After a one-year hiatus and some major changes, Chef Josh Boutwood’s beloved The Test Kitchen—his first restaurant endeavor in Manila which opened in February 2017—is finally reopening this Friday, November 15. This new incarnation can now be found at a prime corner spot at the ground floor of the One Rockwell residential condominium in Makati’s Rockwell Center.
For those who remember, the original The Test Kitchen located along bustling Kamagong Street in Makati’s San Antonio Village (not your usual spot for a modern tasting menu-only restaurant) opened to rave reviews, revealing the as-yet hidden culinary prowess of Boutwood—whose day job is as award-winning Corporate Chef of The Bistro Group—and catapulting him into the limelight.
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At this original location, Boutwood transformed his actual test kitchen in The Bistro Group corporate office into a reservations-only restaurant, equipped with two communal tables seating just 20 diners. He offered a six-course or eight-course tasting menu that would change often, depending on seasonality and availability of ingredients. His tasting menus were reasonably priced, given the quality of the dishes he produced, and in no time, the restaurant became a favorite among serious foodies.
However, The Test Kitchen’s glory days where short lived when road work initiated by the local government started to affect the long stretch of Kamagong Street, with the road directly across the restaurant closed to vehicular traffic for a long spell. The Test Kitchen was forced to close late last year, with Boutwood’s promise that it would reopen one day. Fortunately, for the many fans of The Test Kitchen, that day has finally come.
The Test Kitchen’s new space (formerly housing Apartment 1B) is much bigger than the original, now seating a total of 46 indoors. Unlike at its old address, the restaurant is now more conveniently located, boasting ample parking, including at Power Plant Mall across the street.
The restaurant features sleek interiors in dark tones warmed up by wood accents. The strategically placed lighting focuses more on the food on the table rather than on the diners. It manages to make everyone look good, making it a potential ideal date place.
This new version of The Test Kitchen no longer offers tasting menus, preferring an à la carte menu that allows diners complete freedom to customize their own meals. Despite this big change in service format, Boutwood assures that the menu still carries the heart and soul of the original The Test Kitchen, maintaining its focus on ingredients. However, it seems like Boutwood and his team used their one-year break well, developing a a new repertoire of dishes prepared either at the open hot kitchen on the ground floor or at the temperature-controlled cold kitchen on the second floor.
This cold kitchen actually serves as a charcuterie aging room where in-house cured meats and fermented foods—an integral part of the original restaurant—have found a new home. Boutwood shares that diners will soon be able to hang out inside the room and order any of the cold cuts, sliced upon order, with a glass of wine. There is also a small dining area just outside the glass-enclosed charcuterie room that one can book for more intimate events, seating around 15 to 20 comfortably.
During a sneak peek dinner for select media held prior to the opening, I was able to try some of the dishes that Boutwood was still tweaking in time for this weekend’s opening. Ranging from snacks or small bites to bigger plates or entrees, and desserts, here are some of the highlights:
A fun way to start a meal at The Test Kitchen is to order a smattering of the snacks, starting with Today’s Bread which, on the day I went, happened to be freshly baked, whole wheat sourdough served with whipped butter topped with sunflower seeds.
The bread was paired with a selection of Boutwood’s housemade charcuterie or cured meats: his version of coppa (a traditional Italian and Corsican dry-cured meat made from pork neck) and a fennel and black pepper-spiced country-style salami. These are perfect snacks to enjoy with wine or an aperitif.
However, the snack that I am still dreaming of up to now is the Mojama, a 24-hour salt-cured tuna loin over squid ink toast, a brilliantly tasty match that I would definitely order again.
Among the bigger starters or appetizers, I enjoyed the lightly-cured Pacific Yellowtail with zucchini ribbons, seasoned with kimchi and red miso emulsion (make sure to eat each bite with this sauce), along with Boutwood’s fun ode to breakfast cereal, comprised of barley, puffed rice, popped sorghum seasoned with abalone.
Among the mains, Boutwood’s Wagyu strip loin, cooked medium rare, with horseradish and oxtail, together with his perfectly cooked Sea Bass with fennel and green pea didn’t disappoint.
We ended the night with two light and refreshing desserts, first with a burnt white chocolate charmer topped with chards of meringue, followed by a juniper-flavored Panna Cotta topped with very sexy, thinly sliced grapes. Kudos to the knife skills of the ones who sliced those grapes!
Starting this November 15, The Test Kitchen serves dinner every day except Monday from 6 pm onwards, and will eventually add a lunch service. Expect a weekend brunch service in early 2020.
The Test Kitchen, G/F One Rockwell, Rockwell Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City, (0977) 288-5751, Facebook and Instagram @thetestkitchenmnl
Photos by Cyrene de la Rosa
Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter @cyrenedelaros