When I leave a restaurant, I want to feel that my appetite’s been sated, full in the belly so to speak. And if I can buy items that the restaurant serves, that’s even better. This is the idea behind Gastér Deli, a modern European deli and bistro. Incidentally, “gastér” is Greek for belly or stomach. How apropos. Situated on a prominent corner in Ayala Center, it’s really quite a nondescript space except for that name which is anything but (and whether you pronounce ”˜Gastér’ with the accent on the first or second syllable is up to you).
When a restaurant also happens to have a retail section, that’s where my attention diverts to, never mind looking for a table. At Gastér Deli, they specialize in gourmet merchandise imported from key European countries like France, Spain, Greece, and Italy: Illy coffee, pasta brands Divella and Barilla offer fascinating noodle shapes like lisci, cannelloni, and casarecce, biscuits and sweets, a collection of spices and sea salts, and for those who can appreciate them more than I can, an impressive array of international beers and wines. The chillers off to the sides and back hold an exquisite array of cured meats such as Chistorra de Pamplona and Jamon Serrano and sobrasada. My eyes feast on imported stone fruits and leeks almost as big in circumference as a child’s wrist.
While Gastér Deli doesn’t really look European to me, it possesses a particular je ne sais quoi that charms and at the same time, relaxes. The melding of store and restaurant with classic wood detail, unexpected interior accents such as the fancifully shaped lamps and mismatched chairs, together with the strategic placing of gourmet items for sale is altogether seamless. The look is mellow but modern, casual but upscale.
Responsible for serving moderately priced but sophisticated meals is Executive Chef Alexandra Cacho, ably assisted by Gastér Deli Head Chef, Christian (Chris) Kalaw. Kalaw is the former executive sous chef at Swissotel Sydney and who also apprenticed under great Australian chefs Neil Perry and Tetsuya Wakuda. Of Gastér Deli’s food, he describes it as, “…Mediterranean-European cuisine. We use all imported produce and meats, and the caliber of food here is at par or even better than similar restaurants.”
One could have three square meals here ”“ breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Good morning meals can be had with familiar favorites like omelets (P150), Scotch Nova (P270), a riff on the Eggs Benedict except that smoked salmon replaces the traditional ham, Muesli (P120), and the Big Breakfast (P220) ”“ two eggs, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, ciabatta, and hash browns.
Graze throughout the day with sandwiches, pastas, mezze platters, salads, and soups, but I fervently recommend having the main courses for it’s where this restaurant truly sparkles. Consider their oft-ordered Pan Fried Barramundi (P350), a staggering architectural display of fish fillets alternating with eggplants, tomatoes, and zucchini, a monument of strength towering tall in its pool of citrus butter. Sparklingly fresh, it’s topped with a julienne salad that is a citrus rainbow of lemon, lime, and orange. This dish is truly a model of innovation. And inspiration.
The Salmon Confit (P700) is a thoughtfully crafted endeavor. While the fish itself and its accompaniment of a vegetable-stuffed capsicum and a dill beurre blanc is very soft to the point of being mushy, the stirring counterpoint here is brought on by a single layer of crispy fish skin and leaves of arugula for bitterness and bite. You must try all three components together ”“ fish, skin, leaf ”“ for the intended complexity and palate echo. Here, diversity is created subtly.
Chef Chris tells me that what separates Gastér Deli from its counterparts is, “…our food which I’d describe as modern European compared to other restaurants which lean more towards the classical.” Take the requisite steak/meat dish, the Grilled Tenderloin Fillet (P680), which is familiar territory for any bistro. Meltingly charred and smoky, it sits on a throne of velvety potatoes dauphinoise. The dish is topped with a sliver of foie gras and caramelized onions, resplendent in all their glory, sweet and salty. It’s the sauce here that makes this dish, a red wine jus with foie gras and truffle oil butter. Each component sings out loud and clear: the rich earthiness of liver bound with the complexity of red wine, touched by the muskiness of truffles, and rounded out with the silkiness of butter. It’s more than mouthwatering.
While benignly named, the Duck Breast (P750) is anything but. Nary a hint of gaminess, but its slight toughness is not quite offset by a sprinkling of taro chips and potato smash.
Kalaw’s sous chef, Mike Tinsay, shines with his oeuvre on the Osso Buco (P380), the best in Manila. Supple shanks of veal are braised in an outstanding sauce of brown stock and red wine carrying top notes of thyme and rosemary. A dash of orange juice brings this dish to another level along with its pillow-soft polenta. I want to shove the entire dish in my mouth and gobble it down like a madwoman but this isn’t the kind of place where that will be looked upon too kindly. At best, I keep the dish close to me so I can keep stealing bigger and bigger forkfuls. Unfortunately, my eating companion has the same idea.
I’m much impressed with the deft and skill the chefs display with their sauces, and I tell them so. Says Chef Chris, “It’s flavors that I don’t think anyone can produce. We don’t use any thickeners for our sauces, everything is done by reductions or emulsions. The bones for our stock come from Australia, they’re very gelatinous. Nothing comes boxed or tetra-packed here.” I’ll say.
Unfortunately, the desserts (P60-P90) at Gastér Deli don’t echo the previous courses’ greatness. Rather discouraging, tired options like blueberry cheesecake, double chocolate mousse cake, and orange crÃ¨me Brulee are uninspired at best. I’m eager for Gastér Deli to shake off its newness and come into its own where their sweets are concerned. The Swiss Lemon Meringue shows promise however, as does the Iced Lemon Gateau. Instead, ask for the restaurant’s gelato which is not yet on the menu. Made in-house, I try the chocolate, strawberry, mascarpone, and pistachio. Cool and eminently satisfying, it signals a return visit for me to feed my belly.
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Ground Floor, 6750
Breakfast from 7-10am