Calling all food lovers: Sarap is the hottest reservation in town
In partnership with Angel’s Envy, we invited chef Budgie Montoya to cook a feast of Filipino flavours at Soho Farmhouse
Wednesday 20 April 2022 By Gisselle Babaran Photography by Chris Bailey
‘I never set out to cook Filipino food 10 years ago,’ Ferdinand Montoya, affectionately known as ‘Budgie’, casually tells me over his famous, showstopping lechon (a tender slow-roasted and stuffed pork belly with glass-like skin) at his new restaurant, Sarap, on London’s Heddon Street. Yet, considering his reputation as one of the industry’s leading innovators of Filipino food, his confession comes as a bit of a surprise.
After all, for those in the know, Filipino food in London is nothing new. But a lack of funding and, frankly, a lack of interest, has meant that the cuisine’s fine dining presence in the city has only recently been felt. It makes Montoya’s arrival on London’s competitive food scene all the more exciting: his knack for reinventing heirloom dishes is pushing Filipino food to refined new heights, and it’s finally getting noticed.
‘I think Sarap represents a progressive thought process on Filipino fare,’ says Montoya. Speaking on authenticity, a subject always raised with chefs reimagining cuisines beyond their usual formats, he adds, ‘the food is authentic to me as an individual who didn’t grow up in the Philippines.’
Despite having no formal training, Montoya managed to land a job as a commis chef at Dean Street Townhouse in London, later going on to rise through the kitchen ranks at other Soho House sites. He also held head chef positions at Tom Sellers’ Restaurant Story and modern Asian restaurant Foley’s in Fitzrovia. Shortly after, in 2018, Montoya went all in on his own, going full time with Sarap.
Given his journey and familiarity with pop-ups and residencies, Soho House invited the chef and his team to create and cook a boodle-style menu for Soho Farmhouse, as part of our One Night Only events series, in partnership with Angel’s Envy.
For the evening, Montoya served the dish he’s famed for: lechon – a Filipino favourite. As takes on roast pork and crackling go, you’d be hard-pressed to find better. Other standout dishes included his tender chicken inasal (chicken marinated with a mixture of coconut vinegar and calamansi), and a side dish that punched far above its weight: kale laing (slow-braised kale in coconut milk and aromats). For dessert, burnt cassava cheesecake completed the dinner, an inspired take on the popular San Sebastián export.
With a menu packed full of punchy umami flavours, expertly balanced with sourness, spice, and sweet notes, a bespoke cocktail menu made with Angel’s Envy bourbon was created to stand up against the dishes’ strong flavours. Finished in port wine barrels, Angel’s Envy is known for bold notes of vanilla, ripe fruit and toast – flavourings that worked well with the sweet, smoky savouriness found in Filipino food.
For those partial to an Aperol Spritz, the Champagne Spritz option hit the spot. Combined with tepache (a fermented pineapple drink that utilises the fruit’s rinds) that’s made in-house by Montoya’s team, the finish is delightfully sharp rather than bitter. A miso-washed, old-fashioned drink that delivered on both sweet and savoury also proved to be a favourite among diners.
‘The experience was great,’ Montoya replies when I ask about One Night Only. Speaking about what it was like to cook his food in Oxfordshire – a region known better for historic local dishes rather than international cuisines – he states, ‘[Sarap] has always been about championing the food. The more people I get to showcase it to, the better. The opportunity to present it in a place less familiar with it was really exciting.’
As our conversation draws to a close, I can’t help but bring up the late Filipino writer and historian, Doreen Fernandez. A national hero to Filipinos around the world, Montoya himself has referenced her writings to explain his own approach and understanding of Filipino food.
‘I find her writing amazing and thought provoking. And her thoughts on Filipino food [are] very similar to mine,’ he says. I ask what exactly those thoughts are. ‘It shouldn’t be static and it shouldn’t be what your grandmother makes. In my eyes, it’s about using the resources and ingredients around us and making it our own.’