Friday, June 17, 2016

Review: Romulo Cafe London

A Holiday Substitute

Suman latik: fried rice cake with coconut cream,
dark coconut sauce and coconut ice cream

I've wanted to make my way back to southeast Asia over the last few years, but work-life commitments keep getting in the way. So I’ve turned to another solution: finding solace in food from the region. Queue a visit to Romulo CafĂ©, a newish Filipino restaurant on Kensington High Street. A smart, medium sized restaurant, the venue is divided into themed rooms like the Library and the Diplomat’s Dining Room, each with their unique touches of funky decor. We visited for lunch on a Sunday, and the fragrance of Filipino food wafted through the air as we sat down to our table.   

Patotim: slow-cooked duck in a steamed bun

On the left, tuna kilawin. A tune ceviche marinated in cane vinegar,
with red onion, cucumber and red pepper.
On the right, pork belly with a fried egg, pickled apples and 
caramelised shallots. 

The menu at Romulo is designed to be shared, and at the recommendation of our hostess, we ordered three starters and three mains between 4. Service was slow, in the sense that both our starters and then our mains took quite a while to arrive. However, we were brought a little something during these lulls – first bread and butter, and later pork scratchings – to pass the time. And the food that did arrive was excellent. Amongst the starters, the winner for me was the patotim: a steamed bun filled with sweet and sticky slow-cooked duck. My friends were full of praise for the pork sisig, while the tuna kilawin - imagine a spicy tuna ceviche - divided opinion at the table between those who liked raw fish and those who didn't. I loved it though, especially for the spicy-onion flavours that reminded me of salads from Bangladesh. 

Lamb kaldereta: stewed lamb with peppers, potatoes, garden peas,
slow cooked in tomato sauce and topped with parmesan

On the left, chicken relleno: roast chicken with pork stuffing
On the right, flying dish: deep-fried tilapia with dips. I ate the eye.

Our mains, while still good, had a little less star power. The deep-fried tilapia kept things simple and classic, arriving at the table butterflied and accompanied by well-chosen sauces. The chicken relleno, a dish of roast chicken with pork stuffing, was fought over by my friends. The lamb kaldereta was the last dish: a meat stew with peppers, potatoes and peas cooked in tomato sauce. It reminded me of my mom's own tomato sauce based dishes, but it wasn’t particularly popular with the rest of the table. We had two sides of garlic rice to round off our meal,  and washed everything down with nostalgia-inducing calamansi cooler. However, we didn't feel done by the end of it. Some portions, like the lamb kaldereta and garlic rice, were small, and in the future I’d much order one main per person.  

Sans rival, served with ice cream

Still hungry, we ordered desserts. My friends had the sans rival, which was nice, albeit a bit tougher than it should be. Unfortunately a number of items on the menu were unavailable, and my dreams of having halo halo were crushed. That may have been for the best, as the suman latik I ordered instead was perhaps the best part of my meal. A fried rice cake with coconut cream, dark coconut sauce and coconut ice cream, it was a delicious, moreish dessert. I am generally a fan of coconut, and I also loved the contrast between the crunchy, warm cake versus the soft, cold ice cream. 

Finally satisfied, we asked for the bill. At £101 for 4 people, this seemed like very good value for money, until we remembered we’d under-eaten. Starters at Romulo are priced £7 onward, and mains £13 onward. Add the cost of rice and drinks and you’ll easily spend £30 per head here, which is unsurprising given the Kensington location. And judging by how busy it got, this a venue for planned, perhaps special meals rather than pit stops. Staff were very friendly and enthusiastic throughout, and always on hand to refill our water or drinks. I hope that as the restaurant finds its feet, the speed of the service and the availability of menu items will get better. There’s a lot of potential here, and I would definitely like to return to see how things have evolved. 

Food: 7/10
Service: 8/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Value: 6/10

Final Score: 7/10

Contact Information
A: 343 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NW, United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)20 3141 6390

NB. The final score, while influenced by the sub-scores, is a qualitative reflection of my overall impression of the establishment.

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