just a good mix of meaty and salty tastes. The vinegar adds a layer of depth and the complementary acidity.

Then, a Puto Box-of-6 (Php 127). There are lots of flavors to choose from: original, ube, chocolate, pandan, etc. The puto is not too sweet and it has the right stickiness and texture. The flavors are authentic. We like the pandan and the ube.

Then, the Beef Pares (Php 225): tender cubes of beef brisket swimming in a dark, sweet sauce, served with ginger-flavored fried rice and a bowl of soup. The pares itself is tasty and hearty. It has the right marriage of sweetness, saltiness, and anise flavor. The fried rice is interesting to the palate because it tastes like arroz caldo, with pronounced chicken and ginger components. The soup is good enough; it just lack more meat flavor expected of good nilaga.

Next, Lechon Macau (Php 285): deep fried pork belly over the ginger-flavored fried rice, served with liver sauce and atchara. The pork pieces are fried well; the skin is crispy and the meat is still juicy. They do not however taste like lechon macau. Authentic lechon macau has a taste reminiscent of chorizo. The pork of this dish is ordinary lechon kawali.

Lastly, Pinakbet at Bagnet (Php 185): mixed vegetables steamed with shrimp paste, served with lechon kawali (not bagnet!), over bagoong rice. Rice is good, bursting with bagoong flavor. The vegetables are just a bit overcooked, but flavorful. The pork pieces lack the sour flavor to be bagnet.

Price: Considering serving size, taste, and quality, food here is reasonably priced.

Service: Needs improvement. Waiting time for food went beyond the acceptable 15 minutes. Our bill took an unnecessarily long time to be settled (cashier was happily chatting with a co-worker).

Isla Cafe is on the topmost floor of Robinsons Magnolia.

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