MANILA -- Have you been to the south of Manila lately? While a lot of things that were there used to be found everywhere else, that has been slowly changing. There have always been hole-in-the-wall concepts in villages (and they continue to pop up), but now, there are also new original concepts opening in malls.
One of them is Thomson Road Chinese Bistro found at the Molito Lifestyle Complex in Alabang.
At first glance, it looked plain from the outside. The sign was simple—white background, blue text, and some Chinese letters. But when you peak inside, you will find contemporary interiors that harken to the inspiration behind this restaurant.
“I was traveling in Singapore and I saw Thomson Road, and I thought it would be a good name for a restaurant,” said Johanne Wee, chef and owner of Thomson Road.
Wee doesn’t feel entitled to call himself a chef, even though he opened this restaurant and runs its kitchen. Not classically trained, Wee has honed his palate and skills through various eating and learning trips around Asia, as well as counting passionate food people around the continent as his mentors. He mentions Peranakan cooking during our discussion but was quick to say that his food was not solely that cuisine.
“Basically, it’s Chinese fusion—a fusion of Cantonese, Singaporean, and Filipino,” Wee said of his menu.
Thomson Road has a limited menu and borrows dishes from these cuisines. Wee added little touches, and most of these aren’t bold changes to what’s familiar, but rather, most still stay between the same flavor profile with tweaks in either proportion, look, or ingredients.
For instance, there’s dimsum. We had the siu-mai, which were large gleaming balls of shrimp and pork, tasty enough to be eaten alone even without a dipping sauce. And that’s mostly thanks to the shrimps -- they were fresh and sweet. The pork was there, but it almost felt that I was eating a hargaw in its ratio, which isn’t a bad thing.
“Where’s the pork?” you ask. There’s the char sui. Thomson Road's pork platter is reportedly gaining traction with the clientele, and why not?
It’s a heavy-laden platter of artfully layered slices of juicy soy and sugar glazed stratified meat, mantou buns, with coriander strewn atop these. An interactive dish, you get to make your own barbeque bun and sauce it with as much as you want of its accompanying aioli.
A healthier choice would be the steamed pomfret, which came to our table whole and freshly steamed with ginger, drizzled with a leek oil, topped with various fresh herbs like cilantro and chives. Not too strong tasting, the light seasoning had us appreciate the fish’s delicate white meat.
For something to sip and slurp, there’s the Seafood Coconut Soup (laksa). It had a thick, robust, yellow-tinged sauce that tasted of seafood, turmeric, coconut, and packed a lot of heat. What I particularly enjoyed in this dish was the use of beehon or rice vermicelli, instead of the usual thick and flat noodles.
The beehon retained its chewy texture despite the long time that it was in the sauce, and the noodles also helped alleviate the dish from being too heavy.
But if there’s a must-try in this restaurant, it’s the claypot rice. This was claypot rice done right. It came to the table piping hot, ensuring that there was crispy rice at the sides and the bottom of the pot, and was filled to the brim with toppings that hid rice that was tinged dark with a generous amount of sweet-soy sauce.
Toppings ranged from duck breast (pink in the center, seared with its fat nicely rendered), or my preference, the Butcher’s Claypot Rice, which had all the meaty good eats from Thomson Road -- braised pork belly that was dark and gleaming, chicken hidden between a layer of ginger glaze, and slices of sweet-salty chorizo. It’s billed for one, but enough for a not-so-hungry two, and we theorized that one can even order an extra rice and mix it in, and it’ll still be very tasty. This was the dish that most people always came back to for seconds and thirds in our table that day.
For lighter fare, there are also some “sandwiches.”
The Thomson Road Chinese Burger with its chorizo-tasting “patty” had “burger” fix-ins like shallots, wansuy -- all in a snow (mantao) bun, and it’s overall taste was leaning very much towards sweet-savory, and needed a bit of acidity to balance it all out. In lieu of ketchup that I would use with a regular burger, maybe a spicy and tangy aioli?
I much preferred the Ah Bu’s Chinese Garden. Imagine everything that would be in a Chinese-style fresh lumpia but sandwiched in a snow bun. It was light, tasty, and vegetarian friendly.
After our long meal that was punctuated with sips of either iced milk tea or coffee milk tea, dessert was simple and healthy. Mango Hindi (Not) Sago had cut fresh mangoes, mango sorbet, coconut cream, and used organic chia seeds, instead of the usual sago (tapioca). It was healthy, not too sweet, and refreshing.
Thomson Road Chinese Bistro will continue to evolve, as Wee’s cooking evolves, and if it stays true to serving simple and uncomplicated dishes with pleasing flavors, it may soon become a favorite to many looking for something different but familiar in their Chinese food.