Despite the GTA being home to almost 200,000 Filipinos, it’s probably fair to say many residents are unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine. That’s something Lester Sabilano and Rudy Boquila hope to change with Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, their new downtown eatery. Taking over the old Rosebud space at Queen at Bathurst, the restaurant puts a contemporary spin on the classic flavours found back in the 7,107 islands. “With Lamesa, we really hope to introduce Filipino food to the mainstream,” Sabilano told us.
After meeting last November through the Kapisanan Philippine Centre—and learning of their mutual passion for Filipino cuisine—the project came together quickly. When the downtown space popped up, they jumped on it, knowing it would give them the accessible location they’d hoped for. Up front, the floor-to-ceiling window provides a stellar view of the street; in the back, leather banquettes are paired with Louis XVI chairs. Since “lamesa” means “table” in Tagalog, the pair felt that the tables should be something special: all cut from the same tree, the solid slabs of wood tie the space together. Still to come is a huge pastel mural by local artist Christine Mangosing inspired by Filipino cigarette wrappers from the ’50s and ’60s.
With Manila having been a major stop on the trade route, Filipino food is an amalgam of various culinary traditions: Chinese, Spanish, Malaysian and American. Boquila—who recently stepped away from his Gladstone gig to cook for bands like U2—has put together a short menu that changes daily. When we dropped by, his deconstructed take on adobo was on offer: a pork belly confit is served with soy, vinegar and bay leaf, a smear of black garlic purée and a side of house-made chayote pickles ($23). His version of sisig features crisp-fried chicken mixed with a mirepoix of ginger, garlic, chilies and onions. A fried egg is then perched on top, alongside Filipino pico de gallo ($8). Boquila tells us that the dish is traditionally made out of pork face; American soldiers stationed on the islands would eat the best parts of the animal, so the story goes, leaving the rest for the locals to get creative with. To finish it all off, the turon empanada is a plantain-stuffed pastry served with house-made jackfruit ice cream and a smear of berry coulis ($8). And for those hoping to get a fuller culinary tour of the Philippines, the five-course tasting is only $35.