A Feel-Good, Filipino Family Affair
What’s the story?
We all love the new, the different, the things we can't find on every corner, but when we told you that ex-Clanbrassil House chef Richie Castillo was bringing Filipino food (courtesy of his Dad's recipes) to Dublin, excitement was at fever pitch. There's never been a Filipino restaurant here that's had the foodie crowd clambering at the door, and everything was telling us that this one was worth getting excited about.
After considering a few locations for Bahay's (meaning 'home' in Filipino) first outing, Richie and girlfriend Alex O'Neill decided on Roe & Co's D-8te pop up at their Dublin 8 Distillery (quite the coup for them), and tickets disappeared as soon as they went on sale, with legions of you hanging on their feed waiting for cancellations or no-shows.
Not ones to let a new food experience go undiscovered, we were ready and waiting for tickets to go on sale and exhaled a sigh of relief when we got a table, ready for all the Inihaw na Manok (grilled chicken), lumpia (pork spring rolls) and sinangag (garlic rice) we could get our hands on. This is a slight teaser of a review as the Bahay Roe & Co pop up ended two days ago, but they'll be back in Camden Yard Market in two weeks with a lot of the same food, and Roe & Co's cocktail village continues until the end of August, with residencies from Nightmarket, Matsu Ramen and Lil' Portie, so here's what to expect from both.
Where should we sit? It's assigned seating, and if you've already tried you book you might know that tables for two are few and far between (there might only be one), so you've a better chance of getting a booking for four or six. There are two main seating areas (all covered), and the airsteam is in the middle of both, so everywhere has a decent view. There's also just a lovely, holiday-like vibe in there (helped by plenty of string lighting), and it's a really atmospheric place to spend a few hours with friends.
What's the food like?
Each residency is a set menu costing €40, with an optional cocktail pairing for €30. This makes it a pretty stress-free experience (unless you're with a picky eater) and you can get straight to chatting and waiting for the food to start coming out. We had to try a cocktail pairing after their big talk about how much work had gone into it, but you can also order other cocktails, spirits or beer. There's no wine.
While we were waiting for our first drink to arrive they brought an aperitif of Roe & Co whiskey, Tokaji (Hungarian dessert wine) and aloe - a lovely touch and a very user-friendly (and original) introduction to their whiskey.
First up for food was a snack platter containing Lumpia (pork spring rolls) with a rice wine vinegar dipping sauce, Inihaw na Manok (grilled chicken thighs marinated in banana ketchup, garlic, 7up & soy), and Pandesal (a yeasty bread roll) served with whipped chicken fat annato butter (annato is a spice that's frequently used as a yellow food dye). This is the type of legit street food the city needs more of, and hopefully they'll be cornerstones of Bahay's menu.
Dipping the pork-packed spring rolls into the zippy dip and pulling the smoky, juicy chicken from their skewers, we could have been in a Manilla market instead of just off James' Street (the hot, humid weather helped too). This is the first time we've seen banana ketchup on a menu in Ireland (you can read more about it as an ingredient here) and hopefully it won't be the last, and the bread roll from the Gold Ribbon Filipino bakery on Dorset Street was fluffy and made for tearing apart with your hands. The only mild disappointment was the chicken fat butter which we were expecting more of a chickeny flavour from.
Next was a small bowl of 'sisig', which our lovely server told us was the dish Anthony Bourdain thought would make the world fall in love with Filipino cooking. If you have a fatty meat phobia this might not be for you, but the diced, grilled pork (usually from the head) with soy, vinegar, calamansi and onion was a savoury, lively bowl rocking with flavour, and it disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. It's cocktail pairing had an appley profile, with Calvados, amontillado, and barley and orange champagne cordial, and it really did compliment the dish - pork, apples and sweetness, what's not to like.
The main was beef short rib kare kare (braised short rib in a peanut sauce), with green beans, bok choy, bagoon (a condiment made from fermented fish), atchara (pickled carrot, daikon, pepper and green papaya) and sinangag (garlic rice). At first taste you might think the kare kare is lacking something, but you use the bagoon almost like salt and pepper to season it to your taste. We started off slow and ending up using so much we had to ask for more. If you're a fan of the flavour profile of kimchi, fish sauce, shrimp paste etc, you'll be hooked on bagoon. If they'd been selling it to go we would have grabbed a few jars.
We loved everything about this plate, and how harmonious all the flavours were together - the creaminess of the curry, the pungency of the bagoon, the zing of the pickled veg, and the soft, mildly garlic rice. It felt so pure, like you'd been invited to a Filipino friend's house for dinner (whose family could really cook), and something totally original for Dublin. We also spotted Richie's Dad cooking with him in the kitchen - could Bahay get any more wholesome?
The cocktail pairing was knockout too. They could have played it safe (who has time for that?) but they really went for it with a Liberty Belle Gimlet - bell pepper infused whiskey, suze, elderflower, grapefruit, olive bitters and chilli oil. A really unusual drink that you're not going to see on every cocktail menu, and it did what every good pairing does, it elevated the dish. Claps for whoever came up with this one.
Dessert was tibok-tibok with latik - calamansi coconut custard with caramelised coconut milk curds. The smooth, creamy custard came topped with what looked and tasted like dulce de leche and a cross between fudge and honeycomb, but managed to keep a certain lightness, helped by the citrus calamansi. The cocktail pairing was a Pina Punch, with whiskey, coconut, pineapple, lime, mint and jasmine tea, and together they were a lovely, refreshing ending to a meal that didn't dip in enjoyment at at any point.
What about the other drinks?
Between four of us we tried all five of the other cocktails on the list, the winner of which was the 'Verdi Grey' - a lemon sherbet style whiskey sour. We also loved the 'Weights & Measures', a low abv drink with Roe & Co's 0.1% whiskey, amontillado sherry, sweet vermouth and cordial, and their take on an Old Fashioned ('Brass Tax') was good too. The most unfortunate thing to happen all night was choosing to end on an 'Espresso Marini', which someone had inexplicably added dillisk liquer to. Seaweed has no business getting into the espresso martini game, and it's a taste that will haunt us for some time.
How was the service?
When we sat down we were greeted by Roe & Co's Billie, who must be one of the loveliest, bubbliest servers in the whole city. She was full of information, recommendations and seemed genuinely enthused about every drink she brought us. When she disappeared towards the end of the night (presumably a break or end of shift) she was really missed, with other servers just bringing the drinks and placing them down, with none of the Billie flair.
On Bahay's side, Alex (co-owner) and her sister were front of house, and their obvious passion for what they were serving burst through, with loads of useful tidbits of information about dishes and ingredients, which really helps to enhance your experience and give you more of an understanding about what you're eating.
And the damage? €80 a head - €40 for food and €40 for drinks, which felt pricey enough for something so casual, but also sadly feels pretty standard these days, especially when cocktails are involved.
The verdict? We're so happy Bahay is here and can't wait to try more from them. This is something legitimately different for Dublin, and it's first outing has been a major success by the looks of the feedback they've had (ours included). All going to plan you'll find them serving a lot of this food in Camden Yard Market from two weeks time (keep an eye on their Instagram for an announcement), but we're really hoping they can find a permanent home in the next year. We deserve more bagoon, more banana ketchup, and a place for these guys to call 'Bahay' permanently.