An Italian renaissance is under way in Manila, with several Italian restaurants having opened in the last several months. The folks behind the very popular Wildflour Café + Bakery (which now runs a total of five concepts and 17 restaurants) have just joined the fray with the opening of their first Italian concept, Wildflour Italian, last June 5. Going by the Wildflour group’s wildly successful record, this newest restaurant is poised to draw in the crowds from the get go.
“Wildflour Italian is our take on traditional Italian fare; certainly the comfort food and classics we keep coming back to, and then some,” says Wildflour’s CEO and co-owner Ana Lorenzana-de Ocampo. In a way, the restaurant is their way of paying homage to a cuisine that gave many Filipinos their first bites of global dishes like pasta and pizza.
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De Ocampo adds, “We want to spur the nostalgia you feel from the days you first discovered Italian food as a kid, sinking your teeth into a pizza or twirling pasta around your fork. That bright-eyed ardor for Italian food is what this concept is all about.” Helping finetune the menu are Wildflour partners, chefs Walter Manzke and wife Margarita Lorenzana-Manzke who run République in Los Angeles.
The new restaurant, which can fit around 60 comfortably (with a private dining area good for 10 to 15), is located at the newly-built The Finance Centre in BGC, right across Maybank Theater. As you enter the place, you are welcomed by warm, cozy yet modern interiors that marry red bricks, wooden tabletops, and dark leather beautifully, reminiscent of the familiar Wildflour aesthetic, thanks to Architect Lara Fernandez-Barrios of Larawan Ink.
The new restaurant also boasts a unique barrel-vaulted ceiling design that easily transported me back to the 169-year-old “underground cathedral” and wine cellar that I visited in the city of Canelli in Piedmont, Italy last year.
Wildflour has always focused on sourcing the best possible ingredients and working on getting the best flavors out of those ingredients, just like Italian grandmothers do. At WF Italian, this approach results in an easy-to-navigate one-page menu that is revised and printed daily, depending on what’s best to cook that day, essentially guaranteeing that whatever is served is always of top quality.
At Wildflour Italian, it is suggested you start with a variety of light and refreshing antipasti, as Italians do: Tuna Crudo adorned with slices of cucumber, tomato, lemon oil, and olive oil; Tricolore Salad made with a combination of bitter greens like arugula, endive, and radicchio lightly seasoned with olive oil, lemon, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese; and giant Grilled Asparagus served with arugula, bagna cauda, and topped with fried egg.
Meatier options include a fresh take on the classic Prosciutto and melon combination—but this one uses mango instead, as well as Arancini or rice balls enriched with bone marrow and saffron. While I’m not very fond of arancini, as most of the versions I have tried in Manila are bland and pasty, this bone marrow-enhanced version is a cut above the rest.
WF Italian is equipped with a wood-fired pizza oven imported from Italy along with a wood burning hearth for grilling meats and seafood. My early favorites among the pizza selection are a fun twist on Cacio e Pepe (in pizza form) made with a combination of Pecorino, mozzarella, and Parmigiana cheeses; the Pepperoni which uses a slightly spicy pepperoni; and the Pizza Bianca made with Italian sausage, béchamel, and kale.
The restaurant also offers a selection of freshly made pastas, giving diners lots of options for heartier fare. I’ve tried only three different pasta dishes so far, but all are good, with the Casarecce Bolognese (beef, pork, tomato) and Spinach Cavatelli (porcini mushrooms) edging out the prawns pasta.
Of the four second or main dishes currently available, I highly recommend the Branzino al Forno, a brightly grilled sea bass lightly seasoned with lemon and thyme, and the Braised Lamb Shank, braised till tender in an extra tasty reduced sauce, and served with a side of risotto Milanese and gremolata, quite reminiscent of my favorite (veal shank) osso buco.
Of course, you must never skip dessert in any Wildflour restaurant. If you only have room for one, go for the Mascarpone Cheesecake, an adapted take on the Spanish-style burnt cheesecake made with mascarpone cheese instead of regular cream cheese, which results in a creamier cheesecake that doesn’t even need the mango passionfruit sauce that it’s served with. Or else, choose the Chocolate Amaretto Cake with Nutella sauce, when available.
Wildflour Italian, G/F The Finance Centre, 9th Avenue corner 26th Street, (right across Maybank Theater), Bonifacio Global City, call (02) 244-3930 or (0917) 632-9384 for reservations, open for dinner only 5 to 11 pm, closed Mondays
Photos by Cyrene de la Rosa
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