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Food and Leisure

The Hungry Hound is now howling

IN BETWEEN DEADLINES - Cheryl Tiu - The Philippine Star

They are on such a super-soft opening that they don’t even have a phone number yet. But because Ghost Month came in the way, they went for it anyway. Just last Aug. 6 — the night before the seventh month of the Chinese lunar year, which advises against conducting business deals, among other things — The Hungry Hound opened its doors to the public.

Although meant to be quiet, posts on social media by the owners of their work in progress — from their food-tasting to the dry run to those decadently sinful Duck Fat Fries — had already piqued curiosity, so much so that a Twitter photo posted just two days after they opened had them at near-full capacity.

I walked into the gastropub on the ground floor of the new Globe Tower at Bonifacio Global City for lunch the day that Typhoon Labuyo decided to make landfall in the Philippines. Despite looking dark and dreary as night, the place maintained an audience. The space, predominantly of wood, with long tables, paisley print chairs, large customized wrought iron “halo” lamps, and an open kitchen is hip, casual and unpretentious.

Freestyle gastropub

The Hounds are a powerhouse cast — Erik Cua, Rob Pengson, Erwan Heussaff, Carlo Trillo, Marc Soong and Kim Yao — who have each have carved a name for themselves in their respective fields. They’ve come together for the first time for the newest freestyle gastropub in the country.

“The inspiration for Hungry Hound was the gastropub culture, first started by The Eagle in London in 1991,” explains chef-owner Rob, whose fine-dining restaurant The Goose Station introduced the concept of modern degustation to Manila. “Originally, pubs there were for drinking only, serving Ploughman’s lunches of sliced ham and toasted pickles. But when David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle, they put some serious thought into what went into the food, so they coined the term ‘gastropub’ — a good place to eat and drink.”

At Hungry Hound, however, it’s not completely traditional, Rob points out, as they have items on the menu with Asian and Filipino influences like sweet chili, kimchi, and even bacon-silog. “I have always held the principle that a chef should express who he/she is and not copy a cuisine or concept that isn’t theirs. This way there is more character. Like I always say, French food is special if you are French or have experienced the French lifestyle so much that it is practically in your blood; otherwise you are just copying a concept. It’s not personal. I like the words ‘freestyle gastropub,’ as it allows us to anchor the idea on one concept, but gives us the ability to play around with what we know and who we are.”

Good, old-fashioned cooking

At the helm of the kitchen are chef de cuisine Gilbert Gomez, who worked at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne in New York, and sous chef Jerome Opriano, formerly of The Goose Station. “Our philosophy is that simple food cooked where almost everything is made in-house from fresh ingredients can be great,” shares Rob. “Our mothers have known this from way back. Now there are too many commissaries, powdered stock mixes and instant sauces. Our goal is for 95 percent of things to be made in-house — eventually even our own ketchup and mayonnaise.”

I was looking forward to the Duck Fat Fries (P345), which was already a celebrity in its own right on Twitter and Instagram.  Cooked in duck fat and tossed with roasted garlic, 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley and thyme, it sounds deadly, yes, but don’t make the mistake of looking to taste the duck — you’re not supposed to. Actually, duck fat has a high smoke point, so fries are crisper and definitely more pronounced. And that the cheese is aged 36 months gives it more depth and piquancy. It’s a great dish for pica-pica and to share, although at some point, you will find your hand reaching for it more often — and by the handful — and unfortunately, more than your waistline would like you to.

The Angel Sliders (P275), shares Carlo, was the dish that ranked popular and favorable with most people. It is his personal favorite as well. And I can see why. Fresh breaded oysters are layered with cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, pickled onion and remoulade, on a soft bun. I liked that it was a combination of several flavor profiles and textures — smoky, salty and sweet; crisp and creamy — all at once. Because of the great feedback, they are soon coming out with the Archangel, the full-sized version of this sandwich, but this time with prunes/ dates.

Corned Beef Rillette (P220) is simple sous vide corned beef paté with smoked Cuba Libre onions (yup, just like the drink — Coke and rum caramelized onions) served on crostinis. That Beach Salad (P365) is a refreshing mix of greens, watermelon, mango, cilantro, sweet chili, red onion and fish nuggets. The Roasted Half Chicken (P690) is sous vide chicken breast topped with chorizo mushroom gravy, served with sweet potato puree, and fine beans. “It’s simple mother’s cooking,” shares Rob. “We used sweet potato mash instead of potato to mark our pub with a little local flavor.”

The bar next door

Separated just by red velvet curtains is the adjacent bar, Niner Ichi Nana (which means “917” — go figure), the craft cocktail bar helmed by Erwan, to open sometime next month. It will feature 28 cocktails based on seven premium liquors — all original recipes. “We are flying in a mixologist, Din Hassan, from Bitters and Love in Singapore, to train our bartenders.”

They will also have four draft systems, with Stella and Hoegarden as the mainstays, and Paulaner and Floris on rotation, as well as five craft beers. Wine, both by the glass and by the bottle, is also available.

A long bar crafted from brown marble and gold-painted steel bars sits as the focal point against the black and white Machuca tiles. Eyes are drawn to the custom-made wrought iron against the floor-to-ceiling-glass windows that offer privacy, yet encourage sunlight to come in. “We really want to push people to sit at the bar and reserve the bar seats,” shares Erwan. “I really want to train our bartenders to talk to people. We are also doing our own infusions, syrups, and everything will be done from scratch.” Surprisingly, though, with this kind of quality, the cocktails are priced very reasonably, starting from P250. Erwan shares that although it might be a bold move, if someone orders a rum and coke and he is around, he will try to convince them to order their craft cocktails instead. “We want to educate.”

There is a small open-air space next to it, predominantly wood, which will have a vertical garden. “It will be like our cove, and it’s also very New York style.” There’s also a staircase leading up to the Globe Store, where Illy coffee can be had, and eventually in the future, a possible venue for events or small screenings, and in the event Niner Ichi Nana has a spillover. 

Soft opening reinvented

Instead of blaming Ghost Month for pushing them to open a month earlier than their targeted date, the partners have redefined their soft opening into the evolution of their menu — adding or subtracting dishes based on customers’ feedback. That’s exactly what it’s about — progression based on what works and doesn’t work to keep on improving rather than a sorry excuse for a team that’s not yet ready for public scrutiny.

I was surprised that even Rob himself repeatedly asked me for my honest feedback on the dishes. You don’t get that too often these days. Sometimes, when you tell the chef that a burger is burnt or flavors are sparse, their egos propel them to react in an angry “my way or the highway” kind of way, making you think that they opened a restaurant for all the wrong reasons. It’s the same way that we newspaper and magazine writers and editors don’t write for ourselves but for our readers. The formula of a successful, long-standing restaurant always comes with humility and being open to improvement to make the paying customers — who are, after all, kings — happy.

This is what’s going to keep people hungry for The Hound.

* * *

The Hungry Hound Pub & Kitchen is located at the Ground Floor, Globe Telecom Tower, 32nd Street corner 7th Avenue (across MC Home Depot), Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. You can reach them at http://www.twitter.com/HungryHoundPH.

For reservations call 0916-6964385 or e-mail [email protected].

* * *

You can reach me at http://www.twitter.com/cheryltiu or email [email protected].

 

COM

DUCK FAT FRIES

ERWAN

GHOST MONTH

GOOSE STATION

HUNGRY HOUND

NEW YORK

NINER ICHI NANA

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