Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou is finally back to running his own restaurant after a three-year hiatus. He credits providence and several serendipitous encounters for his newest venture— they seem to have brought him full circle to the very reason he was thrust into the business of food in the first place.
Called Talisay The Garden Café, the new restaurant brings Chef Tatung back to Teachers Village, Quezon City, but this time in Maginhawa Street, just a few blocks away from Matipid Street where he opened his first restaurant that carried his namesake, Chef Tatung, sometime in 2011.
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Named after the chef’s hometown in Cebu, Talisay is his third restaurant—and this time he is running it with his brother Jomi who is currently on sabbatical after working and living in Germany for the last 20 years. “We have been apart for long and parang this is our reconnection,” he says. They scouted the Maginhawa area for a possible location and ended up renting the lot owned by the family of media veteran Che Che Lazaro whose Probe Productions house was Chef Tatung’s neighbor back in Matipid. “Kilala ko sila and they used to shoot in the garden of my restaurant.” Upon learning it was Chef Tatung who was interested in renting the property, Lazaro more than welcomed him as their new lessee.
Things took shape pretty quickly after finding the right location. The brothers were mulling over the name Talisay but initially thought it was baduy. “Dami namin naisip, then a friend, out of the blue, just said why not the name Talisay? Di ba ang weird, of all names na maisip niya?” he narrates. Interestingly enough, there was also a talisay tree right at the entrance, and that settled it for the Sarthous.
In the process of construction, Chef Tatung found out the carpenters he had hired were the same ones who put up his first restaurant. “Sabi nung isa ‘alam mo ba chef, kami rin gumawa ng restaurant niyo dun sa kabila?’ They were the same people, and now you!” he exclaims, referring to this writer who interviewed him back in 2011 when the interiors of Chef Tatung were still being given their last tropical touches.
Musing over the interesting coincidences, Chef Tatung feels he is where he is supposed to be. “I have been saying for the longest time that the best restaurant I had was my first because it was honest, it was really done the way things are supposed to be in an idealistic sense where di mo iniisip kung anong sasabihin ng tao. Now, I can say the food here is better. Parang nakabalik ka at nabigyan ka ng pagkakataon to apply what you’ve learned.”
And he’s learned a lot in the past years. “I’ve been lucky in a lot of my projects pero sa business, I’ve been quite unlucky,” he reveals. When his Taguig restaurant closed in 2016, it thrust Chef Tatung into different endeavors. His business partnerships may have failed, but his book and media endeavors flourished. His first book, Philippine Cookery: From Heart to Platter published by ABS-CBN, won him “Best TV Chef Book Outside Europe” by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Another book, Dishkarte sa Kusina, also by ABS-CBN Publishing, is now on its second printing. Chef Tatung became a household name sharing his mom-friendly recipes on Channel 2’s Umagang Kay Ganda, and he will soon be back as the morning TV show’s resident chef.
He also launched a successful Facebook page called Simple with nearly a million followers before it got hacked four months ago. Looking back, he says the only thing left to do is to keep going. “I just have to do what I’m good at and believe in it like I did before,” he says, making a reference to his first restaurant.
Nostalgic cuisine prepared from scratch
In a way, Talisay brings back the original Chef Tatung concept in Matipid with nostalgia as the highlight of the menu. The dishes are reminiscent of big Sunday lunches with the clan where the food served is considered comforting yet celebratory. “It’s Filipino food but not your everyday kind like pinakbet. It’s more of paella, stews, jamon. Yung parang sa pamilya, one or two lang ang nakakaalam magluto nun,” Chef Tatung describes.
Many if not most of the dishes are prepared from scratch. The pineapple-glazed Jamon de Talisay is first cured for days, then slow-roasted for hours in a brick oven at the back of his restaurant. The Beef Rendang is a Maranao-style stew made from freshly grated coconut and spices and served with chutney and palapa which the staff prepares from scratch as well. Then there’s the rich chicken and seafood Paella cooked using fresh instead of canned tomatoes. They are laboriously reduced to a sauce texture until all the juices and sweetness mix with the rice.
“Our menu is innovative but not gimmicky. Bago pero still familiar. Clever pero sensible clever,” Chef Tatung says, attempting to describe Talisay’s offerings. He adds, “It’s refreshing to feel that you are in control again—you’re in control of the food, the quality, and all that.”
Talisay offers a wide range of dishes, from fresh oysters and Angus steaks, to classic fried chicken with salsa verde and potato wedges. They also bake their own bread and cakes for that home-cooked touch. “We can really have a cutting-edge resto if we want, pero wala namang makain yung apo or si lola. So we have something for everyone and we chose familiar dishes and our intent is to do [each dish] really well,” he says.
The restaurant stayed true to the bones of the bungalow it is now housed in. It is spacious, family-friendly, and at the same time, romantic. Tables are spaced well and glass windows run from corner to corner letting in the greens of the garden outside where an old santol tree shades the entire area.
That old santol tree alone is a providential presence to Talisay because it gives the familiar feel of a provincial home—in this case, Chef Tatung’s version of his home. “Our clear vision for Talisay is that it’s not meant to be expanded or franchised. Ito lang siya. This is like our personal space.”
Talisay The Garden Café is located at 44 Maginhawa Street, Teachers Village, Quezon City, (02) 8293-9077
Photographs by Paulo Antonio Valenzuela