MANILA — The timing seemed perfect.
As Hey Handsome, the well-received restaurant of chefs Nicco Santos and Quenee Villar, winds down its operations this month, the two are rolling out their latest concept, the intriguingly named Essential Goodness for the Pilgrims, which-soft opens on Monday, November 19, at Lub d Makati in the hip Poblacion district.
But Villar quickly clarified that this new restaurant isn’t a replacement for Hey Handsome, which will have its last dinner service on November 30.
“Definitely it’s not. This has nothing to do with that,” Villar told ABS-CBN News at a special preview of Essential Goodness for select writers.
Essential Goodness is actually a “consultative collaboration” between Santos and Villar and the Southeast Asian hotel chain. Since Lub d opened last January, the two chefs have been doing the food for the Makati Avenue hotel, albeit limited to “simple” dishes and mostly of the grab-and-go variety like rice meals and pasta at the lobby.
But the food at Essential Goodness is definitely not simple and more in line with the often-complicated and bold flavors Santos and Villar are known for since opening Your Local in Makati several years back.
The restaurant’s head chef is Mark Sanchez, who was previously the head chef of Your Local.
For the soft-opening phase, Essential Goodness will initially have a 25-item all-day brunch menu.
“We wanted sana in the morning, a cafe with a brunch feel, a breakfast feel,” Villar said, adding that the restaurant will also cater to the hotel guests.
People shouldn’t expect to find a full breakfast buffet, though. Instead, hotel guests are given options from the menu like the Essential Breakfast, Overnight Oats, House Granola, and Homemade Longganisa.
“We’re pushing for sustainabiity and kapag breakfast [buffet], to be honest, ang daming nasasayang,” Villar explained.
More exciting dishes await guests when Essential Goodness unveils its dinner menu in time for the restaurant’s grand opening in mid-December. Villar shared that they will be serving modern Thai street food, mainly because Lub d is a Thai brand. Think Pad Krapow Gai or spicy stir-fried chicken with Thai basil.
“Nicco is really good at Asian and Thai is one of his strengths,” Villar said.
The 90-seater Essential Goodness is located at the rooftop of Lub d and consists of two distinct spaces: an al fresco bar section that overlooks the rest of Poblacion, and the main dining room with a view of Makati Avenue and an open kitchen dividing the two areas.
That’s why, Villar explained, they wanted more of a tapas-style for dinner with some of the “less brunchy” dishes from the all-day menu carried over. They are also looking at doing more food-and-drink pairings.
“It’s spicy. Mas bastos ‘yung food,” she teased.
As to what really happened to Hey Handsome, Villar cited problems with their lease.
Since they consider Hey Handsome and Your Local as their babies, she said: “Both of them we love so much, and we just cannot let it die eh. So we’re actually finding a place.”
In the meantime, they are embarking on another culinary journey with Essential Goodness, the latest stop for the metro’s food pilgrims searching for gustatory heaven.
Here are some items you can try from the all-day brunch menu:
The Eggplant Omelette is perhaps the most upscale tortang talong you will ever try. The roasted eggplant has a house-made beef taco mix and is enveloped with a light and airy scrambled egg (think of a tastier La Mere Poulard omelette) with a side of tomato salsa and potatoes.
The Half Stacked Pancake consists of two house-made pancakes topped with lavender whipped cream and berry compote, drizzled with desiccated coconut, and served with two strips of crispy house-made bacon.
The Patty Melt consists of Wagyu beef patty on rye bread with caramelized onions and garnished with gruyere cheese sauce, and spring onions.
Wagyu beef patty is also the star of the Hambagu, this time paired with Japanese rice, Japanese curry, and a fried egg.
For those looking for some heat, the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich is a fine option. Roasted chicken breast meatballs are served in a sesame rye bun with blue cheese aioli, house-made buffalo sauce, a side salad, and pickled onions.
The Essential Breakfast is the restaurant’s big breakfast option, a full plate of house-made English beef bangers, home-baked beans, eggs cooked with pesto, potatoes, crispy bacon, and rye bread.
For a more Filipino option, there’s the Homemade Longganisa done in a garlicky hamonado style served with steamed Japanese rice, house-made atchara, sunny side-up egg, onions, garlic chips, and sesame seeds.
Their version of the classic Steak and Fries features cured top round with a house dry rub and demi-glace sauce, with a side of potato confit.
A fine pasta option is the Sardine and Clam, which features spaghetti with nylon clams and sardine confit.
Health buffs can opt for a simple bowl of House Granola with toasted coconut, almonds, berry compote and homemade yogurt.
They can also order Overnight Oats topped with sliced strawberry, almonds and banana and corn compote.
Essential Goodness for the Pilgrims is located at the rooftop of Lub d Makati, Makati Avenue, Makati. It is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 6 p.m. onwards.