The soul of this spanish chef is in his food
Chef Luis Martinez hails from Valencia, the paella capital of Spain, where his brother runs a restaurant called Alma. The 36-year-old chef has been making paella since he was seven, and was passionate about the family business until his parents told him that, since his brother was already a chef, maybe he should try another industry.
The obedient son studied veterinary medicine and worked “super, super hard” until, burnt-out and badly in need of a vacation, he came here to Siargao five years ago before it blew up as a surfing destination. He fell so hard for the island he decided to quit everything in Spain and move to the Philippines.
“I didn't know what to do until one day I decided, ‘Okay, let's make a hotel here,’” recalls Martinez. With a business partner he built a hotel in Siargao but never got to open because of the pandemic. “So I decided to open a restaurant on the first floor. I opened Alma in the middle of the pandemic — luckily it was working super, super good, we were almost fully booked every day.”
Alma was one of the best — if not the best — restaurant in Siargao at that point, according to those in the know.
“Unfortunately, because of the typhoon that happened in Siargao, Alma is currently under renovation,” notes Monica Modomo, PR manager of the Nikkei Group. “So my bosses, Carlo and Jackie Lorenzana, traveled to Siargao a year ago, and they were introduced by a mutual friend to Luis. Carlo has been in the restaurant industry for decades. He and Jackie were like, ‘Let's open Alma in Manila.’ But because of a few concerns with ownership, they decided to name BGC as the ‘House of Martinez,’ his last name, so Terraza Martinez.”
Terraza Martinez at the Shangri-La Fort Arcade has such a warm, rustic vibe you could almost imagine you’re in Spain. In the open kitchen you can see the handsome (and ladies, take note: single) chef working hard but still greeting guests as warmly as the fires of his stovetop.
“Terraza is Alma, and Alma means ‘soul,’” notes the chef. “This is me, this is Mediterranean style. It’s a place where you can enjoy, where you can feel relaxed with the Spanish food, because this is what I know how to do. And you see your ingredients from the Philippines.”
As my flamenco friends and I settled in with our Sangria Roja, cold and hot tapas started arriving at the table. I loved the Tiradito de Snapper, thinly sliced raw fish drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh tomato, red onion, fried capers and lime zest. Tiraditos are a Nikkei signature but chef Luis makes it his own with crispy rosemary crackers you spread the fish on — a truly winning combination.
Hot tapas like Pulpo (roasted octopus with the crunch of shoestring potatoes), Gambas Al Ajillo (prawns in olive oil with garlic, onions and chili flakes), Croquetas de Calamares (red snapper, prawns and squid croquettes) and Espinacas y Gorgonzola (spinach and cheese croquettes) brought me back to Spain, but chef Luis elevates these classics so they’re as good as or even better than what you get in his motherland.
The paellas, though, are definitely the pieces-de-resistance at Terraza Martinez. “My signature dish is the paellas, because I belong to Valencia, and Valencia is the place of the paellas,” says the chef. “So I've been more than 20 years doing paellas. Even the rice that you are eating is from Valencia, and it reminds me of a place where you can smell the rosemary, the thyme, where you can see the cows. It’s Bomba rice, not jasmine rice.”
We mixed the ingredients of our two paellas — Negra and Vaca — into the hot, flavorful rice… and traveled by taste buds to Valencia. While the Negra is a superb must-order, this was the first time we’d tried “de Vaca,” which is topped with US hanger steak and a generous slab of bone marrow. Bulalo lovers should try this unique and unctuous combination.
I went for the Bacalao Confitado, a boneless fillet with crispy skin that flakes at the touch of a fork; accompanied by a garlic confit, mashed potato emulsion and French green beans, it’s a pescatarian’s dream.
Chef Luis, who plans to create different dishes per week based on the ingredients available, was so kind he even gave us something off the menu: “I’m super-connected with the market and fresh ingredients, so for today I have a Padron pepper — it's a Spanish pepper and it's stuffed with truffle and cheese,” he said. “So it's going to be the next special.”
Eating these Pimientos de Padron is a bit like Russian roulette — while the majority have a pleasant heat, you could get one that’s really spicy — so it’s a really fun dish to have with friends and family.
For dessert our über-thoughtful hosts served a heart-melting Chocolate Coulant lava cake as my “birthday cake,” and my friend Hazel treated us to the other three desserts: a light and crispy Churros con Chocolate, Crujiente de Manzana apple crumble and Tarta de Queso Manchego cheesecake. All were a delightful end to an exceptional meal.
“Luis's purpose here in Terraza Martinez is to use the fresh, seasonal ingredients in Manila and cook it as simply as possible, but in a very elevated and refined way,” Modomo told us. “We're not trying to be fine dining, but a place where you can bring your friends from abroad and show that the Philippines has really, really good, classy restaurants.”
“I’m really happy to be in Manila,” adds chef Luis. “I'm going to be here for a few months then I'm going back to Siargao, to my place. Going back and forth.”
He may be going back to his happy place, but Terraza Martinez has quickly become one of ours.
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Terraza Martinez is located on the GF of Shangri-La at the Fort Arcade (between Pink’s and Maisen), 30th Street corner 5th Avenue, BGC, Taguig, tels. 09667005801, 09454098120 or go to www.nikkei.com.ph/book-a-table. Follow them on Instagram @terraza.martinez.
Follow the author on IG @theresejamoragarceau.