MANILA -- Through the years, chef Robby Goco has made Cyma synonymous to Greek food for many Filipino diners.
Cyma favorites are now virtually untouchable, as regulars clamor for their accustomed flavors. But a chef’s mind isn’t static. It clamors for ways to create interesting things, to showcase new flavors to titillate and surprise.
While Goco has other non-Greek themed restaurants (Green Pastures, Charlie’s Handcrafted Burgers, etc), his love for Greek cuisine begged for an outlet to showcase his creativity and imagination, and so, Souv!, his new restaurant at the Netpark Building in Bonifacio Global City was born.
Souv is a shortened term for souvlaki, the quintessential skewered grilled food of the Greeks.
This is not Cyma. It’s more like the rebellious brother—the one that’s exciting, a bit unpredictable, but with the same good looks (taste and flavor), and great upbringing (you can’t argue with Goco’s techniques).
From its name, to its bright and airy interiors, Souv! reflects this rebellious mindset -- very young-ish, very millennial. But lest you start thinking that this is one of those hipster restaurants that are all Instagram-worthy but no flavor, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Olive oil, lemon, salt and Greek oregano,” according to Goco, make up “the backbone of Greek cuisine.” These flavors are very much evident in almost all his dishes in Souv!, which he termed as “progressive Greek” cuisine – which might pose as a conundrum to some—is it authentic Greek? Is it fusion?
So what's progressive Greek? It’s the same Greek flavors and authentic ingredients (no calamansi substitutes here) done and presented in a different way. So what Souv! offers are dishes and ingredients that can be found in Greece, possibly cooked with a modern method, or ingredients and techniques combined differently to create something that tastes as good as traditional Greek cuisine, but new.
“Every ingredient you have here, they have in Greece,“ promised Goco.
We ate our way to most of his menu. Dishes were not only Instagram-worthy creations, but were also backed by solid flavor, that salty-sour magic that Greek food uniquely has, and Souv! has in spades.
And while each dish made a good impression, here were our favorites.
Bread and Olives. As a starter, it doesn’t get more basic than this. You’ve got proper crusty bread to be eaten with those gleaming olives, after you dab a bit of that sweet Greek tomato paste to your bread. A great introduction. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Cheese Saganaki. I would gladly have three servings of this. Kefalotiri cheese (a goat’s cheese that’s like a creamier version of our kesong puti) melts into a pan, and is topped with a peppered fig ham with a sprinkling of honey sesame seeds. It’s a party in your mouth that plays on the taste buds’ love for sweet-salty flavors. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Cranberry Grains Salad. Greek salads have always been simple equations to me -- greens, olives, feta, and a lemon vinaigrette. In Souv!, Goco gives us more choices. The Avocado Greek Summer salad was light and refreshing with ingredients having some bite (red onions, capers, cucumbers, tomato), while the Salata Kinoa packed a lot of flavors from nutty and buttery, thanks to quinoa, pine nuts and walnuts, there was also sweetness from sultanas, and a lemony kick from the Dijon herb dressing.
While all of the salads here were balanced nicely, I found my spoon getting seconds and thirds of the Cranberry Grains Salad. Cranberries are wonderful things, and these tart and sweet red dots gave the salad sweetness and a fruity sourness, contrasting nicely with the acidity of other elements like capers and the cumin honey yogurt dressing. The cilantro also just ties the bow nicely in eating this bowl of lentils and bulgur wheat. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Grilled Sous Vide Octopus. I was late in getting to this meal with most people already in their mains when I arrived, and when I asked around what I should look forward to eating, they all told me to try the octopus.
In this dish, we see the progressive part of Souv!, thanks to the cooking method, which was sous vide then grill versus the traditional way of grilling straight onto charcoal.
I’ve had grilled octopus that were masticating endeavors to eat, which is far from what Souv! serves. This grilled octopus had crispy black flecked grill kisses hiding white flesh that gave easily at a bite, giving a delightful chew of octopus, tasting of the sea. A must-try. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Sticky Chicken Wings. Mastic, a resin that’s used in construction, toothpaste, liqueur and now, chicken wings, gives this dish its sticky quality. Crispy chicken doused with the lemon-flavored mastic, and joined by fried capers and herbs, make for a finger-lickin’ experience. While it’s a mezze, this dish would make a great meal with a cup of rice. Another must-try. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Lamb Bowl with Clam Saffron Avgolemono Soup. Lunch in Souv! can come in many forms. Grilled chicken, pork, lamb, or even squash and sweet potato can join pita, quinoa, veggies and sauces in either a wrap, salad, or a bowl (with quinoa, brown rice, and spinach).
My choice for the Souv! lunch is the Lamb Bowl with the Clam and Saffron Avgolemono Soup. It’s everything good in a Greek meal. Your protein (lamb) is in morsels that are tender and juicy. Veggies are in there aplenty with greens and sprouts, with pickled cucumber, radish, and red onion adding crunch, bite, and acid. Mizitra (another Greek sheep’s milk) adds sweetness and a creamy texture, and the light touch of a harissa yogurt brings it all together.
Lunch can also come with a side, in this case, our pick is the clam and saffron soup that’s a beautiful striking yellow. A sip gives you a mellow lemony flavor imbued with clam essence and saffron’s hard to describe taste. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Lamb Yiouvetsi. Yiouvetsi is actually the name of the red pot where meats are cooked with a pasta. In this case, Goco used orzo (a rice shaped pasta) and lamb. Like many pasta dishes, this one had cheese (but the Greek cheese Kefalotiri), and was also sprinkled with parsley, as well as drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
And while this dish is fine as it is, it has become one of my favorite dishes in Souv! with a dash or two of Robby Goco’s “crack” spice. Found in a jar tableside, this red-tinged powdery secret concoction brings out another layer of flavor of the yiouvetsi (and in virtually all of Souv’s dishes, even ice cream).
What’s in it? Sumac, sugar and salt, chili powder, perhaps lemon powder? Who knows? All I know is that it’s so good that I think Goco should bottle and sell it. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Greek Tuna Roe (Avgotaracho) Pasta. Avgotaracho is Greek bottarga (cured fish roe). Here, Goco dries and cures local tuna roe to grate onto his spaghetti dish. The beauty of this dish is in its simplicity -- you’ve got chickpeas for crunch, breadcrumbs for some body, and the prevalent taste is that lovely salty creamy fish roe, with olive oil bringing it all together. Light and very tasty, a must-try. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Angus Beef Short Rib. Meat is a big part of Greek cuisine. In Souv!, Goco serves a fully loaded all-meat platter with roasted chicken, pork, and lamb, joined by juicy potatoes, pita, pickles and Greek coleslaw.
Then there’s the caveman-worthy option, the Angus Beef Short Rib. First braised, then grilled, the rib has meat darkened from the long braise and the grill, served with a gremolata for some freshness and acidity. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Grilled Fish. Our table was late and unfortunately, Souv! ran out of their whole grilled fish (lapu-lapu) to serve, but fortunate for us, we were served seabass instead (an upgrade option available for this dish). What differentiates this grilled fish from the all the rest is the sauce. Emulsified lemon and oil make for a hollandaise-like sauce without the egg yolk, and using olive oil instead of butter, of course. Lemony and made even flavorful with the addition of clams, I can imagine the lapu-lapu tasting wonderful, because that seabass tasted divine. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Frozen Greek Yogurt. Tang -- that’s what Greek yogurt has in spades. And in Souv!, frozen Greek yogurt comes extra creamy with imaginative toppings that make for a fitting end to any meal. There are six flavors: (clockwise from top left) Carrot Jam, Wildflower Honey, Feta Cheesecake, EVOO and Flakey Sea Salt, Crumbled Baklava, and Orange Saffron (center).
The most uniquely Greek flavor is the EVOO and Flakey Sea Salt (which also works with a sprinkling of Goco’s crack spice), while the most classic of the lot is the Wildflower Honey. The Feta Cheesecake and Crumbled Baklava were luscious bites with different textures, and the Orange Saffron had a light saffron essence, which worked surprisingly well with the orange flavor. Carrot Jam will probably be the hardest to sell, but it’s the healthiest option of the lot, it’s beta-carotene in a yummy form. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra