By Bong Forouzan
Experience the Romulo Café
The prized lifetime achievements of the Philippines greatest statesman, General Carlos P. Romulo (CPR), were made ‘alive’ through a memorabilia exhibit at Romulo Café (London) nestled at the heart of Kensington High Street, which officially opened for business on March 24, after a week’s smooth trial run. It is the first international outpost of the successful restaurant chain under the Romulo Café brand in the Philippines.
Romulo Café (London) – majority owned and run by the General’s grand daughter, Rowena, an ex-banker and former director at JP Morgan – is hoped to be the flagship of the many overseas branches [they] hope to establish in the near future.
Rowena is not new to the restaurant enterprise. Long before her sister – Sandie Romulo-Squillantini and her husband Enzo, embarked on opening the now chain of Romulo Café in 2009 – Rowena, whilst working with Citibank, was the finance officer at her Tito Greg and Tita Olivia’s Thai restaurant opened in Manila in 1986. Due to her career commitments, Rowena then relocated to Milan and later became a ‘Londoner.’ According to Romulo’s tradition – Romulo Café must be manned and addressed by a Romulo. Hence when talks of an international outpost ‘brewed’ – London was the family’s primary choice with Rowena at its helm.
“Given that London is one of the gastronomic food centres in the world I felt it was really time to get Fillipino food on the map. …and I think our (Philippine) cuisine has a lot to offer,” Rowena told BigHospitality (magazine).
CPR – the inspiration
Carlos Peña Rómulo – the inspiration behind the Romulo Café – is Philippine’s pride among legends. “[He] walked with heroes”, giants and the gods of our modern world.
CPR was a Major General in the Philippine Army and US Army Brigadier General who became aide-de-camp to US General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. He was the quaint 5 feet 4 inches officer that bravely “swam” alongside the nearly 7 footer General (MacArthur) who ‘waded ashore’ in his famous ‘I shall return’ promise landing in Leyte in 1964. Over the airwaves, CPR became the “Voice of Freedom” during the Japanese occupation.
General Romulo was a diplomat and an international statesman. He was a signatory to the United Nations Charter in 1945; the first Asian President of the UN General Assembly; and has the longest service record as Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He was knighted with the Sylvestrine Order by Pope John XXIII for “exemplified exercise of professional duties and mastering different arts.” He was the first non-American recipient of Pulitzer Award for Journalism, a Nobel Prize nominee who authored over 12 books and countless speeches and lectures campaigning for the plight of his beloved country, Philippines and its people. My Brother Americans, I See The Philippines Rise, "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Walked_with_Heroes" "I Walked with Heroes" I Walked with Heroes (autobiography) and Im a Filipino were among his cited book titles. Featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! as “the most awarded human being on the planet” – CPR collected over 70 honorary degrees and 140 decorations and awards from foreign countries and institutions. Hailed as “Mr United Nations,” General Romulo is the only Filipino whose statue stands “tall” at the UN Avenue.
Such was the great man’s astounding achievements (we list here just a few) – quite rightly deserving keeping alive and shared with pride.
“My grandfather has touched many lives in his years of service in international diplomacy and journalism… and [we] want to share his legacy through the medium of food complements of my Lola Virginia’s recipes,” Rowena told audience at a Filipino community event when announcing the Café’s then forthcoming opening.
The Romulo Café
“It is a great looking resto with warm plush interior – a first for a Filipino restaurant in London that can be considered as posh enough to compete against middle to high end restaurants in London's Soho or Mayfair. The interior look is definitely worthy of a space in your social media Pin!,” commented a marketing consultant friend of mine.
The Café’s interior was designed by an Ilongga – Karen Isabel Soriano of True Collectives – who completed her studies at the Chelsea College of Arts and was the ‘last hire’ of the late David Collins, the interior designer and architect behind some of the world's most glamorous restaurants, bars and boutiques.
The 70-seater Romulo Café (London) is subtly divided into four dining areas – the General’s Bar, the Ambassador’s Lounge (distinctly furnished with marble tabletops from Caracas), the Diplomat’s Dinning Room and CPR Library at the basement, which can also be converted into a private dining space with its own private bar. All dinning areas were harmoniously put together to celebrate the highlights of CPR’s life. Exhibit of his memorabilia adorned the walls of the Cafe, carefully chosen and captioned by Liana Romulo, the family’s curator/historian.
Wares and accessories at Romulo Café (London) will remind [you] of CPR’s beloved Philippines – like the rattan weaved ceiling shades and window dividers; (miniature bar & table frills) sorbetes cart, pedicab and jeepney; even the main dish plates, saucer & side plates look like Capiz shells until [you] turn them over and read Churchill china.
Noticeably, different nationalities comprise the Café’s workforce – Filipino head chef and sous chef, Vietnamese and Hungarian chef de partie, Spanish commi chef, Hungarian pastry chef, Cuban head barman and a front-of-house manager from India. Why? “[We] aim to take Philippine cuisine, culture and people to the bigger world. We thought the best way to achieve this goal is to bring-in different nationalities to learn (directly) our culture and hospitality traditions through the food that we serve. In turn, they become our ambassadors spreading the good news about our country, food, culture and people,” explained Gina McAdam, PR/Marketing officer.
Fate must have slated Romulo Café in London. Who would have thought that Larry Alcala’s 1975 caricature of CPR will become the Cafe’s emblem – a remarkable semblance to UK’s World War II saviour, Winston Churchill (minus the cigar) or to ‘The Master of Suspense,’ the English film producer and director, Alfred Hitchcock (minus the pipe). And it must be fate too that all of them have the famous ‘snout pout.’ Fate ‘plays’ also that head chef Lorenzo Madera – born in Dubai, completed his studies at Kingsway College, worked at SushiSamba and The Kentish Hare – before taking-up his post and full training at Romulo’s kitchen in Manila, he was thinking of setting up his own restaurant in honour of his father, named Romulo. Last but not least, there’s Rowena, direct descendant of the great man, a ‘Londoner’ for the past eight years.
“Expect a cuisine which itself crosses several continents, bringing spice and vibrance from South East Asia, and combining it with traditional Spanish and American influences.” (SquareMeal);
“… showcasing Filipino culinary traditions – comprising tastes from Asia, the Pacific rim and America.” (The Harden’s)
My friends – LitoM, tita YaniO, MalouG – all agree that “the food presentation was definitely eye-catching, worth instagramming! The desserts were delish especially the suman served with latik – so gorgeously flavoursome. The Café’s version of halohalo was minimal in fruit garnishing but was packed with wholesome flavours from gata to macapuno, topped with refreshing ube ice-cream sprinkled with fruit jellies delicately fruity, and the piece-de-resistance shaved ice made of coconut milk – so creamy indeed! The portion is good for sharing.”
Dishes on the menu are Romulo’s interpretations of traditional Filipino food and the family’s own recipes – ie Lola Virginian’s Chicken Relleno, Adobo Romulo style, Tito Greg’s Kare-Kare, Lola Felisa’s crispy all-vegetable canton, boneless crispy-pata, Pansit Puti and others. Portion served persuades [you] to order more dishes to taste. [Nonetheless, a spoonful more will surely leave an imprint on the taste-buds and lasting savouring memories.]
But the best of all that is served at the premises is Carlos P. Romulo – the inspiration behind the concept of the Romulo Café – the man who inspired a Filipino nation to be “proud of their heritage not because [we were] born Filipinos, but because [we are Filipinos].”
We have experienced Romulo Café (London)… Now make yours. Please note – if [you] are expecting to taste your own cooking, have your usual plate-ful ‘helpings’ and a doggie-bag to take home – DON’T GO! However, if you would like to ‘experience the Romulo’s interpretation of Pilipino cuisine, recipes from the Romulo’s kitchen, Romulo’s hospitality and revel at a great piece of Philippine history, then surely BOOK a table NOW on +020.3141.6390/ mail to: email@example.com or visit 343 Kensington High Street, London, W8 6NW.
Meantime, a warm welcome to Romulo Café (London). The Phil-Anglo community wishes you more power in your endeavours to put Philippine cuisine on the gastronomic chart and consistent to the great man’s (CPR) inspiring legacy. Mabuhay!