Blackbird at The Nielson Tower has recently been named one of Monocle’s 50 favorite restaurants in the world for 2019, the only one in the Philippines and one of only seven in Asia—namely, Cignale Enoteca (number 6) and Fujimaru in Tokyo (48); Francis in Hong Kong (39); Monk in Kyoto (33); Appia (5) and The Never Ending Summer in Bangkok (28). Blackbird is included in Monocle’s Drinking & Dining Directory Spring/Summer 2019 edition as number 49 in its 2019 Restaurant Awards. "The menu is a celebration of travel," the short review reads.
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Before Blackbird opened five years ago, founder and Executive Chef Colin Mackay had a serendipitous introduction to Tyler Brûlé, Monocle’s founder and editor-in-chief. Brûlé was visiting Manila then and with Mackay immersed in plans for Blackbird, the conversation naturally veered towards his vision for the restaurant. Brûlé was intrigued, and even before it got started, Blackbird got noticed. In 2018, Blackbird was on the long list of Monocle’s favorite restaurants, but it failed to make it to the top 50. In 2019, it’s second time’s a charm for the restaurant, finding itself on the shortlist at number 49.
Monocle is a multi-media brand that is on print, radio, and on-line. It is envisioned “to provide a briefing on global affairs, business, culture, design and much more.” Its printed magazine is a purveyor of quality, from content to print. It is not by any means mainstream nor glitter and flash, but it does lend a strong voice to style. Its content is filled with rich stories, told with fresh perspectives so that even fashion, whose reputation leans towards skin deep, is given substance. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I will say that its readers, advertisers, and collaborators are a discerning lot whose ear to the ground is not on what is on trend but on what is significant. For Blackbird, to be on Monocle’s list is to be counted among the likes of London’s enduring The River Café. And that is a big deal.
For Blackbird, to be on Monocle’s list is to be counted among the likes of London’s enduring The River Café. And that is a big deal.
The distinction comes at a most opportune time, just as Blackbird celebrates its 5th anniversary on July 17. Head Chef Kerwin Go shares his pride with his team, thanking everyone that was a part of the restaurant from day one, including those that have since moved on. On social media he declares, “I would like to thank every single chef, waiter, runner, bartender and manager who make it happen every single day. Congratulations to us.”
The restaurant’s name comes from Mackay’s favorite childhood fascination, the supersonic jet Blackbird Constellation, said to be the fastest plane on earth. The interiors, from the chevron hardwood floors to the iron casement windows, are a throwback to The Nielson Tower’s illustrious beginnings as an airport. The menu is travel-inspired and borderless, featuring dishes that are curated from the world’s finest cuisines. In Monocle’s short review, it mentions the Malaysian Lamb Rendang and Keralan Fish Curry (these, says the review, "honour the building's former life as a gateway to the world"), as well as the Prawn Scotch Egg with coconut sambal on betel leaf. It singles out British-style Fish Pie as the star dish, pointing to Mackay’s Scottish roots for its existence on the menu.
Kerwin Go relates that his team up with Mackay goes back 16 years, a working relationship that started from the group’s other successful restaurants Sala, Sala Bistro, and People’s Palace. When asked what he foresees for the restaurant after the award, he allows us to catch a glimpse of the euphoria of winning, then turns serious and says, “More work to meet an expected rise in customer expectations.”
Blackbird is a gorgeous dining destination, replete with the spirit of its storied past. It is masterful work by Mackay, who is skilled in the art of understatement. He succeeds in keeping the best under the surface so that the experience is a sophisticated, long, and quiet pleasure.
The Nielson Tower, 6752 Makati Avenue, Makati City, (02) 828-4888, blackbird.com.ph
Blackbird photos by Tammy David
Colin Mackay photo by Jar Concengco