Old-fashioned elegance welcome diners at La Cabrera in Makati. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – The first Philippine branch of the famous Buenos Aires-based steakhouse La Cabrera -- also the first in Asia -- opened on the same day Argentina lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.
But this shouldn’t be any indication of what diners can expect from this new restaurant, which took over the space previously occupied by Lolo Dad’s Brasserie at Makati’s tony 6750 Ayala Avenue building.
After all, La Cabrera was ranked No. 17 on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014 and comes highly recommended by travel guides Lonely Planet and Fodor’s.
“If you eat at only one parrilla in Argentina, make it this one,” the second edition of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants said of La Cabrera, which opened in Buenos Aires in 2002. “The restaurant is a shrine to simple meat cookery and majors on exceptional steaks that can appease even the city’s notoriously uppity beef bloggers.”
The dining room of La Cabrera features quirky and antique details. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
The Filipino owners of La Cabrera are hoping to translate that success to Manila, where Argentinian cuisine is still largely unfamiliar to most diners. Before La Cabrera, the only restaurant in the metro that serves food from this South American country was Gaucho at Robinson’s Magnolia, which is also fairly new.
La Cabrera Manila, with its antique bric-a-brac from an old typewriter to framed black-and-white photos, boasts of elegant yet homey interiors. The Argentinian cowboy vibe fits the handsome steakhouse concept well with quirky accents such as a wooden cow table piece or kitchen utensils hanging from Western-style chandeliers.
Just like in Argentina, La Cabrera Manila is also steak-focused with a rather limited menu. Those who avoid eating meat for whatever reason will be hard-pressed to find something here that would interest them.
Chorizo Criollo (left) and Provoleta (right). Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Many of the dishes here are good for sharing, including the starters such as the deep-flavored Chorizo Criollo (P780), lean pork sausages that are spiced at just the right level to get your appetite worked up for the meat feast ahead. There is also the Morcilla (P490) or blood sausage for the more adventurous, as well as the traditional empanada (P250).
Cheese lovers should love the grilled Provoleta (P890, good for four), Argentina’s version of the provolone cheese and served in a skillet. This is a traditional starter and a must for those who like melted cheese (think of the Swiss raclette but more friendly to the palate), with a slight crisp on the outside and topped with an assortment of herbs and spices.
Diners can also opt to order salads and other side orders ranging from simple pasta (with olive oil, tomatoes and basil) to French fries and potatoes dishes.
Argentinian chef Juan Barcos (right) at La Cabrera’s grill. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
But the real reason to dine at La Cabrera are the steaks. In fact, the open grill is among the restaurant’s main features, allowing guests to watch the chefs at work, including Argentinian chef Juan Barcos, who was manning the grill at the time of ABS-CBNnews.com’s visit.
Because beef from Argentina can’t be imported to the Philippines, the owners looked for other sources that can compare in terms of quality. They decided to use USDA certified Angus beef – choose between short ribs or asado del centro (P1,580 for 500 grams, good for two), striploin or bife de chorizo (P1,880 for 500 grams, good for two) and, of course, the ribeye or ojo de bife (P2,680 for 500 grams, good for two).
The meats are prepared the Argentine way – that is slow-cooked over charcoal fire in the custom-made grill and simply seasoned.
Steak, Argentina-style. Photo from the restaurant’s Facebook page
This results in meat that is tender and flavorful despite the simple salt-and-pepper seasoning with no need for additional sauce or gravy. Instead diners are treated to “unlimited” servings of side dishes, which are served in little containers, ranging from the typical (mashed potatoes, marbled potatoes and corn kernels, to name a few) to the more unusual like the mashed carrots.
The many side dishes available at La Cabrera. Photo from the restaurant’s Facebook page
The setup lends itself to group or family dining and the price points, which are certainly competitive when compared with other popular upscale steak restaurants, certainly encourage this.
For those who aren’t big beef eaters, the menu also includes grilled chicken (staring at P490 for a half chicken). Also take note of the blackboard, which lists daily specials, which during our visit included Wagyu beef, other steak cuts and pork belly with chimichurri sauce.
Despite the hefty meats, one must leave room for dessert, particularly if you like the popular South American sweet dulce de leche.
Panqueque con dulce de leche y helado. Rogel de dulce de leche. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
La Cabrera serves this “candy of milk” in several ways. We enjoyed the dulce de leche traditional way -- as a filling for the traditional sugar crepe (called panqueque in Argentina) and served with vanilla ice cream (P390).
Rogel de dulce de leche. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
There is also La Cabrera’s signature dessert: the Rogel de dulce de leche (P390). This is a cake made of layers of crispy “biscuits” with dulce de leche filling and topped with merengue. Think of it as a very decadent version of the local sans rival. And it’s also highly Instagrammable to boot.
The desserts are best enjoyed with a cup of LaMill coffee, which is served in a French press. This is the same acclaimed coffee brand that’s served in Refinery in Rockwell, as well as Wildflour.
La Cabrera also offers a good opportunity to get acquainted with Argentinian wines. In fact, the owners of the restaurant started as distributors of Lagarde, which is considered one of the leading wineries in Argentina’s top wine-growing region of Mendoza.
Argentina is best known for Malbec wines and La Cabrera offers a range of Malbecs from light to the more full bodied varieties, which certainly helps cut through the richness of the ribeye steaks.
While Manila already has several fine steak restaurants, La Cabrera offers a welcome deviation from the usual grill preparations with Latin-style accompaniments from sides to wines at reasonable prices and a very convenient Makati location.
La Cabrera is definitely a winner.
6750 Ayala Avenue