Honest food is what Chef Alex del Hoyo Gómez calls the dishes he serves at Deo Gracias, the recently opened Spanish restaurant in Quezon City currently on everyone’s lips. By “honest,” he means 1) unpretentious food made from the best ingredients available to his kitchen and 2) that it is faithful to the traditions of the mamas and abuelas of his homeland—give or take a few modern twists.
The Deo Gracias menu is divided into cold and hot tapas, cheeses, rice dishes and short noodles, breads, mains and desserts. On our first meal, we had the Tartar de Vaca Roll for starters, which is a delightful, gooey beef tartare on a folded pan-toasted truffle brioche, with crispy shallots adding a satisfying crunch to this little savory sandwich. This was followed by the Ensalada De Queso De Cabra y Nueces, a sweet arugula salad—thanks to the honey mustard dressing—with sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, and goat cheese balled and fried to perfection.
For diners whose experience of Spanish cuisine is largely anchored on chorizos and paella and hearty stews like callos and fabada, the meal we had at Deo Gracias was refreshingly light and refined. Our main dish was the Secreto Iberico Y Papas Arrugas, or tender slices of grilled pork meat (secreto Iberico means cut from the shoulder of an Iberian pig) served on a bed of wrinkled potatoes and red mojo sauce. By the time we got to the Arroz del Senyoret, a traditional seafood paella from Alicante, we still had it in us to savor the prawns, the cuttlefish, and the maya-maya that dotted the flavorful rice along with the tiny swirls of aioli.
This must be one of the reasons why people stay longer than expected at Deo Gracias—your first batch of orders are all good that you want to try everything, and maybe have some more of this and that. And naturalmente you don’t leave without at least having a couple of desserts—this being a restaurant run by the widely admired pastry chef Heny Sison.
For our table, Chef Heny picked the Torrija Borracha, her personal favorite, a caramelized cold brioche torrija (the Spanish take on the French toast) infused with Irish cream liqueur, and the Tarta de Queso Manchego which we’ve only heard good things about prior to our visit. Well, we’re glad to report this second one is an excellent take on the Basque burnt cheesecakes that has became popular of late. Said Chef Heny when we mentioned to her just how good it is: “Makakalimutan mo pangalan mo.” This dessert though will take a while to forget.
Chef Heny says fate brought her and Chef Alex together for Deo Gracias—the name, by the way, comes from the Latin “deo gratias,” which means “thanks (be) to God.” When the restaurateur and educator needed to find a replacement for the original chef she trained, someone had mentioned Chef Alex's name. He was the last Spanish chef left in the city at that time—everyone else had gone back home to Spain because of the pandemic.
There was already an existing Deo Gracias menu when the 41-year old chef from Burgos, Spain came into the picture—but Chef Heny says he was able to enhance it, investing the dishes with the traditions of his roots, and a fun, youthful spirit. Before Manila, Chef Alex was doing variations on the concept of Spanish food in Thailand and Vietnam. But what he was really looking to find was a place with a real appreciation for the cuisine of his home country.
Another reason diners like to stay longer at Deo Gracias is it’s come-as-you-are vibe and the homey atmosphere. Eric Paras built on what was already a pretty impressive foundation: a well-kept house likely built in the late 1950s. “What I wanted to achieve is a mix of modern elements with tradition, which fits also with the food concept of the chefs,” said Eric, hence the Eames chairs and the modern lighting, and the chic entrance doors in the shape of overlapping number eights.
Eric designed the interiors according to the feel of the place. “Gusto ko lang parang organic siya,” he said. “If you notice, all the new elements and fixtures hindi ko pinalitaw na bago, parang luma din, like they’re original furnishings of the house.” He even intended to put some major art pieces, but looking at the outcome, it seems the walls aren’t exactly aching to be filled.
Considering the unpredictability of the times, Eric said he took it upon himself to keep the cost of the furnishings to what’s modest, even bringing in some plants from his own garden in Pasay. The result is a sophisticated take on the casual, home-like vibe. Modern but nostalgic. Much like the vibe of his Pasay atelier which Chef Heny has visited many times. It seems the perfect atmosphere for what Chef Alex refers to as “sobremesa,” which is basically the concept of the extended Spanish lunch, where everyone takes their sweet time savoring their meal and enjoying present company, digesting and drinking, conversing and eating some more. “You start to eat at 1 and leave the table at 6PM,” he said. “If you can still leave the table.”
In other words, soaking in the good life—something we should be thankful we get to experience in the here and now. Deo gratias, indeed.