Only seven months after opening, Serai, a modern Filipino restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, has already earned the “Restaurant of the Year” and “Best Casual Dining Venue” awards from Time Out magazine.
The publication says Serai raises the bar when it comes to Filipino cuisine. “Riffing on [founder Ross] Magnaye’s Filipino heritage without suggesting anything like straightlaced authenticity, the fire-licked food is irreverent, playful and fun while also introducing the non-Filipino Melbournians to a new world of flavour,” the Timeout article reads.
Ross Magnaye is both Serai’s founder and chef. Clearly, the guy has smartly mined the dishes and ingredients of his roots and is now reaping the rewards. His menu is referred to as “a tour-de-force of things we want to eat.” The lechon dish is a major star—“roasted free-range pig married to a pineapple-infused, gently spicy-sweet palapa sauce.” The McScallop—“a single fried scallop doused in deliriously rich crab-fat sauce cut through with papaya pickle and sandwiched in a toasted pandesal bun”—is also a big winner in Time Out’s book. And the leche flan is a show stopper “with its smoke-licked, custardy base topped with passionfruit pulp.”
In a magazine interview, the Filipino-Australian chef says Serai’s modern Filipino menu is inspired by the different islands of the Philippines with influences from Malaysia. He put up Serai with his chef partners Shane Stafford and Ben Waterslate. While he highlights Filipino flavors, he employs a lot of modern techniques and incorporates Australia’s rich produce in making them. The dishes are mostly cooked over a wood-fired grill.
Since finishing his culinary studies at Melbourne’s William Angliss Institute, Magnaye has worked in the kitchens of D.O.M., a Michelin-starred restaurant in Brazil; in Le Servan, the beloved bistro in Paris ran by the Filipino-French Levha sisters; and Aziamendi, an award-winning restaurant in Thailand. Before putting up the 50-seater Serai, he helmed the Southeast Asian restaurant Rice Paper Sister, where he started to introduce food heavily influenced by his Filipino background.
“As my career progressed, I got my confidence up that my culture is delicious. It’s all about having that knowledge and knowing that you can spin it in a way you’re proud of,” he tells Time Out.
The Melbourne-based chef spent his growing up years in the Philippines. He belongs to a typical tight-knit Filipino family who values gatherings and loves good food. His lola Carol was also a restaurateur and used to run the popular Carol’s in Cagayan de Oro.
“I didn’t eat there as it was before my time, but my mum would tell me stories about how busy it was and how delicious the food was. It’s given me a lot of hope and inspiration to this day,” he tells Colournary.com. “Since I was young I always wanted to be a chef. Growing up around good food was always part of my upbringing and I’m very blessed for that.”