Words by Melissa Richter
For many people, Filipino food has long been regarded as comfort food with little value on the global stage, yet Manila-based restaurant, Hapag is committed to changing that perception. Warm and inviting with an upscale rustic charm, this brilliant restaurant is the passion project of a trio of talented chef-owners named Thirdy Dolatre, Kevin Villarica, and Kevin Navoa (aka Nav). “We truly believe Filipino food belongs on the world stage and that we have what it takes to get it recognised,” asserted chef Nav.
The devil is often in the details, and this is where Hapag shines. The service is friendly and attentive with a staff-to-customer ratio that is on par with some of the best fine dining restaurants in the world. The addition of their delightfully astute sommelier Erin Ganuelas is another thrill, as she deftly intensifies the dining experience with her sharp palate and clever wine pairings that make each course truly shine.
“We wanted this place to represent the best of everything that the Philippines has to offer – from our farms and cities to our art and music,” added chef Thirdy.
Open for dinner only, guests are treated to a seasonal tasting menu represented by dishes like their exquisite fermented black rice sourdough bread with homemade honey butter, and a bevy of perfectly executed savoury and sweet bites found in their stimulating ‘snack box’. The main course was a trio of chicken, pork belly, and octopus (air, land, and sea) called Salu-Salo that is served family style with complementary sides of funky fermented dips, tangy sauces and homemade pickled vegetables served alongside a steaming bowl of pandan scented white rice in a clay pot.
Each course is artfully plated and beautifully balanced. Conceived with a skilful aptitude for combining salty, sweet, and sour elements, they knock you off your feet in a powerful way without ever overwhelming your palate with chilies or heat. A case in point is their earth-shattering version of ‘ceviche’ called Sinuglaw. Almost aggressively acidic at first bite, it mingles mackerel with sweet bursts of pineapple, bright green herbs, soothing coconut milk, and just a dash of chilli oil. It’s sheer perfection and one of the most evocative versions of this dish you may ever have the pleasure of consuming.
Other highlights include their jackfruit vinegar ice cream for dessert, and succulent beef tongue and blood sausage which is a delectable nod to street hawkers’ grilled meats on a stick. Also worth mentioning is the sublime simplicity of the fern salad with jackfruit vinaigrette. Bright yet earthy, it is a milage of stimulating textures that are a soulful representation of the native vegetation grown in this fertile archipelago.
This highly focused menu exceeds expectations by elevating humble food and regional cuisine. They do this by never forgetting to honour the culture, traditions, or local produce that is harvested from the country’s bountiful oceans, jungles, mountains, rivers, and farms.
“We just want to be the best,” shared chef Nav. “By sharing our knowledge and passing it on, we hope to change the perception of Filipino food. It’s our unspoken obligation to our country,” he added.
In a nutshell
Hapag is truly the gift that keeps on giving with its progressive menu of flavourful dishes that are ‘oh-so-familiar’ yet inherently elusive. They are the full package when it comes to food, wine, service, and innovation.
Address: Katipunan Ext, 201 Katipunan Ave, Project 4, Quezon City, 1800 Metro Manila, Philippines
Phone: +63 947 560 1853
All images used in this article credit: Hapag
Follow Melissa’s food adventures at instagram.com/foodfiens2020
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