MANILA, Philippines – A decade ago, Portuguese cuisine among most Filipino diners usually means bacalao or codfish. But these days, the dish that has become more commonly associated with Portuguese food is the peri-peri chicken.
One restaurant that helped popularize this Portuguese-style chicken in Manila is O’sonho, which has branches in Jupiter St. in Makati and at the New Eastwood Mall in Libis. O’sonho, which labels itself as a “Portuguese fusion restobar,” is now going on its fifth year, proving that a Portuguese restaurant can have a strong following in the Philippines.
Cristina Barancik, O’sonho’s marketing director, said when she and her husband Nik decided to open a Portuguese restaurant, they agreed that it has to offer “affordable gourmet” food.
“The common comment was that they were so expensive,” she said of the previous Portuguese restaurants in Manila that have since closed. “We wanted people to sit down, eat and when they see the bill, they’d say, ‘I thought it would be so much more.’”
Despite the stylish ambience of the restaurant, the food at O’sonho remains reasonably priced. A solo portion of its signature peri-peri chicken with fragrant chicken rice is only P210, while a whole roasted peri-peri chicken which can be shared by three to four people is priced at P790.
|Peri-peri chicken pasta
The idea of making peri-peri chicken the restaurant’s signature dish came from a trip to Australia. In particular, Barancik mentioned the restaurant chain Oporto, which she described as “more popular than McDonald's and KFC” in Australia.
“That’s what we started with. We love the chicken and we said we have to bring this back home,” she said. “But we can’t just sell all peri peri chicken. So we started doing research. We went to other restaurants. We went to Macau and tried the food.”
Barancik said when O’sonho opened in Makati in 2008, the restaurant only had six items on the menu to see if the public would like the food.
They did. Over the years, O’sonho has been named one of the Philippines’ best restaurants by the magazine Philippine Tatler three times -- in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Peri-peri chicken also took off on its own. The dish, which took its name from a pepper plant in Africa, refers mainly to the use of peri-peri sauce as seasoning or marinade, which is Portuguese in origin. The sauce is made from crushed chillies and an assortment of herbs and spices.
Apart from O’sonho, this delicious chicken dish is also served at the Peri-Peri Grill House at the Promenade in Greenhills, and even in some weekend food markets.
But Barancik pointed out that each has its own style in preparing the dish. “We don’t see the competition,” she said, pointing out that in Australia, there’s also another restaurant apart from Oporto that specializes in peri-peri chicken – Nando’s, whose signature dish is the flame-grilled peri-peri chicken.
“Nando’s in Australia, it's like TGIFriday’s. They have peri-peri also but more of a ketchup type. So it’s a totally different taste. It’s a different flavor,” she said.
Barancik also clarified that although peri-peri chicken is noted for its spice level, customers who have a low tolerance for hotness can ask for a milder version.
“We can control the spice actually. When we marinate the chicken with the sauce, it (spice) is very kaunti lang. That’s why we serve the sauce on the side or they can request if they want it spicier,” she explained.
“There is spice in the marination – otherwise it isn’t peri-peri -- but very little spice. I actually like it with no sauce,” she added, saying her husband, on the other hand, likes his peri-peri sauce smoking hot.
O’sonho menu has since expanded its menu to more than six dishes – ranging from appetizers to dessert.
One can enjoy a full Portuguese meal, beginning with the homemade Portuguese chorizo and the classic Portuguese vegetable soup, the caldo verde, and ending with some Portuguese egg tarts, which turned out to be a bigger than those served in the malls.
|Portuguese egg tarts
Another popular dish is the lengua de vaca, which is braised ox tongue sautéed in a spicy sweet sauce made from Mediterranean and Asian ingredients and infused with the peri-peri sauce.
|Lengua de vaca
Keeping to its description as a “fusion” restaurant, O’sonho has also come up with the peri-peri pasta, a play on the classic combination of pasta in pesto sauce with grilled chicken. In O’sonho’s version, strips of its peri-peri chicken are placed on top of the pasta for a spicier alternative.
Another interesting creation is the coffee-rubbed roast pork. The pork itself is slow-roasted resulting in a very tender meat. But the marinade, which includes coffee and port wine, added an interesting slightly bitter yet rich taste to the dish.
This pork dish also comes in a hefty portion – which the restaurant is known for.
“You should see the sharing portion of this,” Barancik said, pointing to the pasta. “Nobody has ever come here and said the portions were small, nobody.”
|Coffee marinated roast pork
Last February, O’sonho opened its own commissary and launched its catering services. It offers six buffet packages good for 30 to 300 people. It even does delivery via www.quickdelivery.ph.
O’sonho even provides the food for patrons of its Makati neighbour, Distillery, especially since the spicy Portuguese chicken goes well with cold beer and wine.
Barancik said that as a Portuguese restaurant, O’sonho still offers the staple bacalao, although admittedly it is not as popular as the peri-peri chicken or even the lengua among its patrons.
“Not many young people order bacalao. They don't even know what it is. Those who order it are more the older men and women and the foreigners,” she said.
Times have indeed changed.