Kare-kare is a beef and vegetables stew cooked in a peanut-rich sauce. Photo: Jennifer Wong
Kare-kare is a beef and vegetables stew cooked in a peanut-rich sauce. Photo: Jennifer Wong

Nestled in the tranquil London neighborhood of Kensington just a stone’s throw from the Design Museum, the chic, family-run Romulo Cafe serves Filipino-inspired fare with an unconventional charm of its own.

With an inviting porch and a sleek cocktail bar at the front, the restaurant is luxurious-looking yet intimate, as if one has entered a plush living room.

Rowena Romulo, owner of Romulo Café London Photo: Jennifer Wong

Rowena Romulo, who founded the restaurant last year, is the granddaughter of Carlos Romulo (1898-1985), who was a distinguished general and diplomat from the Philippines. He served as Philippine ambassador to the US, and was awarded that country’s highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom.

On the walls of the restaurant, photographs and memorabilia chart Carlos Romulo’s public life and the family’s history. The family has garnered much acclaim from its three famous restaurants in the Philippines, in Quezon City, Makati and Alabang.

H.E. Ambassador Romulo in Washington D.C.

Rowena herself has just been named as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipina Woman in the World (Global FWN100™) by the Filipina Women’s Network.

Since it opened last year, Romulo Cafe’s Philippine-inspired cuisine in a classy, relaxed setting has attracted local families and discerning diners. Judging from the bustling atmosphere, their aims to “raise the bar a notch or two” for Philippine food has certainly gone a long way.

Pandesal Photo: Jennifer Wong

Light and fluffy with a delicate sweetness, the warm, freshly baked pandesal (Philippine bread rolls) is a quintessential bread that cannot be missed.

Twice-cooked pork adobo and rice Photo: Jennifer Wong

Chicken and twice-cooked pork adobo is a sumptuous feast ideal for sharing: tender and juicy meats marinated with vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, cooked with bones to preserve taste. I like the way it is balanced with a light, creamy sweet potato mash and served with a rich gravy on the side. Kare-kare, a beef and vegetables stew cooked in a peanut-rich sauce, tastes best when mixed with the flavorsome shrimp paste.

Lechan Kangong Photo: Jennifer Wong
Winged beans Photo: Jennifer Wong

To complement the meaty fare, try the aromatic garlic rice or pandan-infused steamed rice. Its Lechon Kangkong (stir-fried water spinach with roast pork) is a humble classic with a generous portion of pork. For a more creamy take on Pinoy vegetables, try winged beans cooked with coconut milk and smoked fish.

Halo halo Photo: Jennifer Wong

Halo-Halo is an exotic dessert made with yam ice cream, leche flan, pandan jelly and hints of coconut, a visual temptation.

As you would expect from a restaurant in Kensington, food presentation is an attentive, appetizing affair, highlighting food textures and giving regional cuisine a modern, exquisite and, for some, exotic touch.

For those new to Philippine cuisine, it can be a challenge getting used to the strong flavors of its meat dishes, but at Romulo, its homemade recipes (mainly from Romulo’s grandmother) caters to the taste of Londoners. The all-time favorites among locals and regulars include Pansit Palabok (rice noodles with shrimp sauce, seafood and pork crackling) and Kare-kare.

Priced at £10 (US$13), the weekday set lunch is a bargain. A thoughtful children’s menu is also available, offering a range of Asian bites such as marinated fishballs, stir-fried noodles and Pinoy fried chicken.

Carlos Romulo and Victora Llamas Romulo were surrounded by their grandchildren. Rowena Romulo is at the centre held by her grandfather. Photo: Rowena Romulo

Winner of the Time Out “Best Loved Restaurant in Kensington” honor last year, and having clinched several top ratings from Time Out and Square Meal, Romulo Cafe is where you can experience authentic Philippine home cooking made stylish.

Romulo Café London, 343 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NW
(Open daily: Monday-Saturday: noon to midnight / Sunday: noon to 11:30pm).

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