|Lumpiang Shanghai from La Mesa, Goulburn Street, Haymarket|
The Chinese influence was obvious in our entrée of lumpiang Shanghai: deep-fried spring rolls filled with unidentified minced meat and an array of vegetables, and served with sweet chilli sauce.
While the shape and condiment were both familiar, there was an unexpected flavour profile or seasoning to the lumpiang that made it distinct from Chinese or Vietnamese spring rolls.
The vividly coloured peanut sauce had me thinking curry, although it wasn't spiced and despite looks, it was a little bland. One of the restaurant's most popular dishes, the kare kare was served with bagoong Filipino shrimp paste which added flavour by way of a fishy oomph.
The chicken was marinated and cooked in sugar cane vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and black pepper which then formed a thin sauce. With steamed rice, the adobo chicken was a homely-tasting comfort dish that I wouldn't mind attempting to make at home.
|Daing na Bangus|
We ended up choosing the previously unheard of milkfish in Daing na Bangus; two serves for a total of four deboned, deep fried milkfish. The small fish themselves were marinated in vinegar and garlic, although most flavour came from the deliciously refreshing hot chilli and vinegar sauce on the side.
A platter of pork – bone, meat and deep-fried, crispy skin – had me salivating on sight. The meat was impressively moist and tender despite the deep fry treatment.
The crisp, cracking skin was undoubtedly the highlight of the crispy pata – some of the best pork skin I've ever eaten, with the layer of fat normally beneath the skin completely rendered. The dipping sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and onion was barely necessary as the pork was so darn good on its own.
Not so great for any vegetarians (the restaurant recognises and highlights the lack of pure vegetarian options), the vegetables included a pretty medley of eggplant, snake beans, pumpkin, bitter melon, onions and tomatoes in the fishy sauce.
Flavoured with vanilla and topped with lashings of caramel sauce and a wafer stick, the leche flan was unbelievably rich and thick in texture – no wobble – like softened butter or a really heavy pate. I could only bear a couple of teaspoons of this leche flan before conceding defeat and moving on to the next dessert.
Not cheese, the thick, sweetened milk provided all the saccharine kick to the cake, which was thankfully served as a small, rich portion.
Having sampled the hits of Philippine cuisine, I'm looking forward to sampling more of the La Mesa menu, especially some of the more exotic-sounding dishes. As my first taste of the Philippines, La Mesa has got me wanting more.