MANILA -- Back in the day, when gas and electric stoves did not exist yet, humans simply cooked food over open fire and wood charcoal (although a lot still use this traditional method today). It was not the most efficient process but it was simple, effective, and gave dishes an additional smoky flavor.
This is what chef Josh Boutwood wanted to achieve when he first conceptualized his new restaurant, Savage. It's an open-fire restaurant where all dishes are cooked over a grill heated by firewood and wood charcoal.
As the corporate chef of Bistro Group, one of the biggest restaurant group of companies in the country, he has access to the most modern kitchen tools and equipment. He and his team can practically do anything with everything at their disposal.
“Savage came out of the desire to challenge myself. From my day job as a corporate chef of Bistro Group, and then I opened The Test Kitchen, which is very refined, modern techniques, modern equipment. After a while, there is a need to say what can I do next? Little bit of thinking as I once go back to pre-industrial era when there was no gas or electric in cooking. And it's all just done through the heat of wood fire,” explained the Filipino-British Boutwood, who asked for a customized grill and had to import oak wood from Ukraine to achieve this project.
The restaurant, which is located at the restaurant row of Arya Residences in Bonifacio Global City, looked quite ordinary until guests see the rows of oak firewood in front of the establishment.
There's also an interesting mural starting from the entrance to the stairs to the main dining area where a man devolves from a technology-dependent human to an ape. The bar leads to the open kitchen where the customized grill can be seen. And there's one single modern oven in the corner dedicated to bread.
“There are a certain exceptions like the bread, for example, very challenging to that. Of course, we need a lot of steam when we make our bread so we do have a bread oven over there. We decided to put it right on view so there's a transparency between the guests,” Boutwood explained.
The menu is very curated with only 30 items. The dishes are not categorized with a certain cuisine, as they are defined by the way they are prepared. Boutwood calls it pre-industrial.
“There's a lot of Asian elements and there's still a lot of Western elements. Western is, of course, my backbone cuisine but we don't want to be confined with a certain cultural view on food. We feel like we should be open to accept multiple different cultures when it comes to cuisine and incorporate this in our menu. We define ourselves as purely pre-industrial cuisine,” he said.
It starts with the snacks or the appetizers. Must-tries include the deviled eggs served with smoked oil and ash; the very light and airy pork rinds with vinigar powder and served with curry ketchup; house bread with two kinds of butter—burnt and kelp; and the fresh carabao cheese with chive oil and confit heirloom tomatoes.
For the salad, even the lettuce is cooked over the grill. The charred romaine lettuce is served with anchovy garlic dressing topped with parmesan shavings, and toasted crunchy bread crumbs.
For the mains, the tuna jaw with yeast and miso and topped with cadena de amor blooms is the dish that truly lived up to the restaurant's name. It's a whole tuna jaw grilled to perfection and there's no way to eat this dish without looking like a savage. Eating through a whole jaw, picking the meat from the crevices of the bones, takes a lot of savage skills.
Another main to try is the flank steak served with onion ash and pickled ramp. This is best eaten with a side of savage rice (rice with chorizo) or the roasted potatoes with cheese and parsley.
For dessert, which are more refined, try the meringue strawberries and cream and the kladdkaka or traditional Swedish chocolate cake.
For Boutwood, cooking over fire and wood charcoal brings any dish to a different level.
“[Flavors are] completely different. I would say, without exaggeration, 30 percent of the flavor or the final flavor of the dish itself come solely from the smoke of the oak. So we anticipated that when we wrote the recipes,” he said.
He also plans to use local wood in the future like santol and coffee.
“We are looking at using some local varieties of wood. We wanted to start off with local varieties but the supply was not consistent enough for us. We are still looking at trying to incorporate santol wood, which I've heard is very good but I haven't tested it yet because it's quite hard to find. Also, coffee wood, that's another thing that we're looking at incorporating,” he said.