High concept modernity and the homey familiarity of Filipino comfort food rarely feel they belong together. At Big Plate restaurant, however, they've made it work. From the tasty fusion approach they've taken with old Pinoy favorites to their chic but comfy interiors and the way they're recycling energy from their aircon to heat water, this is one restaurant that's serious about bringing the Filipino dining experience into the 21st century. They’ve even invested in their own organic farm and commissary, on top of state-of-the art technology for their kitchen. All of these serves as a foundation for a restaurant the owners hope will become part of the Filipino tradition.
So how successful are they? Only time will tell but they certainly are off to a good start. Just in the midst of their soft opening, phase, they have already attracted a steady crowd. Why?
Let's start with the ambiance. Yeah, I know you never order it, but you pay for it anyway -- and it really does affect the pleasure of eating. There's a clean, casual, modern-but-organic feel to Big Plate's interior with its mostly green and white scheme, accented by colorful Maranaw vinta themes on its quirky furniture , runners, and its walls. There's a very family-friendly vibe to the place. The tables are also big -- as CEO Rainier David says, they designed the place so that a table normally used for six people at other restaurants is made to seat four here. Which turned out to be very good, as when the food arrived the restaurant's name was proven to be no lie!
Yes, Big Plate really serves BIG plates. With servings to match -- big connotes a feast , hence the name Big Plate, David explains. The typical order here is good for two, easily three if you're light eaters. We got to sample some of their best sellers: For starters we had the Creamy Pumpkin Soup, Bangus Sisig Balls, Lumpiang Dagupan, and Big Plate's House Salad with beef tapa. For our main course David had us try the Crispy Binagoongan, Grilled Prawns with Bagoong Rice, and the Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs with Sweet Potato. And for dessert, it was their two most popular meal-toppers, the killer Coco Mango Panna Cotta and Carrot Cake. Visually, these dishes were a breeze to shoot - they all looked good, and they smelled so good it was easy to get inspired! Amount-wise, we were totally overwhelmed. Immobilized afterward was more like it.
For starters, we had the Creamy Pumpkin Soup. Squash soup is one of my favourite soups, something I always ask Cat to make at home. Although we have it every now and then, I have never tasted it with eggplant so Big Plate’s version comes as a refreshing change, the smokey flavour of the roasted eggplant adding lushness to the pureed soup.
Bangus Sisig Balls
We've had the Bangus Sisig Balls twice already, and we'll probably have it every time we visit Big Plate. These are fried croquettes filled with tinapang bangus flakes, served with aioli and sweet and sour sauce on the side; I prefer it with the aioli. The Lumpiang Dagupan, as you might expect, are also filled with bangus, very light and crispy.
Big Plate House Salad
Cat and I also loved the Big Plate House Salad, a green salad jazzed up in a uniquely Filipino way by the inclusion of homemade beef tapa bits and mango cubes. The sour-salty-meaty taste of the tapa made a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the mango and really set off the greens well, and for this diehard carnivore, it's a great way to make me eat and enjoy my veggies.
Grilled Prawns with Bagoong Rice
Next up were the Grilled Prawns; fresh, fleshy, and full of flavor, and as David explained to us, there was no need for a sauce because the sauce was already inside. To a true Filipino there's no pleasure like sucking out the juicy insides of a prawn head, and the heads of these prawns were especially flavorful. Unfortunately this Pinoy is asthmatic and allergic to crustaceans, so I only had the courage to try one head. It was so good!
Another sinfully delicious treat was the Crispy Binagoongan, crisp-fried slices of pork liempo on a bed of bagoong sauce and eggplant. Unlike many a binagoongan dish we have eaten, this had a light hand with salt -- in fact, this can be said for all the dishes we tried -- so I didn’t mind chewing and crunching the meat even though it was unfortunately fried a little too long. Still, Cat said she liked this version a lot and thinks it’s a better alternative to the salt-drenched, sweat-inducing binagoongan dishes we usually encounter.
Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs with Sweet Potato
The entree I got to enjoy the most was the Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs with Sweet Potato; a very rich take on kaldereta, with a thick sauce made even richer by the scoops of buttery mashed sweet potato floating in it. This dish was a must-have in my mind as soon as I saw it on the menu, as I like the full flavour and tenderness of slow-cooked meat; Big Plate did not disappoint, as I got the beef falling off the bone and so tasty I would've gnawed the ribs afterward if my wife hadn't stopped me! It was no surprise to learn that this is one of their bestsellers.
Coco Mango Panna Cotta
For dessert, we tried the Coco Mango Panna Cotta and Carrot Cake. The panna cotta -- another bestseller -- is again one of Big Plate's very successful Filipinizations of an international dish, as they substitute coconut milk for dairy cream in it. The fragrant nuttiness of the coconut milk perfectly complemented the sweetness of the mango topping. This is one dessert that manages to be rich and refreshing at the same time, a difficult combination to achieve.
Finally, after almost having our fill of all of the above, we ended with the Carrot Cake. Finished it. ‘Nuf said.
There's also something for the kids, David points out: Spaglug, which as the name suggests, is a mix of spaghetti and pancit luglug. Hmmm, Filipino fusion, indeed. Then there's the Big Plate Burger; Big Plate's Tasty Fried Chicken, and the Creamy Adobo Pasta.
Big Plate enjoys a strategic location along President's Avenue at the corner of Elizalde, by the old Caltex station. It's one of the most conspicuous dining places you'll see on your way in if you're coming from Sucat Road, and thanks to its being right beside the station, it has ample parking. Big Plate is seriously targeting the events market, so it’s made its facilities to match. The second floor can comfortably seat one hundred plus another forty on the verandah, and there’s a small function room that can seat thirty with a seminar-type layout.
Best of all, I may be able to eat at Big Plate even in Makati or the Ortigas area soon, as this restaurant is branching out in 2011. CEO David says he and his partners plan to grow this concept into a chain by next year, with the BF Homes branch serving as headquarters and training ground for future staff. Currently they have a preferential hiring policy, giving back to the community by giving priority to hiring BF residents. In other words, eating at Big Plate helps give your fellow BF Homers jobs!
Watch out for their grand opening on November 27!