Bacolod may be known for its delicious cuisine but its food establishments aren’t exactly the most Instagram-friendly spaces. Which is why Lanai by Fresh Start is a breath of fresh air.
The three-month old restaurant in the city’s Araneta Highway paid serious attention to its facade and interiors, filling it with wooden louver windows, lush greenery and furniture made from natural materials. The overall atmosphere is evocative of that Negrense lifestyle stereotype of languorous siestas on breezy afternoons by the porch—or in this case, the lanai.
But there’s more to this new dining haunt than meets the Instagrammer’s eye. It’s from the same owners as Fresh Start, Ramon “Chin-chin” Uy and his wife Francine’s organic store, cafe, juice bar and salad bar in Bacolod. The Uys are known champions of the slow food movement in Negros, and Lanai serves as another venue to showcase the possibilities of what organic produce can do.
Everything that’s served in Lanai is organic farm-to-table, from the food down to the cocktails. It helps that the restaurant is located inside the farm itself. “Everything is prepared from scratch without any artificial ingredients,” says Chin-chin. “We based the menu on what’s available from our organic farm and our partners’ farms.”
The restaurant’s aim is to highlight organic, foraged and ark of taste ingredients. “Ark of taste ingredients are endangered heritage food that are sustainably produced, unique in taste and are part of a distinct eco-region,” explains the Negrense farm owner. “The ark is maintained by the international Slow Food movement. Examples of ark of taste ingredients that we highlight is our Batuan, Kadios, Tinigib Corn, Criollo Cacao, Landang native tapioca, adlai, and diwal.”
Other features Lanai by Fresh Start takes pride in: their cheeses are 100% Negros-sourced; their meats are free from growth hormones, are antibiotics-free, and GMO-free; they only use wholesome sweeteners; and they don’t use artificial flavor enhancers.
The ingredients are always the stars in the Lanai table, says Chin-chin. Their salads and pizzas are the bestsellers, along with the Muscovado Marlin, the Guava Pork Belly, and the Cansi Ala Pobre. For over 15 years, the Uys have been working with some of the best chefs in the country who understand the work they do and support it—the farm supplies the chefs’ needs while the chefs create unique recipes for Fresh Start. Patrick Go, who has Ilonggo roots, helped create Lanai’s food menu together with Gab Melocoton and JJ Chua. Meanwhile, Manila’s popular eccentric liquid chef Kalel Demetrio crafted the drinks and cocktail recipes.
As for the beautiful interiors, they have Alexis Ilustre to thank. She’s a young designer from Bacolod who, attuned to the concept of the restaurant she’s sprucing up, insisted on using local materials and works by Negrense artisans. “Some of the furniture and construction were made in our own carpentry and machine shop,” shares Chin-chin. “It was actually a pet project of ours during the pandemic.”
With it’s al fresco setup and close-to-nature dining concept, one could say Lanai is a restaurant not only for the new normal but for a new world—one that’s been changed by fear and illness, one where eating better and healthier has become an armor. In short, a restaurant for a fresh start.