★★★★★| Romulo Cafe, London
There are many undiscovered restaurant gems in London, but I’ve found one that will perhaps not be undiscovered for very much longer.
Romulo Cafe, a restaurant that is a taste of the Philippines in the heart of Kensington (and London), has food that I guarantee you can’t find anywhere else in London. It’s Filipino food that is unique, flavorful, sumptuous and excellent value for the money. But don’t let the name fool you – Romulo Cafe is not really a cafe but a proper restaurant, beautifully designed and perfectly replicates Filipino food and culture, filled with the Romulo family history of General Carlos P. Romulo, hence you feel like you are in his home, with great staff who take care of you like you are family.
But the food – wow the food – it’s just incredible, and at times indescribable. Romulo food is full of recipes passed down from generation to generation, and in Filipino style, sharing is the tradition. But I didn’t want to share the Sizzling Chicken Inasal Sisig – Jack Brand Diced Chicken thighs marinated in annatto sauce, ginger, green chilli, garlic, and lemongrass. Arriving sizzling to your table, it’s the aroma that hits you first – it’s a mix of sweet, nuts and pepper (annatto) – and a dish that has a perfect balance of all ingredients all in harmony – and was simply delicious. My dining companion and I were just simply amazed at how good it was! We carried on with more sharing plates – including the Dingley Dell Pork Belly Adobo which is slow-cooked in soy sauce, garlic and cane vinegar, and this too was simply delicious. Five large pieces of pork swimming in the sauce which tasted a bit like bbq, with a mixture of different coloured potatoes – this is a main course in itself – and so so good. Also so so good was the Kensington Fried Chicken. Four large pieces perfectly cooked (they are marinated with Romulo’s very own adobo mayonnaise and catsup sauce), and nice and brown on the outside, white on the inside, and crunchy. They are just the best! And best of all is that these dishes are great value at less than £8.75 each! Yes, excellent value.
We, of course, had to have rice with our meal, and the large Garlic Fried Rice was just absolutely perfect, with only a hint of garlic which made the ride back home with my friend bearable! We were also suggested to try the Young Jackfruit and Coconut Stew as our vegetable. It was plentiful and was a liquid-like stew with loads of jackfruit, green beans with a small number of chillies but it was the sauce that made the dish absolutely amazing!
And now on to the desserts. I can’t recommend enough the Banana Turon. It’s five banana fritters served warm with a side of toffee sauce. A fritter is, if you don’t know, made in the shape of a spring roll in a hard pastry shell – and inside was the best part-baked banana and jackfruit – for an absolutely yummy experience. Wow! And on the side is jackfruit ice cream – yes, it’s too much but I ate them all! We also had to try the Ube Cheesecake (ube is purple yam, hence the cheesecake is purple) with a graham cracker crust, topped with coconut and served with ice cream – exotic colour and a good flavour! And we also had the Sans Rival – a hard dessert made with dulce de leche and buttercream, cashews, chewy and sweet meringue – while good it did not, and could not, match the cheesecake nor the Banana Turon (which is a steal at £5).
And I can’t finish this review off without mentioning Imelda’s High Heels cocktail. It’s strong (thanks to the Stolichnaya Vodka) with strawberry puree, Crème de Framboise, Crème de Mure and topped with Prosecco. And the kicker – it’s served in a high heel shoe! Ha! Also recommended is the Pinoy Mai Tai – a rum drink with Amaretto, Gran Marnier and pineapple – and it comes in a flaming (literally) Tiki mug! Don’t do what I did and panic and blow it out – let it burn, it’s part of the experience.
Romulo Cafe is also a cafe in front, and there is a private dining room downstairs with a bar and karaoke machine, and the venue is licensed for both marriages and civil ceremonies.
And the experience of eating at Romulo Café is an excellent one. It’s not just the food but the history of the restaurant, which is in the family name Romulo. In 2009, The Romulo family opened up its first cafe in Manila to celebrate the legacy of grandfather General Carlos P. Romulo. The London restaurant honours his memory with a large photo of him (and one of his wife) in the dining room. Meanwhile, their grandfather’s tastes were legend, and cultivated during years following a distinguished war career when he served as Philippine Ambassador to the United States, as President of the United Nations General Assembly (his signature is on the UN charter) and finally as the longest-serving Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines. He was also the first and only Filipino to win a Pulitzer Prize and awarded the highest American civilian award, Medal of Freedom. And he loved food, and Romulo cafe London is a fitting tribute to his memory, with its extremely delicious food, nice and friendly staff, very comfortable surroundings, and a warm welcome from owners Rowena and her husband Chris – the nicest people this side of the river. Romulo Cafe is just simply a perfect place.
Romulo Café London,
343 Kensington High Street
London, W8 6NW
020 3141 6390
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.