Romulo Cafe: Arrive Hungry At This Kensington Filipino Kitchen

Romulo Cafe ★★★★☆

By Lydia Manch Last edited 8 months ago

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Romulo Cafe: Arrive Hungry At This Kensington Filipino Kitchen Romulo Cafe 4

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DIY duck leg bao: Romulo Cafe in Kensington.

This is the first Romulo Cafe to shore up in London, with three already in Manila. Cosy interior, family run, adorned with photos of the grandfather it's named for: the Kensington spot reads a lot like one of those restaurants that your mate opens as a passion project.

The classics are on the menu, and it's the inasal sisig — strips of chicken thigh in achiote, ginger, chilli and a hell of a lot of garlic, served sizzling — we fall for hardest. It's the one we finish every smear of, when massive over-ordering leaves us struggling to get through other dishes. However it's all good — the evening is comprised of a long series of tropical-undertoned, Spanish-influenced reasons to be happy about the way that Filipino food's on the rise in London.

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So... in retrospect, you don't need to order as much as we did. You don't need double rice for two, not if you've got the crispy richness of the free-range pork belly adobo still to come; not if you've polished off a few pandesal — warm, fluffy Filipino rolls — just because they were there, and good at soaking up inasal sisig sauce. Not if you expect to be able to do justice to the jackfruit and coconut stew, the jackfruit in big, pineappley chunks with the firmness left in, leaning in to its fruitiness rather than treating it as mock pork. You do need the one rice you share to be the garlic fried rice, though; that's what the warm sillage is, hanging in the air, sticky, garlicky carbs being taken to neighbouring tables.

This place isn't a solemn tour through the orthodoxies of Filipino cuisine. It's a bunch of enthusiastic people having fun with Filipino food traditions: they do a Filipino twist on afternoon tea; they do purple yam cocktails. DIY duck bao come with a chunk of confit leg and plum sauce, in a bao-meets-crispy-duck-and-pancakes ritual. The more traditional beers are on hand, but they've also got some tropical-influenced cocktails and a wine list crammed with muscular New World reds and aromatic whites — nearly all of them by the glass — that can stand up to the food's warmth.

And dessert's worth saving room for here. If you can. You can expect the vivid, kitsch-looking appeal of purple yam cake to be taking over your Instagram this year — Romulo Cafe's ube cheesecake's one that actually deserves the airtime and stomach space, though, with that sweet-but-earthy butchness you get from root veg desserts.

Maybe in the future London will have a trio of Romulo outposts, to match Manila. For now, we're pleased this one's dropped anchor in Kensington.

Romulo Cafe, 343 Kensington High Street, W8 6NW.

Last Updated 15 May 2019