Sunday, 2 March 2014
Restaurant: Lutong Pinoy
Location: Earl’s Court
By Boeing: 11187 miles
By Boris Bike: 4.3 miles
Earl’s Court is a melting pot borough of different cultures and waves of immigration. It is therefore no surprise that as the forecourt of the tube gives way to the street the diner is not short of exotic options for a cheap, intriguing meal. Most are not the kind you would research or book, but rather come across when walking with mounting hunger in unfamiliar streets. But then an unexpected discovery can have a certain innate charm. Down an unassuming side street among a dazzling blur of lurid illuminated signs is Lutong Pinoy. As if fearful of being mistaken for more popular, more profitable regional cuisines it proudly displays its country of origin.
You wouldn’t call it an enticing entrance. In fact as you push open the door you feel as comfortable as a conservative peer walking into a welsh valley working man’s club. Chattering groups follow your progress with enquiring eyes. You are clearly encroaching on a secret, a cultural refuge. Like several other restaurants on this journey the bar was roofed, that is to say given a thatched top in the manner of provincial rep staging of South Pacific. Half way through the restaurant four unnecessary steps lead to a mezzanine balcony, where most of the tables are scattered.
I was pleasantly surprised that the menu was extensive, featuring noodle dishes, aromatic broths, rice medleys, seafood specials and grilled meats. I was less enamoured with the repeated references to tripe and the unfortunate habit of topping a perfectly pleasant dish with an offending egg.
The last taste of Filipino hospitality I had enjoyed was a wedding on the Isle of Sheppey where the party began as the guests arrived, song commenced during the nuptials and karaoke resumed the evening’s shift after the last beat of the first dance. There is no place for British resolve in their raison d’etre. This lust for life and all its pleasures was demonstrated by our fellow diners, a group of business girls and friends whose number was augmented to a cackle of excitable welcomes every ten minutes or so. The volume, as far as I’m aware unamplified by technology, was extraordinary. The shrill laughs and cackles of amusement were, fuelled by wine, piercing. It made any other conversation within the post code a futile endeavour. The waiter, seeing our discomfort, leant forward apologetically and explained with pride ‘they are celebrating’. Celebrating life: celebrating not having seen each other for several days.
As I have done many times before I masked a slight unease by ordering more dishes than is civil. This included a bowl of fried sticky chicken to start , followed by no less than two national culinary marvels. The first was Beef Kare-Kare. This was a stew with a peanut sauce, aubergine and green beans. Though it sounds very much like satay, it was in fact quite different, far less sweet and textured. It was more like a deeply flavoured stir fry, that had been semi-submerged in a rich sauce. The second was Crispy Pata, a deep fried pork shin in a sweet sauce. It had the heft and cloyingly fatty aroma of something that dwells at the bottom of a chicken cottage bargain bucket but was in fact not dissimilar from a German Schweinhaxen. This too came in a sweet sauce.
There is little delicate about the Philippine palate it seems and with my indelicate choices my belt was straining after the main course. But you have to toil when cultural, culinary education is at stake. Halo, Halo I thought, when revisiting the menu, struggling for breath from gluttony. The pleasingly repetitious confection concoction consisted of crushed ice, milk, mixed fruit, jelly beans, jelly and crème caramel: In short a recipe for a sugar rush headache. Instead I opted for a banana fritter and ice cream, less adventurous but less likely to precipitate an asprin purchase on the journey home. Very sweet and pleasing.
I needed a shoe horn or similar to extricate myself from the seat in which I’d set upon the more calorific corners of the vast laminated menu with ill-advised abandon. You may think of eastern food as slight and fragrant. Not in the Philippines. Not a bit of it. It is a cuisine where you have to front up to the challenge of flavours and fulsomeness.