After my podcast on Chef Cecille Chang’s Thai Bistro earlier this year, I eat there three more times. Its location is so out of the way for me but every meal I eat there is worth it. It’s a relief and a gift therefore, when Cecille tells me that she’s opened another Thai restaurant in a more accessible location, this time at the Fort.
This new place harnesses the strengths of its progenitor and hones them to a fine point; the result is a tour de force of old favorites fused with new imaginings. Silk Road is slick and classy, a modern bistro feel illuminated by the lit-up bar area where some very premium tipples are prominently positioned. Begin your meal or your evening with a cocktail – both classic and Thai, or some specialty drinks.
I will have to come back for the libations because tonight, I’ve got a hankering for explosive flavors. The best way to ease into the new is to revisit the old (favorites). Cecille has been serving Mieng Kham (P195) since Thai at Silk, her first restaurant years ago. The dish has undergone several presentations and this time, the handiwork is done for me: all I’ve got to do is open up and bite down.
The expanse of each betel leaf grasps an array of fascinations: dried shrimp, roasted coconut, chopped shallots, ginger, palm sugar, and more, lubricated with a lush and smoky caramel. A single slice of fresh chili invites fire power, remove it at will. Or not. Whatever you choose, the resulting mouthful is a myriad of spectacular sensations: sweet, smoky, herbaceous, nutty, a dish that bites back.
I remember Cecille telling me that the Thai Ravioli (P330) is absolutely laborious to make so only a certain number are available each day. Steamed rice paper, shiny in its almost-translucence, cossets shiitake mushrooms and minced beef bearing just a breath of sesame oil, the earthy flavor perking up with the accompanying lime-fish sauce. I consider myself blessed whenever I nab an order of this.
The Moules Thai (P320) is one of the new dishes, “my favorite,” attests Ruben, Silk Road’s very able manager. When I’m in the mood for something new, he’s never failed to steer me to a dish I inevitably fall for. The Moules Thai is no different. Redolent with coconut milk and a bouquet of herbs, it’s neither hot nor cold but more-more-more! The mussels are plump and meaty, imported specimens. Before I know it, I’m creating my own soundtrack of slurp and suck together with the smacking of my lips.
Silk Road is one of those rare Manila restaurants bolstered by a very competent and well-trained staff, certainly testament to Cecille’s meticulous training of them. The servers have mastered the dance of serve-and-disappear. Our water glasses are dutifully refilled only when almost empty, a dropped fork is replaced almost by magic, and the staff never hovers but is there when needed. Then there’s Ruben, one of those restaurant managers that every restaurateur dreams of having. Supremely competent and eagle-eyed, not a bad meal will be had when he’s in the house. If Cecille isn’t around or is in the kitchen, ask for him if you need help with dish or drink recommendations.
The food at Silk Road speaks of a Filipino chef whose love for Thai cuisine is clear. Years of study and a through immersion into the country’s culture has allowed Cecille to strike a harmony among ingredients while allowing each individual element to sing. Consider her Whole Sea Bass Deep Fried Served with Lemongrass Dressing (P110/100 grams), a dish I’m told she spent a long time refining. Flayed of skin and meat but tastefully so, this fish is not a dish that makes a pretty picture, but oh how it astounds!
Each morsel is moist contrasting in texture with its crispy outside. The fish is lavished in a lemongrass sauce that’s simultaneously sour and sweet, with a “breather” provided by the crispy basil leaves. You’ll be asked if you want the sauce tossed or on the side. Either is fine, and should you not want sea bass, it comes in tilapia too.
Som Tam (papaya salad) is a refreshing side providing freshness and crunch to the fish. I like playing with the sour-salty elements by adding fish sauce and vinegar from the condiment tray provided.
Cecille uplifts familiar favorites such as the famous Pad Thai (P340) with an eye to beauty. Noodles are encased in an elegant net made from eggs that are whisked, strained, and allowed to rest, enabling a luxurious drizzle. Al dente and exquisitely made, I say that you can’t find a better (and better looking) pad thai in Manila.
A fine meal rounds off well with the Silk Road Dessert Sampler (P295). The trio of ice creams in coconut, mango, and durian might be overly strong for some but the sticky rice with mango – hot and yes, sticky – suffices beautifully. The tako, coconut pudding with a thick topping of coconut cream, is the best I’ve found in Manila – exceedingly soft and creamy. I feel however, that the Tab Tim Grob, red rubies, could be softer and afforded more coconut milk.
Silk Road has much going for it, and much of it redounds to the diner’s benefit: accessible location; ample parking, though not all the time, unfortunately; and comfortable, classy interiors. It’s a meal that echoes the tenets of Thai cuisine as exhibited by a masterful chef: a remarkable syntheses of flavors, colors, and textures, and truly memorable.
Net Quad Corporate Center
4th Avenue corner 31st street
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig (across Kuppa and near Shi Lin).
(02) 824 1678 / 0923 421 8294
Open Monday – Sunday, 11:30am – 3pm; 5:30pm-12midnight