Words and Images: Shamim de Brún
This week Filipino Food Truckers Bahay popped up and took residence at Mae, Ballsbridge’s little French darling. We finagled our way to a table to taste the fusion of Filipino, Irish and French cuisine, and it was a meal to remember.
Richie Castillo, who had worked with Grainne O’Keeffe, head chef of Mae, created a menu. Each dish took us through the fusion of cultures that makes up Filipino culture. Together he and his partner in business and life, Alex O’Neill, hosted a grade A quality meal. It seemed to explore memories and culinary traditions while also being forward-thinking and incredibly tasty.
No stranger to the pop-up life, this duo had a residency at Roe & Co Distillery last year, headed a sell-out weekend at Hen’s Teeth, won Best Front of House at Taste of Dublin, and this week they’re popping up at Mae before cycling back to the festival circuit later this summer. After the success at Beyond the Pale their next pop-ups include Otherside Festival and Another Love Story. All while being a family operation. Richie, a trained chef, and his father have worked on many recipes together since Bahay’s inception.
The meal felt like an academic seminar where we learned the complex ethnic history of the Philippines. But it was also like a family scrapbook – intimate anthropology told in beloved recipes and reclaimed ingredients. Like the citrus fruit they import themselves directly from the Philippines, Clamansi.
Calamansi is a native Philippine citrus fruit that has been a staple of Filipino cooking for ages. The flavour is a very tart combination of lemon, lime and orange. It was a revelation. And I’m not even being hyperbolic.
Whatever their logistics, this pop-up allows them to innovate and experiment; creating a community that lasts only as long as the meal.
To start, guests were offered a specially designed fizz from Fench Paradox and a trio of snacks. The smoked pork adobo ribs shine brightly topped with crunchy chives. All over the world, people love adobo. Here it’s heavy on the bay leaf. Not too sticky for fingers and slathered on meat that falls smoothly from the bone.
“Maitake” means dancing mushroom in Japanese. It brings as much joy to your pallet here covered in Bahay’s signature banana ketchup glaze. On the maitake this ketchup is the perfect balance of spicy and sweet.
But the leeks had us picking our shattered jaws off the floor. You’d think I’d have had enough butter in my life to be able to identify the beauty of this insal butter but it left me searching for words that don’t seem to be in my vernacular. All I can say is I wish I’d savoured it more.
There are few greater pleasures than a perfectly cooked scallop. The dish arrived at the perfect temperature, with the shellfish being the perfect golden-brown top and bottom. They were perfectly firm to the touch but still slightly soft with a little bounce. The burre blanc was plate licking good, and if this weren’t part of a whole series of courses, I’d have asked for bread to sop it up with. If they bottled this, I’d buy it for all my relatives.
Referred to by Alex as the most challenging dish of the night; it was undoubtedly one to wake up your cosy pallet. The crunch of the challot glaze teamed well with the roe’s bursting salinity and the crew texture of the cherry. Each mouthful was a textual highlight.
The entire menu was unified in its pitch-perfect texture every time. It’s rich and not for everyone, but it’s the one I’m most likely to try and emulate at home. Though I’m aware I’ll never get it half as good.
Pork gets neglected in favour of beef nine times out of the dozen dishes so high-end tasting menus in the city. So it’s nice to see it centre stage here and not as a starter or addendum to a dish. Presa is considered to be the most delicate cut of the Iberian pig. It is the cut attached to the shoulder at the head of the loin.
Iberico meat has a very high marbling content and is the pork equivalent of wagyu beef. The Presa was cooked slowly over charcoal and served medium-rare. The char from the coals tag-teamed with the sheer perfection of the mang tomas jus gras like they were The Dudley Boyz.
They served the meat with a perfectly cooked rice ball that they had lightly fried. And a side of fried puto green beans in bagoong butter. Both wonderful supporting characters are worthy of more attention. Kind of like as if they were a supporting character played by
A much lighter than it looked cake bread coated in coconut sugar and served with calamansi curd. Sold. The perfect level of sweet to keep me coming back for more even when I said I was too full for another bite.
For sixty four euros, each guest in the room took a personal trip into Richie’s heritage via his food. Alex’s deft hosting brought all the moving parts together through her descriptions and genuine passion for the communion of food and the diner. This meal pole-vaults stereotypes, and here Richie and Alex prove to the willing Dublin audience that Filipino food is as Haute as any nouvelle cuisine. If there are tickets left, I’d suggest you catch that train before you’re left hungry at the station.
Elsewhere on Char: Tasting Everything Hen’s Teeth