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A NEW MENU from restaurant Mamser, located in the bohemian district Poblacion’s Unwnd Boutique Hotel, combines worldly flair with Pan-Philippine influences. Thanks to a devotion to multi-sensorial experiences, we got to taste the new offerings with dozens of Manila Sound tracks as accompaniment (we didn’t know we’d like Ella del Rosario’s “Shake it Baby” so much).
The menu was launched on May 18 with a collaboration with Luisita Rum (yes, that Luisita; story here: https://www.bworldonline.com/arts-and-leisure/2022/11/10/486088/from-the-land-to-the-bottle/), and its founder, Paco Cojuangco, was there to explain each of the rums to be paired with that evening’s fare.
ADOBO TO LATIK WITH A SIDE OF RUMThe meal started out with Adobo Empanaditas, adobo (meat braised in a vinegar-based sauce) in a buttery pastry. While filling, we found its crust quite hard and dry, but the meat inside tasted like a reward, at least. The crust could be made yielding by dipping it into an adobo sauce that tasted quite nostalgic (all these newfangled adobo recipes tend to leave out the rich brown sauce).
The Squiviche is their take on kinilaw (akin to ceviche, raw seafood in a citrus dressing; the Filipino relative uses vinegar instead), made with raw sliced squid and a tangy marinade of calamansi and vinegar. The squid was wonderfully chewy and provided a contrast to the sharp dressing. This was paired with Luisita Distillate, with just 24-26 hour fermentation (it never touched a barrel), with notes of overripe banana, caramelized sugar, lemon pith, and stonefruit. This had a powerful alcohol note, and a layer that suggested flames, which lingered on the tongue. This was perfect for contrasting the squid’s texture and cleared out the more oceanic flavors.
A Pinakupsan came next, a dish from the Visayas made of pork cooked in its own fat, on a bed of crispy noodles (which was really there for mere garnish, we supposed). This should really have come with some sort of sauce, because we picked at it like chicharon, and it didn’t leave us very satisfied. At least the Luisita Oro cut the pork’s richness and gave it some panache. The Luisita Oro was aged for at least two years in ex-bourbon casks, with notes of their trademark caramelized banana note, spices, and vanilla. This rum is currently rated with 90 points, bringing home a silver from the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in 2022.
Next came the photogenic Triangolo, with chopped shrimps, local cheese, and herbs. All of these wee in a deep-fried molo (dumpling) wrapper. This was served with Luisita Reserva, aged for at least four years in ex-bourbon casks, French oak, and sherry casks. The dish itself was satisfying enough, but the Reserva gave it some excitement, with spicy and fruity notes and some fire coating the tongue with a sensation akin to the last embers in a fire.
Finally, we had Pigar-Pigar, deep-fried beef with slices of onions that’s a hit in Pangasinan. Though light, it had a prominent beef flavor which made one feel quite content. This was paired with Luisita Small Batch, made of a blend of rums aged in casks that once contained bourbon, Sherry Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez; as well as French oak and virgin oak (in that particular cask, the rum has been aging since the 1990s). Now this rum was smoky, with a sharp edge and a scent and initial taste like latik (sugary syrup made from coconut milk).
FUN FILIPINO DININGThe restaurant is named for the phrase used by food service staff to greet customers (and a portmanteau of the western “Ma’am” and “Sir”) said Maui Maricio, who has the title of “The Hustler” (actually Group Marketing Associate Director; the rest of the team have similar fanciful titles such as “Vibe Guru”). “What we wanted to present was a fun Filipino menu, nothing too fine-dining; nothing too snobbish. We wanted comfort food — something that you’d look for when you just want to have a good time, or feel good,” said Ms. Mauricio.
Unwnd is one of the many properties building the Araw Hospitality Group, helmed by the Lhuillier group’s Jean Henri Lhuillier. While known as P.J. Lhuillier, Inc.’s CEO, over at Araw, they call him the Chief Enlightener (but also CEO). Araw’s first outlet was the bar WYP, opened in 2019, and Unwnd followed in 2020, and its restaurant Mamser opening in 2021. They have other properties spread out across the country — in Boracay, Silang, El Nido, and Dumaguete.
While launching with a Filipino menu the first time, it was known for its Latin American menu, transitioning once again to Filipino. Ms. Mauricio said about Mamser, “We want the menu to be constantly evolving.”
Local artifacts are spread around Mamser, and a lot of the ingredients come from local farms, including the fish farm also owned by the Lhuillier family. She also pointed out that they partner with local companies, such as Luisita Rum.
Poblacion in Makati has become a nest for incubating ideas, and Mamser fits right in. “It’s an overall sensorial experience,” said Ms. Mauricio on what the restaurant can offer.
Mamser is also representative of this relatively new coolness to asserting Filipino identity. Up until at least the early 2000s, being Filipino had to be dressed up in something else. These days, indigenous fabrics, crafts, and food are now in the mainstream. “I see the rise in Filipino pride,”said Ms. Mauricio, pointing out those of part-Filipino ancestry (a result of the Filipino diaspora) are “going back to their roots of being Filipino.”
“There’s no better time than now to tell the world that we’re Filipino and we’re proud of it,” she said. “That’s something that we want to highlight.”
Mamser is located at UNWND Boutique Hotel Makati, 5396 General Luna St., Brgy. Poblacion, Makati City. — Joseph L. Garcia