Chef Miko Calo brings her intensity, passion, and skill to the Metronome kitchen. Photograph by Pat Mateo
Food & Drink Features

Is this modern French restaurant poised to become Manila’s best new restaurant?

Metronome is soon to open with the high hopes that French-trained chef Miko Calo can wow diners with her fresh approach to classic French cuisine.
Nana Ozaeta | Jul 15 2019

It’s called Metronome, undoubtedly one of the most anticipated new restaurants opening in 2019. The food is French, helmed by French-trained chef Miko Calo, a Filipina with serious international credentials, but still without a restaurant to her name, until now. When word first got around late last year, the question was, “Can yet another French restaurant succeed?” In the past few years, several French restaurants have closed down or been reconceptualized, proving that French cuisine isn’t an easy sell in this town.

Located on the relatively sleepy Bolanos Street in Legazpi Village, Makati, Metronome is expected to open by mid August. By all indications, it’s a gorgeous restaurant with serious ambitions as the owners are betting on Manila diners to fall in love with the modern French style of its star chef.

 

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A sneak peek

ANCX was given an exclusive early look at Metronome, with our first glimpse of the restaurant all the way back in February when the space was still in the throes of construction. Amidst the dust and noise, one of the owners Elbert Cuenca recounted Metronome’s genesis, “When I got to try her (Miko’s) food exactly a year ago today, that’s when the revelation came that the Philippines deserves a Miko Calo restaurant.” For Cuenca to make this declaration is no joke. After all, he is no novice in the restaurant game, having built a reputation in the industry for his exacting standards and novel ideas, with Elbert’s Steak Room, Elbert’s Sandwiches, and the recently opened Elbert’s Pizzeria to his name.

Seasoned restaurateur Elbert Cuenca has never opened a restaurant quite like Metronome

While Cuenca calls himself a “local operator,” Chef Miko, on the other hand, made her name abroad, primarily in the Michelin-starred kitchens of the late Joël Robuchon, one of France’s most celebrated chefs. After training and working in Paris, she moved to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in London, then transferred to Singapore to head the L’Atelier kitchen there.

Chef Miko Calo inside her dream of a kitchen

A few years back, she returned to the Philippines to take a much-needed break, eventually developing a cult following for Underground Supper Club, her under-the-radar pop-up dinners that she organized with cousin RJ Galang (who is also playing an important role in getting Metronome off the ground).

As one of the partners, Chef Miko’s cousin, RJ Galang plays a crucial part in Metronome’s
communications and branding.

During our construction visit in February, we got the chance to chat with Noel Bernardo, the soft-spoken and media-shy design genius responsible for many of the city’s most iconic restaurants, including Cuenca’s own. Of Bernardo, Cuenca says, “The two things I like about him is that he understands F&B and hospitality, and he does not have a cookie cutter design. It’s always something different, something that fits the concept, there’s no trend.”

Diners enter through the bar area which takes full advantage of the space’s high ceilings

For Metronome, Bernardo opted for a light, even feminine touch to the space, divided between the high-ceilinged bar area, casual seating by the windows, a main dining space, and a private room for degustations, with the kitchen occupying the second floor. He describes it thus, “A little bit Art Deco inspired, actually more on grays, light grays, medium gray, and French blue.”

Solihiya-like screens separating the bar from the dining area add a Filipino touch to the Euro-casual space
Light neutral hues, generously plush banquette seating, and a mirror motif in the main dining area

 

A serendipitous beginning

Cuenca calls his meeting with Chef Miko serendipitous as, soon after, things just simply fell into place. He wasn’t even actively looking for a space, when this location on Bolanos Street (the old Allium and then Hibana) was brought to his attention a mere 4 to 5 days after meeting Chef Miko. And it was love at first sight. Cuenca shares, “It has probably one of the most wonderful kitchens in the entire country. It was one of the reasons why it was a perfect space with what she wanted to do. We are now redesigning the interiors of the restaurant but we are not touching the kitchen.”

Chef Miko working in her kitchen, inherited largely intact from the previous restaurants that once occupied this space

Another serendipitous moment happened when one of Cuenca’s contacts mentioned to him that Alain Borgers of the Shangri-La Group was planning to retire soon. Shangri-La habitués may know Borgers as having managed Shangri-La properties like Makati and EDSA, from the 1990s onwards. He was also the general manager of the spectacular Shangri-La Paris when it opened in 2010, before returning to Manila. And so, when Cuenca approached him about the project, Borgers was more than happy to get involved in a new role as entrepreneur, rather than as hotelier. Cuenca points out exactly what Borgers contributes to the project, “Alain brings in an international and elevated level of service that I just don’t have. Someone of his caliber who has opened a restaurant with 2 Michelin stars, just two years after Shangri-La Paris opened—I don’t have those kinds of credentials. That’s the kind of support we feel Miko needs, because we need her to focus on her food, the staff, because that’s the centerpiece of the experience.”

When not overseeing Metronome, Alain Borgers’ day job is as head of operations of PH Resorts Group, the gaming and hospitality arm of Dennis Uy’s Udenna Group

Chef Miko appreciates the support she is getting from her partners in achieving what is essentially her dream restaurant. Regarding Cuenca, Borgers, and Galang, she shares, “We understand each other and we are on the same kind of wavelength when it comes to the dining experience that we want to create. So it’s also easy because they understand what I’m trying to do and they don’t meddle with it. They don’t demand, it’s my kitchen, my food concept… All of us as have our own expertise in the F&B industry. So we don’t overlap and there is no ego involved. That for me is an important thing.”

And for “alphas” like Cuenca and Borgers to take a back seat to Chef Miko, they admit it’s because they are clearly impressed with her cooking. Cuenca describes what he finds so remarkable about her food, “Miko’s French cooking is approachable and down to earth and it broke all the impressions I had about plated French food. It’s not bistro cuisine… It’s French techniques but she plays around with local ingredients. It’s refined, it’s not heavy, it’s not nakakaumay. In fact, it’s the way I felt when I first had her food for lunch. I had 4 courses, I thought I would be full, but in fact, I didn’t feel full. The next day when I woke up, I was craving for this food!”

Beetroot, a deceivingly simple salad with a stunning combo of slow-cooked beetroot, Saint Agar blue cheese, walnuts, and acacia honey

 

A practice run

Early this July, we visited Metronome again to see the staff putting the finishing touches to what was to be the restaurant’s second test run. A few days before, Cuenca recounts that their first test run was a “disaster” where the front of house and kitchen weren’t properly coordinating the dispatching of orders. But that night, things were running remarkably better, as Chef Miko and her team briskly prepared dishes with focused efficiency.

Chef Miko practicing prep with her kitchen team

On the front end, Borgers and Cuenca quietly kept watch as service staff took orders from this second batch of “guinea pig” diners—a smattering of friends and industry colleagues—who would later on give their feedback on what they loved and what still needed to be improved. It wasn’t quite opening day yet, but already, the diners were impressed with what they had sampled, with adjectives like “refined” and “balanced” being bandied about.

Cuenca putting the service staff through their paces before diners arrive for the second test run

 

A menu preview

So what will the Metronome food be like? Chef Miko’s menu certainly has classic French inflections, but it organizes itself a little more casually, with an extensive small plates section, aside from the mains and desserts. Already, early standouts seem to be the Mackerel cured in salt, the bite-sized Foie Gras Tarts, and the Egg cooked at 64° with cepes and truffle cream, and among the mains, the Duck and Iberico Secreto.

Mackerel or salt-cured Spanish mackerel with pink radish, tomato coulis, and kabayawa
Foie Gras Tarts filled with foie gras parfait, tamarind, roasted hazelnuts in pâte brisée crust

What is sure to be a signature dish is Chef Miko’s pomme purée, a side that automatically comes with every main, clearly inspired by the uber-buttery and creamy mashed potatoes made famous by Robuchon.

Pork Belly Confit, French in technique and Asian in flavor profile, with a ginger-barbecue glaze and roasted papaya purée
Duck consisting of seared duck magret, carrot and ginger purée, wilted mustard greens, with an obligatory side of potato purée

Come August, Metronome will officially open its doors just for dinner, and eventually for lunch, with a prix fixe menu in the works as well. Chef Miko also plans to offer a more elaborate degustation or tasting menu for those interested in a more in-depth culinary experience. The wine list has yet to be finalized, and adjustments still need to be made to the interiors, but everything else is almost ready and in place. While the owners are betting big that Manila is ready for Chef Miko’s creations, we’re just as excited to see if diners, as Cuenca says, “get to taste her magic as a chef, because she really is wonderful.”

 

G/F Grand Midori, Bolanos Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City. 

 

Photographs by Pat Mateo