When Azzurro closed its doors in Glorietta 4 in 2003, and seemingly disappeared off the culinary planet, most of its long-time patrons were dismayed. Where did Azzurro go? Where would they now go for their fix of foie gras, paella, beef salpicao, and Mediterranean-inspired specialties like spanokopita, mushroom bruschetta, salmon carpaccio, and risotto cakes?
Then out of the blue, Azzurro resurfaced a few months later at their new location away from the flurry that is Glorietta. Serenely ensconced at the second floor of the Somerset Millennium Hotel in Legaspi Village, Makati, it’s been their home since 2003. Naturally, word of mouth has spread, and the restaurant’s old regulars are back to enjoying their favorites, and bringing along new fans as well.
Azzurro was recently renovated and sports spanking new interiors that are a far cry from what was previously dark and heavy. Bathed in soft yellow light, the restaurant’s ambience is gentle and refined. You know you’ll be taken care of here. Light colors dominate, including the polished wooden flooring. There’s a large counter that highlights Azzurro’s choice selection of wines. This is one place that takes its wine selection seriously. (Heart palpitations begin).
To help people become more comfortable with wines, Azzurro holds what they call a “casual evening of friendship, wine, and food.” Once a month, people are invited to come and eat at the restaurant and pair their food with wine. A set menu is offered, (roughly P1,870) and there’s also the option of dining a la carte. People can bring their own bottle of wine, but Azzurro says that they provide more than enough choice.
The night that Danny and I were there, Azzurro’s chef-consultant Philip Golding, had prepared a set menu. I’ve known Chef Phillip since 1999, when he was my chef-instructor at culinary school. He’s English and while I admire his talent, I must say that I don’t fancy him too much. He’s very vocal about the quality (or lack thereof) of local ingredients as well as the professional cooks and diners who eat at Manila restaurants. So querulous is he that I often wonder why he doesn’t just go back to England. He’s also quite eccentric, as you’ll see later on.
Chef Phillip is now stationed at The Grill Room in Mimosa, Clark, home to the Yats International Wine Club, which boasts of a 15,000-bottle wine collection. For the evening, he had brought a Nuits St. Georges 1979 (P4900/bottle); a Porto Barros 1995 (P7500/bottle — who would spend that much on a bottle of liquid?!); and a Macon-Superieur Les Epillets 1999 (P1900/bottle), among others.
I opted to have just the house red wine since I’m not really a wine drinker, and was relieved when Cory Roxas-Untalan, Azzurro’s part owner and Chief Financial Officer shared the same sentiment. She and I got along well and I found her very nice.
Like I said, Chef Phillip is very talented, and our meal that night was indeed superb, starting off with diced duck meat on toast points. It was quickly followed by a trio of bread rolls served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The soup was brought out in a cup similar to a demitasse ”“ a cream of South African fennel with smoked Dutch eel and softly pan-fried scallops. One sip and I wondered no more why it was such a small portion. The soup was lush and intense, its depth contributed to by the smokiness of the eel. When I reached the bottom of the cup, there lay the scallops, waiting as a surprise. After he finished his soup, Danny says, “That soup was so rich, it’s no wonder they served it in such a small cup.” I nodded in reply but said, “Actually, I think I could’ve finished off an entire tureen of that.”
Following our hot appetizer was the cold appetizer: a French quail salad. The quail meat was a bit difficult to slice off the bone (so bony, ick!) but it partnered well with the saltiness of the Mediterranean sausage and the meatiness of the Portobello mushrooms.
Our main course was another exotic meat, venison (deer) striploin slices with cranberry sauce on a bed of celeriac risotto and Australian Brussels sprouts. The meat was very tender and similar in taste to beef, with a hint of gaminess. The risotto was very smooth, a direct contrast to the Brussels sprouts, which had bite, both in crunch and flavor. I regret trying Brussels sprouts only now. They have a flavor that’s a cross between wasabi and hot mustard, plus they’re charming to look at ”“ like small cabbages! I want more.
At about the time I was about to shoot the main course, Chef Phillip ambles over and asks me, “Is that picture for the article you’re writing?” When I nodded, he said, “You know, this food is really not what I’m about. It’s not really about the food. It’s about the wine. People can take pretty pictures and then come to the restaurant wanting to order it, and then forget about the wine. Look at the Brussels sprouts and how well the carrots are sliced. See the people enjoying the wines? One guy even brought his own bottle. That’s what it’s about.” And on and on went his diatribe, mainly centered on what he was about and how much wine meant to him. I almost lost my appetite to take pictures and eat. Who the heck did the guy think he was?
Fortunately, Chef Phillip left and Danny and I enjoyed the rest of our meal. Rounding it out was a lemon and lime citrus meringue with Seville orange segments. Acidic flavors really wake up taste buds that have become a bit deadened with rich tastes. Lastly, crackers and a cheese plate of Gorgonzola and mildly aged cheddar cheese signaled the curtain call on this most fabulous meal dashed with the eccentricities of a mad chef.
2/F Somerset Millennium Bldg.
104 Aguirre St., Legaspi Village, Makati
889-0569 / 8842239