“Every year, there always has to be an evolution, right?”
That’s the guiding principle of Pablo Bistro, one of Makati’s favorite haunts in genteel Salcedo Village. They swear by it. Everything they do in their business goes back to that: change, change, and constant change. Nothing stays the same.
Pablo Bistro founder David Collado—a private but easygoing and warm Madrileño who’s called the Philippines his home since the 1980s—believes this is the secret to Pablo’s success and staying power after almost a decade. It’s nothing complicated; he simply believes that everything must progress once it’s settled after a while.
“It could be in the look, the paint, the additions, the lighting, the air conditioning,” says Collado of the restaurant, located at the base of The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences (from which the bistro takes its name) as its built-in hotel restaurant. “Same principle with the food. We innovate and change the menu. We generally change it quarterly, where we take away the dishes and add new ones.”
“Most of the menu has changed from the initial [iteration],” says founder David Collado. “Even the [original] recipes have changed because you really have to tweak them, evolve them, and improve them. Also, you’re thrown a lot of challenges from what’s available in the Philippines and what you have to work with.
From here, Collado says that longtime fans, and perhaps potential visitors who have yet to try Pablo Bistro, will always be interested to check out what’s new on the menu. That’s the secret sauce that gets them to keep coming back; not that Pablo Bistro needed to have one, as it’s become a place for the high-powered of Manila to gather in its weekly events.
“Most of the menu has changed from the initial [iteration],” adds Collado. “Even the [original] recipes have changed because you really have to tweak them, evolve them, and improve them. Also, you’re thrown a lot of challenges from what’s available in the Philippines and what you have to work with. We do it more than other restaurants. We’re not stagnant, and it also helps us.”
Some of the finest Spanish cuisine around
This current season of Pablo—if we can make the comparison to a long-running TV show—is as good as ever, even to me as a newcomer to the restaurant and to Spanish Mediterranean food in general.
“[The constant change] makes the team, especially the chefs, be interested in executing and learning new dishes,” says Collado. “Because if you’re doing the same thing all the time, it’s boring for the chefs to not be able to have a little bit of creativity. I work side-by-side with them and they have ideas, and we try to agree on which route to take on each of the R&Ds that we do.”
We tried a wide range of dishes that fine, windy afternoon, from appetizers all the way to dessert. A more traditional tapa in their salpicao bites made with tenderloin cubes is the perfect starter, especially for beef fans, along with the greens of the caprese salad. Although octopus will never be my favorite food, the fire-grilled octopus carpaccio was absolutely delicious, especially the bed of supremely fine mashed potato it sat atop that you could mistake for a denser bechamel.
Steak is also on the menu, and the tenderloin pairs well with the truffle mushroom and Parmesan paella. You also have your choice of wine—personally curated by Collado himself, a hardcore connoisseur who also doesn’t play gatekeeper—or a classic cocktail to go with your whole meal.
Rounding out the experience is dessert; while not particularly Spanish or Mediterranean, a molten chocolate lava cake a la mode was most welcome. They profess that despite Pablo’s specialty, they do still need to keep international classics on the menu because they are also on call to serve Picasso’s variety of guests.
Pablo Bistro and its constant search for perfection
As you could probably infer, Pablo’s relentless wave of change is not simply for the sake of change. They’re not just throwing their longtime patrons for a loop on a whim. There is an adventurous spirit to it, seeing where they can go, how much better they could be, if they tweaked things little by little.
Collado isn’t just paying lip service to it—he’s also Pablo’s chief architect, being as hands-on as possible with the food they put out.
“With the years, we’ve also gone on this approach, saying sometimes fewer ingredients but with better quality products is better,” he says. “So we always try to say, hey, more than five ingredients in a dish might not be necessary.”
Pablo’s relentless wave of change is not simply for the sake of change. They’re not just throwing their longtime patrons for a loop on a whim. There is an adventurous spirit to it, seeing where they can go, how much better they could be, if they tweaked things little by little.
It definitely also helps that Pablo has great relationships with suppliers, some of whom have been serving the restaurant from the very beginning in 2013. As a result, they’ve been getting the best possible supplies for their food.
Of course, there’s still a lingering question in the back of my head after hearing all this. Wouldn’t your longtime customers complain? Wouldn’t they say that they miss the old dishes, the old food? Do they ask why you changed the recipes and the menu?
“We listen to them, but we listen in a different way,” says Collado candidly. “But more than just listening to our guests, we listen to the whole market. Like how are things pivoting, moving, innovating, and [we ask ourselves] how can we still maintain the quality and surprise guests with new things?
“It’s also a little bit of the Mediterranean style of things, which is using whatever is in season. And that also makes you be able to change the menu based on what is in season.
“We’re like, well, let’s wait for a while and rotate it. Then maybe when it’s seasonal we’ll get back to that dish because we have that playground.”
As for the future of Pablo, Collado says he prefers to keep things simple. There are no plans to expand at all; he would rather focus the restaurant solely in Salcedo Village, where he lives and which he loves. While there is a secret new project he won’t tell us, there won’t be any other Pablo Bistros.
“We’ve been offered a lot of places with a lot of developers in different areas. We’ve pretty much declined respectfully, saying no, we’re content with what we’re doing here and we want to stay here,” he says. “I’d rather focus my energy on what we have going on here.”