November 25, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Top-notch FOO’D at accessible prices

THE IMMEDIATE thing that strikes you when dining at FOO’D, the restaurant by renowned Italian chef Davide Oldani, chef-patron of the Milan-based Michelin-starred D’O, at the Shangri-la at the Fort complex, is the quality of the food you’re having -- which is indubitably top-notch. But what really staggers is the bill that comes at the end of your meal in the establishment.

At a recent visit to try the prix fixe lunch menu at this exceptionally well designed restaurant -- opened last January by Mr. Oldani along with his Philippine associates, Eric Dee of Foodee Global Concepts and Dee’s partners, Niccolo Pizzocheri and Nico Bolzico -- I sat down to a repast which started with an amuse bouche of truffled potato mousse, followed by an antipasto of what could very well be the house signature dish, the Cipolla Caramellata, which is a caramelized onion tart in a pastry crust, topped with 24-month aged Grana Padano gelato, and drenched with hot Grana Padano cream.

For my main course, I had Riso Cochinillo, that is, a slab of suckling pig with shrimps, porcini mushrooms, and radish on a bed of delicious Marsala-sauced Carnaroli risotto.

Dessert was a work of art on a plate comprised of an oval mound of green lettuce gelato, cacao and curried almond crumble, and lemon curd with an artful coat of dehydrated meringue.

The meal, for me, crystallized how one might sample fare in a Michelin-designated dining establishment; but what pleasantly astonished me was how much the entire meal cost, which was way below P1,500, sans wine and coffee.

How could a multi-course meal of that caliber, exceptionally executed, with apparently outstanding ingredients served in an elegant, sleekly-designed contemporary restaurant be so reasonably affordable?

The answer can perhaps be gleaned in Mr. Oldani’s POP cuisine concept which FOO’D executive chef Rowell Niño Acol says translates to accessible luxury fare.

“In a typical Michelin restaurant, you don’t get a four or five-course meal at those prices,” he said, pointing to the restaurant’s just-launched lunch menu which starts with a P500 -- a two-course repast comprised of either an antipasto of Cipolla Caramellata and a main course of veal chicken and prawn on creamy carnaroli risotto, or your choice of the same main course and a dessert of White Tiramisu, that is coffee mousse, a mascarpone sphere, and dehydrated meringue.

Other options are a three-course menu for P800, four courses for P1,200, and five courses for P2,500, with various correspondingly priced upgrades on antipasti, main courses (primo-secondi) and dessert (dolci).

My three-course lunch choice was an P800-prix fixe menu -- it was originally composed of Cipolla Caramellata for the antipasto, spring chicken and prawn for the main course, and White Tiramisu for dessert. I chose to make some upgrades -- to have the cochinillo which had an upgrade price of P200, and paying P150 more for the Lemon Curd. Thus, in all, my bill came to P1,250 -- still exceptionally reasonable for the kind of food I feasted on.

Mr. Acol, who trained in D’O for three months, said Mr. Oldani is able to cut his costs and offer Michelin-quality food in his flagship restaurant by being very systematic about every part of his operation.

For one thing, D’O -- which has an 18-month wait list -- is located in Cornaredo, which is not in Central Milan where the lease would certainly cost Mr. Oldani more.

Also, D’O has a capacity of only 35 seats -- thus is always full for lunch and dinner every day. “He earns way more than a restaurant with, say, 60 or 70 seats but doesn’t get full for either lunch or dinner. Also, he is very conscious about costs in all aspects of his business -- he doesn’t have waiters, and chefs in the kitchen double as wait staff, with even Oldani pitching in, serving the guests and explaining to them the dishes that they order,” Mr. Acol said.

Also, the menu in D’O is made up of dishes with seasonal ingredients. “In sourcing produce, Oldani always chooses those in season, because for him, these are always of better quality and accessible because they cost less than if they were bought out of season,” the FOO’D executive chef explained. “And most, if not all, of the equipment in his restaurant are designed by him. The glassware he uses, for instance, is a little heavier, and not prone to break. Breakage in glasses, in plates, costs money and Oldani always tries to eliminate costs.”

I do not know, for sure, if Mr. Oldani’s POP cuisine concept in its entirety is adopted by the Philippine restaurant which bears his imprint. But this much I can say: the repast I had in the restaurant recently was several notches above what I’ve had in most of the fine dining establishments I have been to in the country, and it certainly cost much less.

I am not going to wrack my brain wondering how FOO’D is able to price the food it has on the menu, but I’m pretty much clear-headed about one thing -- I will be back for more of what the restaurant has to offer, and it will be very soon, for sure.

FOO’D by Davide Oldani is located at the Ground Level, High Street Park, Shangri-la at the Fort, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Call (0917) 711-4469 for reservations and other inquiries.