Two years ago it would have been unheard of and quite reckless to be opening a fine dining restaurant. But Carlos Garcia, chef and partner of The Black Pig, The Pigpen, and his newest fine dining concept in Alabang called Tiago’s, thinks it’s all about timing.
“During the lockdowns, we had a lot of time to think. You realize that time is fast and that life is short. You need to do what you feel like you really want to do. That’s how Tiago’s was born,” says the Cáceres native who has been living in the Philippines for 10 years.
Located in the middle of Alabang’s business district at the Somerset Hotel, Tiago’s wants residents to not have to go far for fine food.
“We saw that there aren’t many tasting menus or places you can take someone to for a special night out here in Alabang,” says head chef Jorn Fonseca. “Back in December last year, we were bouncing around ideas. Out of the blue, he just said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ Within two weeks of preparation we were already starting.”
Varied tastes to begin
The tasting menu begins with an iced citrus chamomile welcome drink and proceeds with an assortment of canapés. An oyster—usually sourced from Aklan—is topped with prosecco granite, lemon confit, ginger, and pineapple. A sweet bite comes next with foie gras mousse, port, and an apple glaze served on a whole wheat tartlet.
In front of you, the chef places a spoonful of Kaviari Baeri Royal Caviar on top, lending the right amount of saltiness to balance out the richness.
Your menu is your music
“Our current menu is somewhat similar to an orchestra. When you arrive, you start off with something refreshing and light. As the night progresses, it develops into something more rich. Like a symphony, there’s a crescendo at the end and then there’s a small finish,” describes Fonseca.
In creating the menu, Garcia and Fonseca had to both agree and believe each dish was worthy. “The first rule we had was that we had to believe the dish was really, really good. It couldn’t be ‘ok lang (just ok).’ No,” Garcia says.
“Our current menu is somewhat similar to an orchestra. When you arrive, you start off with something refreshing and light. As the night progresses, it develops into something more rich. Like a symphony, there’s a crescendo at the end and then there’s a small finish,” describes head chef Jorn Fonseca.
“The second rule was it had to be something that we ourselves had to love eating. The third rule, we wanted each dish to play a part in the menu. We wanted to start light and refreshing. Then it will become more flavorful, more rich. Also we were very precise with the portion. We want you to leave happy and great—not hungry or overfed. Also the quality of the ingredients have to be the best we can find according to the price and the market.”
Next on Tiago’s menu? Keep it local
The next dish had portions of lobster from Boston with mozzarella pearls hiding under microgreens and edible flowers. The chef then pours a clear broth of tomato consommé to finish the dish. Flesh from line-caught sea bass are rolled in roasted seaweed and topped with an intricate crisp in the shape of a coral made with blue potatoes from the Cordilleras.
Once again, in front of you, the chef pours a smooth dashi beurre blanc, tediously made with three kinds of mushrooms, French butter, and white wine.
“We started to introduce local salts in our dishes such as asin sa buy-o, the one in the nipa leaves. I’ve also included sakurab, a native shallot from Mindanao. Also from the Cordilleras, we sourced the blue potatoes,” says Fonseca.
A fermenting success
The main dish of the menu is a 21-day dry-aged SRF Wagyu gold striploin that is further fermented with koji aging. The dish is served with black garlic that’s been fermented for 20 days and celeriac puree.
“We started with two types of fermentation for our striploin. First is the dry aging—that one develops the beef more—and then to push it further, we ferment it. Koji is a Japanese rice culture. We also add this to our breads to give them a caramelized color and sweetness, too. For our beef, it gives it more umami and it also creates a nice crust. We were already happy with [the dry aging], but when we tried it with the koji it blew us away,” Fonseca explains.
“We may have ideas today but it can always change. We always ask ourselves, ‘Ok, we have a product but can it be better? If yes, how? Let’s try this technique.’ It’s all about reading and researching and trial and error. Because of this, our menu will always be evolving,” Carlos Garcia says.
“We may have ideas today but it can always change. We always ask ourselves, ‘Ok, we have a product but can it be better? If yes, how? Let’s try this technique.’ It’s all about reading and researching and trial and error. Because of this, our menu will always be evolving,” Garcia adds.
For dessert, 70 percent Valrhona dark chocolate mousse is crowned with a chocolate disc and topped with crispy feuilletine before a chocolate sauce with ginger syrup is poured. Once you get to the middle of the mousse, a surprising banana purée helps keep the dessert from being monotonous.
Garcia says of this ambitious and hands-on undertaking: “I wanted the restaurant to be chef-driven. What I mean is that the chef is the one who orders the ingredients, cooks the food, serves the food, and explains the food to the customers. I wanted to be more involved and not just hidden in the kitchen. So we’re involved in all aspects. You live only once and I’m getting older. I want to see what my limits are.”