As early as the entrance door, Rafael’s Tapas Bar & Resto at the Newport Mall’s Garden Wing announces itself as a visual stunner. Its grey textured walls are festooned with bright, colorful paintings. A couple of gold trumpet chandeliers easily become a focal point set against metal tree sculptures and spire wires. Adding to the overall dramatic mood of the surroundings are red velvet seats, gold-painted doors, and decorative tile work. The place has modern elements but also an unmistakable old-world vibe. Flashy and flamboyant—did we mention it has a golden toilet seat?—but also warm and welcoming.
The man behind this art-filled bar and restaurant is a mild-mannered hospitality professional from Davao named Henjie Carmona. Prior to opening this whimsical attraction in November 2019, he’s managed several properties in Makati and abroad for over 15 years. Looking after the F&B outlets of hotels led him to discover his passion for food. But catering only to the requirements of hotel occupants—e.g., breakfast and function room packages—limited his creativity. “I wanted to create a unique [restaurant] concept,” the UP Diliman Communication Research grad tells ANCX.
Henjie has a treasure trove of memories to look back on as inspiration for his first stand-alone restaurant. His late father, Rafael, a Bacolod native and whom the restaurant and bar is named after, was a great home cook. “I wanted to recreate the food our father served us when I was growing up,” Henjie shares.
With its artistic surroundings, one can only expect Rafael’s food is creative too. The restaurant and bar serves a mix of reinterpreted Filipino and Spanish dishes. The caldereta (P1,200) is made with wagyu steak that’s sous vide to retain the meat’s texture and flavor. Their paella uses arborio rice, which is typically used for risotto, giving the dish a texture different from what’s usually expected. They have three versions of the staple Spanish dish: soft shell crab, squid, and seafood paella.
One of the restaurant’s bestselling tapas when it opened was the duck sisig (P680)—that’s spicy duck breast, flavored with black garlic, aioli, and served with quail eggs. But they had difficulty sourcing duck meat when the pandemic set in so they decided to recreate the pork sisig (P600) that Henjie’s father used to make. It’s made with crunchy and spicy lechon kawali bits and served with aioli.
Easily a favorite dish too is their version of okoy or vegetable and seafood fritter (P220)—which is made with fresh shrimps, squid, sweet potato carrots, and cooked in a light egg batter. Instead of vinegar, it’s served with the tangy “Bicol Express aioli” which gives this okoy a unique taste.
Henjie says he aims to offer not only good food at Rafael’s but a complete sensory experience, so a lot of attention was given to making its interiors a little more provocative than usual. He tapped film production designer Aped Santos (“Baler,” “Batad,” “Liway”) and J+A Architects to balance the space’s classic and contemporary side. The eye-catching Gaudi-inspired metal works at the bar is by artist Totong Aguillon, who also made the previously mentioned metal sculptures.
Rafael’s Tapas Bar and restaurant is located at 2/F Garden Wing of Newport Mall. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Monday to Sunday). For more information, check out their Instagram account.