LUTONG PINOY: FILIPINO FLOP IN EARLS COURT
There are few things more irritating than supper at an ethnic eatery with a person who has recently been to the country which the restaurant represents. Nothing will ever be a match for what they ate on their visit, the ingredients will be wrong and at some point, of course, they will use the word “authentic” by which time you are praying to the gods that they will choke on their pilaf or get a bit of stuffed guinea pig caught in their throat.
So, my apologies to my companion of last night, my new chum, Fiona who had to sit patiently as I prodded disconsolately at the various plates that passed across our table muttering the dreaded “A” word on more than one occasion.
One of the great surprises of my recent trip was The Philippines. I fell in love with the country, the people and the food, which was savoury, delicious and had all the elements DH crave in our food, pork, deep frying and often a combination of the two. Add to that spectacular salads, wonderful seafood and the classics of Lechon, Adobo and Kare Kare and the cuisine of this country of 7,000 islands was quickly promoted into the top ten of EAT MY GLOBE.
I am never quite convinced that because a restaurant is filled with ex-pats it is de facto any good. Being born in a country does not mean you are automatically an expert on your home cuisine, but the fact that Lutong Pinoy in Earls Court came highly recommended and seemed to cater exclusively to elements of London’s 200,000 strong Filipino community augured well as we entered the tiny little restaurant in Kenway St.
Service was charming and slightly eccentric that was definitely “authentic” (there’s that word again) so was the menu, which had all the staples I grew so fond of during my short visit. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ended. Fiona was kind enough to leave the ordering in my hands and we began with a fresh Lumpia, a form of loose spring roll, which at its best should resemble a Vietnamese Summer roll with a light casing protecting a fresh crunchy filling. Here, the casing was doughy, the vegetable filling mushy and the surrounding slick of sauce cloying. Pancit (noodles) mixed with vegetables were scarcely any better tasting as if they had been lying around all day waiting for someone stupid enough to eat them. We didn’t.
There are few things that fried pork can’t improve and things perked up when a plate of crispy pata arrived. It lacked the tenderness of the real thing, where pork knuckle or leg is boiled until tender and then deep fried to give a magnificent crunch, but when dipped in the bowl of sweet liver sauce served with it reminded me of why I ate pata just about every day of my visit.
Sisig, however, did not. The signature dish of Angeles is comprised of all the bits of the pig left over when all the good stuff has gone, chopped up with lots of chilli. It should come to the table sizzling on a cast iron plate so that the meat becomes crispy and the underside forms a crunchy crust that Filipino men can fight about over a beer. Our version was spicy enough but served on a plate that had not been heated enough so lacked any sizzle leaving it as just a tray of chopped meat with too much chilli.
If that was a disappointment then worse was to follow with the arrival of the Kare Kare, a stew of oxtail made with a peanut sauce. They were out of oxtail so we plumped for the beef version and were presented with a tired looking dish containing soft vegetables and meat that had been cooked to the texture of marshmallow. It could not even be rescued by the addition of Bagoong, the accompanying shrimp paste.
The bill including tip came to £40
This was a listless effort by a restaurant which looked and felt as if it had seen better days in the fifteen years it has been open, happy to serve ersatz tastes of glorious dishes to Londoners who perhaps can’t tell the difference and ex-pats happy for any small reminder of home. It may be odious to make comparisons, but I don’t need to because it is not just that there are certainly better places in The Philippines, I can’t help thinking they has to be a better Filipino restaurant in London.