MANILA -- Denlim's Kitchen is probably one of the busiest restaurants in San Fernando, Pampanga or even the country. As of this writing, the next available table at the restaurant falls on March 2018, which is on a weekday. For weekend tables, the resto is booked until October 2018.
That's a long waiting list. To be fair, owner and chef, Dennis “Den” Lim only serves dinner and he also keeps it small, serving a minimum of 12 to a maximum of 36 guests. But that still says a lot about his food.
With no formal training whatsoever, Lim has found success in the competitive world of food. Cooking is just something he loves to do and running a restaurant was not part of his plan.
“I got used to cooking at home, no formal training. I started with our bakeshop but I really don't like baking. Then I started cooking for friends then after that, they invited their friends, until I decided to make this into a career,” he said.
Lim was born and raised to the family that runs the popular LA Bakery, also in San Fernando. He converted the old bakery commissary into his restaurant in 2013.
Apart from Kapampangan cuisine, he serves various cuisines, from Italian to Spanish, like the Spanish, which is a specialty. It's slow cooked tripe and beef skin in white wine and smoked paprika with smoked beef knee cap and beef hock and Spanish chorizo.
Lim has no specific cuisine; that is why his carefully curated menu—composed of only eight dishes—is a mix of local and international food. Lim also runs a very relaxed eatery because he encourages his customers to bring in their own wine and even desserts.
“I encourage them bring in wine and dessert. I'm not very articulate with wine pairing and I don't make desserts,” he shared.
The good news is those living in Metro Manila don't have to wait months to taste Lim's famous food because for the first time, he is bringing it to the capital.
In collaboration with Flavors restaurant of Holiday Inn & Suites in Makati City, Lim's food will join the buffet's choice selection, featuring his bestselling dishes, from October 10 to 19 only.
“This is my first time that's why I'm so nervous. At first I was so hesitant because I'm not used to this but I thought, why not? The people here are so friendly and when I entered the Flavors kitchen it was very familiar. So I decided to give it a try, I'll learn something from them and they learn something from me. It's actually fun,” Lim said.
Here's what diners can expect at Flavors.
1: Oriental cashew salad.
The first featured dish is the oriental cashew salad—mixed greens and veggies with roasted cashew nuts, chili pepper flakes, candied walnuts, and creamy pureed cashew and sesame dressing. photo by author
2: Pasta Corrito or seafood pasta.
For the mains, it include Pasta Corrito, a hearty seafood pasta with shrimp, mussels, and squid cooked in seafood brine, lemon, capers, and extra virgin olive oil. photo by author
3: Crab Marlen or steamed crabs with salted egg yolk sauce.
Then there's the Crab Marlen or steamed crabs with a rich salted egg yolk sauce. photo by author
4: Caveman's Shank or braised beef shank with mushroom gravy.
There's also the hefty Caveman's Shank, tender beef shank braised for six hours served with mushroom gravy and grilled corn on the cob. photo by author
5: Pugon Liempo Wrap with fresh tomatoes, pork buro, and fresh ampalaya on the side.
But his piece de resistance is probably the Pugon Liempo Wrap, one of the mainstay and bestselling dishes of his restaurant. The whole pork belly is cooked in a pugon or brick oven until tender and its skin crisps. It is served with slices of fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and buro. The chunks of pork belly are intended to be eaten wrapped in lettuce with buro and tomatoes.
The buro is particularly unique because instead of shrimp or fish that's paired with the rice, chef Lim used pork. The result is a more subtle flavor, not overwhelmingly pungent and sour.
“I just love cooking, that's why there's a variety of dishes. I cook what I know is good or in season, it's that simple,” he added. photo by author