As we welcome the new year, it’s time to take a look back at the delicious year that was. These are, in my opinion, the best new restaurants that opened in 2018—the ones that stood out among the slew of new openings and the ones that I got the most number of favorable feedback on the quality of the food they serve.
Best Overall New Restaurant: Helm and Savage
In 2017, Chef Josh Boutwood finally burst into the limelight with his highly-acclaimed The Test Kitchen, where we were given a sneak preview of things to come. By 2018, he proved that he was a formidable force to be reckoned with when he launched not one, but a total of three different concepts. In April 2018, he opened Savage where he went back to basics, forgoing high-tech kitchen equipment to simply cook over an open flame. This was followed by a fast-casual stall called Burgers and Bits at The Grid in Power Plant Rockwell, selling a limited menu of burgers and other casual fare that Chef Josh enjoys eating on his days off. A day after opening Burgers and Bits, he finally opened Helm, the restaurant that now showcases the full range of Chef Josh’s culinary prowess in a cozy space that comfortably sits only 10, serving a seasonal tasting menu that changes quarterly, and conveniently located just a few steps below Savage.
Helm and Savage, G/F The Plaza, Arya Residences, McKinley Parkway, Bonifacio Global City, (0915) 333-9546, IG: @savagemnl and @helmmnl, www.joshboutwood.com.ph
Best New Spanish Restaurant: BCN by Rambla (now called BCN Wine Gastro Bar)
Through this new restaurant concept named after Barcelona’s airport code, the Bistronomia Group (of Las Flores, Rambla, Tomatito, and La Lola Churreria fame) reaffirmed its commitment to offering better quality food prepared by capable chefs using top-of-the-line cooking equipment. Though BCN by Rambla is now shifting to a wine gastro bar concept that will concentrate on bringing us more fun tapas and wines, it has retained most of the crowd favorites from its opening menu.
The Grand Midori, Bolanos Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City, (0966) 331-1352, IG: @bcnwinegastrobar, www.bistronomia.ph
Best New Chef’s Table or Private Dining Space: Gallery by Chele
In 2013, Chef Chele Gonzalez opened his first restaurant in Manila called Gallery Vask.
Then in May 2018, he transformed it into Gallery by Chele, now a more accessible version of his original restaurant that still serves a global repertoire of dishes using local ingredients. This is best expressed at the Kitchen Lab or Stvdio Lab, the restaurant’s private dining room that only seats 10, which also serves as Chef Chele’s R&D kitchen. It features a monthly Chef’s Table, where one can enjoy a gastronomic journey via a special menu composed of dishes not yet available at the main restaurant. The menu is also expertly paired with a selection of wines by the restaurant’s resident sommelier Pierre Addison.
5/F Clipp Center, 11th Avenue and 39th Street, Bonifacio Global City, (02) 218-3895, (0917) 546-1673, IG: @gallerybychele, www.gallerybychele.com
Best New Restaurant Import: Chino
This new Mexican restaurant—using a lot of Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques in executing Mexican dishes—is one of my favorites in Hong Kong’s Kennedy Town. Initial complaints when it first opened included comments that it also imported Hong Kong’s high price tags. But despite that minor hiccup, a majority unanimously agree that this restaurant does serve some of the best food in town.
G/F One Bonifacio High, Bonifacio Global City, (0917) 142-0588, IG: @chinomnl, www.chinorestaurant.com
Best New Fast Food Import: Liao Fan Hawker Chan
Hawker Chan opened its first stall in Singapore’s Chinatown Complex in 2009, and became well known for its Hong Kong Sauce Soya Chicken, freshly roasted and served by Chef Chan and his wife. While it already attracted a loyal following, after the stall received its first Michelin star in 2016, the lines became even longer, leading Chef Chan to open a bigger, sit-down restaurant with air-conditioning. Called Liao Fan Hawker Chan, this “fast food chain” version of its original hawker stall opened in the Mall of Asia in 2018. While the star is the Soya Chicken, the menu also offers roast meats and noodles that are surprisingly tasty as well, with a slightly different flavor profile compared to its HK counterparts. Must-try dishes are the Soya Chicken and Char Siew with noodles in lieu of rice.
G/F Entertainment Mall, SM Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City, IG @hawkerchanphilippines
Best New Specialty Restaurant: Lezzat
Lezzat, which means “delicious” in Bahasa Indonesia, is a small, hip-looking modern Indonesian restaurant located in the Greenfield district of Mandaluyong, a relatively new redeveloped area just off the corner of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard. It specializes in Indonesian martabak, similar to an omelette or pancake, considered the “king” of street food in Indonesia. While Lezzat serves mainly three types of martabak—savory, fluffy, and crispy sweet—on its limited menu, the restaurant does serve different variants for each type. Must-try flavors include Beef Martabak, Fluffy Cheese, and Crispy Cheese or Nutella.
The Portal, United Street corner Mayflower Street, Mandaluyong City, (0917) 589-1028, IG: @lezzatmartabak
Best New Restaurant Comeback: Chuck’s Deli
From the time it first opened in 2010 until it closed in 2015, Chuck’s Deli set the standard for American-style delicatessens in Manila by making everything from scratch—breads, assorted fillings, sauces, and sides. Now it has reopened in Poblacion (right beside Kermit Manila), and just recently, at a bigger space inside the Manila Polo Club that is unfortunately open only to members. We are hoping that it is here to stay. Must-try dishes include the Chuckatsu Sandwich, Faking Duck Sandwich, homemade potato chips and to-die-for French Vanilla Milkshakes.
4636 Molina Street, Poblacion, Makati City, (02) 838-2279 (delivery hotline), IG: @chucksdeliph
Best New Hotel Outlet: The Peak
In a nutshell, Grand Hyatt Manila’s The Peak is a bar, grill, and music lounge all rolled into one. Its main dining area called simply “The Grill” has a huge open kitchen in the center that’s surrounded by different dining areas, including semi-private alcoves and an alfresco dining area perfect for cooler nights. On the menu, must-try dishes include grilled steaks, lamb chops, scallops, baba au rhum, and chocolate molten lava cake.
60th and 62nd floors, Grand Hyatt Manila, 8th Avenue corner 35th Street, Bonifacio Global City, (02) 838-1234
Best New Dessert Café: M Bakery PH
This is the first Manila outpost of New York City’s iconic Magnolia Bakery known for its classic American-style baked goods and desserts. Now renamed M Bakery in the Philippines, this bakeshop may be world famous for its cupcakes (thanks to its cameo role in the now defunct popular TV series Sex and the City), but it’s the banana pudding that lures most foodies back. Must-try baked goods include the Banana Pudding, and among cupcakes flavors, the Vanilla Cake with Pink Vanilla Buttercream Frosting and the Banana with Cream Cheese Frosting.
One Bonifacio High Street Mall, 5th Avenue corner 28th Street, Bonifacio Global City, (02) 847-9829, IG: @mbakery_ph