As a color, red is the most exciting of all the hues on the color wheel. It incites rapture, ardor, and amour. It also stimulates appetite and is the color of several foods, mostly lusty, gusty ones. To center a restaurant on such a concept is a captivating endeavor, and one that surely invites several interpretations.
Occupying the spot of the former Cheval Blanc at the Makati Shangri-La, Red has been open since November of last year. On the receiving end of that complex yet effective machinery called word of mouth, it has been catapulted to the top of every serious food lover’s “must-try” list. And why not? As the hotel’s Executive Chef Christopher Romine says, “There’s something for everyone. The first time people hear ”˜red’, it makes them think a little bit. People come in with different ideas and expectations. I think that’s what makes it exciting.”
It’s a restaurant that’s been injected with life, the heavy drapes of its predecessor giving way to big windows that let in the light. One can’t miss the glass panels that delineate the bar from the dining room, where a hundred ingredients are etched onto its surface. The bar has a curvilinear table that rotates 190°, an architectural marvel that can immediately alter the configuration of the bar area. Refined touches are reflected in the starched white tablecloths and sculpted glass napkin holders. The scattered touches of red are evident yet elegantly underscored: in the high back red chairs, the stucco paintings intensified by bold red brush strokes, and of course, the red food.
Filipino Sous Chef Jojo Borlagdan is at the helm of this impressive undertaking, which focuses on top quality produce and meat. It was Chef Romine who was with us that day, and he described the menu as such: “Nothing on the menu is over the top. We’ve really made food of the highest quality but simple enough to the point that everyone can enjoy. At some restaurants you come in and you’re not really sure what you’re getting, but here the products really speak for themselves.”
We were served a tasting plate of the two popular appetizers at Red ”“ the Crispy Oysters with spicy tomatoes and chorizo for spice, accompanied with a three-mustard aioli. On another plate was the crab two ways, a deep-fried crunchy soft-shell crab and a nice New England-style crab cake. Both starter dishes had a diminutive crunch in the mouth accented with the piquancy of their sauces ”“ a subtle explosion of tastes and a promise of more to come. We were also treated to an extra dish of the pan fried foie gras and barbecued eel, a truly inventive dish capitalizing on an interplay of salty and sweet, smoothness and satin. Culinary imagination incarnated.
Not to be sidelined, there are a few soups that go well with the potato-bacon bread that is served with herb butter. Aside from the onion soup, there is a lobster bisque and Chef Romine’s personal favorite, the New England clam chowder. Rich and robust, it gets its heartiness from heavy cream and is thickened by a natural reduction. Chef Romine says it should be thick enough to be eaten with a fork. Not quite, but his description made our group laugh.
While the chefs at Red exercise much personal creativity with the appetizers and desserts, the main courses are obviously the stars, with the steaks taking center stage. Much celebrated are the chilled steaks, a 12-ounce New York Strip, and an 8-ounce Beef Fillet. Presently, Red is the only restaurant in the country that serves chilled steaks. How different is chilled from frozen beef? “Like night and day,” affirms Chef Romine. “The most important part about serving a chilled steak is you know exactly the shelf life of the steak. It’s 45 days for a chilled, vacuum-packed steak. With frozen steaks sometimes, you never really know how they were handled. For chilled steaks, you know how long it’s been aged, you know how long it’s been handled, you know how fresh it is. We’re bringing it in (from the US) twice a month because demand’s been so strong. A frozen steak is great if it’s been properly handled and properly thawed out. But with a chilled steak, it’s never been frozen. With a frozen steak, it develops a thin film and when you thaw it out, the blood comes out and the juices. With chilled meat, it never really bleeds when you grill it until you slice it.”
Other steak specialties include a Porterhouse, Prime Rib Eye, Australian Sirloin, and Australian Lamb Chops all served with one’s choice of Green Peppercorn, Mushroom, or Bearnaise sauce. Complete your main course with two of several side dishes: potatoes (baked, mashed, fried, sautéed, or au gratin), creamed spinach, steamed asparagus, skillet roasted mushrooms, and my personal favorite, the Australian roasted pumpkin. Baked with butter and honey, the slow cooking caramelized and intensified the vegetable’s natural sweetness. Divine. Superb Australian pumpkin baked with butter and honey.
Just as satisfying as the meat dishes are the seafood entrees: the very popular crusted Chilean sea bass, the “shellfish bowl,” which is a sampling of lobster, sea bass, salmon, and prawns, fish steaks, lobster, and other seafood offerings. The menu is continental and very balanced with an equal amount of choices that will please every diner.
Red is all about balance, as Chef Romine stresses. It shows in the menu, in its clientele ”“ people in suit and tie dining at tables next to those who are more casually dressed. Much effort has been put in to making Red very much like a free-standing restaurant. “Of course it’s part of the hotel, but we want it to be its own individual restaurant. We weren’t looking at a high check average, but we wanted to get a lot of guests in,” says Chef Romine.
With a meal as outstanding as that, would dessert be nothing but superfluous? Dessert can serve as the last thought and taste that lingers. Our taste buds flirted and then gave in to the Valrhona Chocolate Cake, that now famous cake with the molten center. In between, we slurped and spooned into our mouths the Chilled Strawberry Soup, which came with red sorbet, strawberries and a red sugar cage. We ended the meal sated and satiated, feeling the rush of a remarkable meal at Red.
Ayala Avenue, Makati