I’ve been meaning to write about this piece mid of September, but things have been busy since I took on a new corporate role and had to travel to Ho Chi Minh City for a month. It is my 2nd week here and I’m stuck here in my hotel room since this morning. It is a Saturday anyway. I don’t feel like going out because I am missing Manila. I miss its energy and it got me thinking about how much I miss our food back home. A good bowl of piping Sinigang and that nutty Kare-Kare. I browse through my phone and I saw photos from the last restaurant that I’ve visited last time with my friends from the food enthusiast community. Here’s my recollection of what had happened;
[September 2019] Excited to try this new nook in Katipunan which I’ve been hearing a lot of positive raves from these food writers that I’ve been following. Hapag is the name of this private dining restaurant behind a McDonald’s drive-thru.
Bianca and I drove all the way from Calatagan, Batangas braved the 4-hour traffic on a Tuesday evening just to push thru having my final Pinoy dinner at this place. Expectations were high. The reviews, the raves, and the price point of the dishes – all points towards an out-of-the-box interpretation of the common Filipino cuisine that we grew up eating.
We parked our car towards its steep parking space. The super fire of excitement is in the air as we draw towards Hapag’s door. We were seatedd immediately and browsed through their menu. An 8-course tasting menu will set you around 2,900php. We opted to order ala carte to share amongst one another.
The interior reminded me of a smaller Toyo Eatery. Hard wooden tables, bare brick & mortar wall finish, an open kitchen. The space is intimate but lacks luster
“It’s Filipino,” replies chef Thirdy Dolatre, when asked to describe the concept of Hapag. It doesn’t claim to be modern. It doesn’t promise classics with twists. It doesn’t even aim to redefine anything. It’s simple, humbly, proudly Filipino.
Grade school friends who all went to culinary school and then went to find their own adventure path separately. Thirdy Javier studied French techniques. Kevin Villarica went to Singapore to practice Indian cuisine. While John Navoa hustled his skills in Malaysia.
The initial concept of offering private dining in Manila was conceived while Garcia was writing down his inspirations to his journal. Soon, this group of friends got back together and started servicing homes in Metro Manila for the past 2 years.
What We Ordered
Visually appealing and creative in execution, start your meal with their butter from Bukidnon that’s been topped with honey. It creates a creamy bite with a sweet finish on your tongue.
Kwek Kwek na Hipon
Think scotch eggs that use the shrimp and a quail egg that is cooked with a perfect yolk. They add some texture to it by laying the eggs in a bed of potato crisps. The presentation itself is like a birds nest and is pretty appealing that you can everything in the bowl since it complements each element together.
The Oyster Bonete is a buttery bonete bun that envelopes a single piece of Aklan oyster and a fried kang kong mixed in with an aioli sauce. Lots of texture here, but could use more oyster flavor.
Hapag’s Pares shies away from the typical beef and uses oxtail that they serve on top of toast with calamansi aioli. The meat itself was very soft, but we found it to be too sweet overall and need a bit of heat.
The Ginataang Alimasag
The Ginataang Alimasag was a filipino take on the japanese dish chawan mushi. It had notes of sweetness from the coconut squash, and the brine from the alimasag and the shrimps.
The Laing Stones which arrived in a palayok. We saw the playfulness, but we didn’t really understand the point of having greens and flora. The laing flavor itself was a bit lost in the dish.
Squid ink balls filled with laing. Imagine the texture of a brownie then imagine biting into it and having hints of laing flavors We tried eating these laing stones with the greens, but it didn’t make sense at all.
Pato at Adlai
This must have been the most interesting dish out of the menu. Thoughtfully executed, the pato itself was cooked medium rare while keeping the skin crispy. They place it on top of blanched greens with a sampinit reduction and served with a side of adlai.
Ribeye steak, onion puree, and crispy onions, on a bed of mashed potatoes. The steak itself was medium rare but felt like it could be better with more of a citrus flavor instead of sweet. Textures were there though, as the crispy onions added a nice bite.
Slow cooked pork belly on a bed of coconut binagoongan sauce and a side of mango and eggplant ensalada. The pork belly itself was lacking in flavor and needed more salt. The sauce itself which its creative that they added coconut milk to the classic binagoongan it hightens the sweetness of the sauce.
Assorted seafood on a bed of squid ink rice. Each of the various seafood was cooked perfectly but did not really make a mark in terms of taste.
Our Collected Experience
The execution was close to perfection. The duck was sublime and you can see the technique that went behind each element of the dish. Almost all of the dishes taste exactly as the classic Filipino staple familiar food. Then again, everything was too familiar to a fault.
We once read from an article from Esquire Philippines;
“It’s Filipino,” replies chef Thirdy Dolatre, when asked to describe the concept of Hapag. It doesn’t claim to be modern. It doesn’t promise classics with twists. It doesn’t even aim to redefine anything. It’s simply, humbly, proudly Filipino.”
Respectfully, we beg to differ from this statement. The execution itself when they’ve incorporated these different culinary techniques (i.e French discipline) whilst using local produce was already a ‘twist’. Hapag does try to re-define Filipino food with every obvious element; Food variation, steep price point, and the modernity of these young chefs. But see, these were the things that we did expect. We wanted dishes that aren’t predictable. We wanted Filipino food to be subtly re-interpreted. We’re seeking complexity yet familiar.
Is it value for money?
No. We’d rather point you to go elsewhere. To put everything into a context; You’d rather be going to a restaurant like Manam or Locavore. Essentially the playfulness of their dishes in terms of taste is within the playground of these contemporary commercial joints presented on a gourmet plate only for aesthetic purposes.
Our CX Rating; 3.5 extra rice rating!
- Ambiance= 3/5
- Customer Service= 4/5
- Food Quality (sourced ingredients)= 5/5
- Food Flavor= 3/5
- Variety of available in the menu= 5/5
- Facilities, Ergonomics= 3/5
- Price; Does it give value to your money? Whether expensive or cheap.= 2/5
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- TripAdvisor Top 2% Contributor