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Cebu’s Pig & Palm has withstood a pandemic and typhoon and is ready to serve as visitors return

When the Michelin Guide was first published in the early 1900s to provide a guide for motorists to find out where they could grab a (really good) bite to eat. Now they are used to rating the best restaurants in the world with a star system. A restaurant in Cebu, set up by a chef with a michelinstarred restaurant, is a stop worthy of the name in the Queen City of the South.

Located in Cebu Business Park (one of the city’s most upscale neighborhoods), the Pig & Palm was founded by Jason Atherton. Mr Atherton’s Pollen Street Social in London was awarded a Michelin star in 2011 (and managed to retain it in 2022). He also co-hosted the TV show My kitchen rules UK.

“His wife is Cebuana. He wanted to open up in his hometown,” Pig & Palm chef Jamie Doe explained of how the English chef opened a restaurant on the other side of the world. The name is an ode to Cebu’s penchant for pigs (“The pig in Cebu is very big, you know?” he said), but also to the naming conventions of English pubs. “The pig and the palms are the Cebuano part,” Mr. Doe said.

Business world met Mr. Doe and dined at Pig & Palm, during an inter-island familiarization tour through Boracay, Cebu and Coron, organized by Philippine Airlines (PAL) and the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB).

We were taken to an imposing all-wooden reception hall, which was fairly innocuous by day, but could look quite imposing at night. It seems to be a setting for important meetings: of a commercial or romantic nature. Mr. Doe dismisses the adjectives “imposing” and “intimidating”: “That’s the last thing I want! Rather, it’s the restaurant scenes he would remember: “We can have dinner as a family.” We had romantic evenings. We’ve had people proposing here, which is amazing,” he said. “We have a bit of everything.”

The group of tourists – this journalist with other media guests (and the famous father of a party member), as well as PAL and TPB officers – started with giant seaweed crackers with wasabi and calamansi mayo (P200), and the restaurant’s signature brioche, with onion jam and chicken and thyme butter (P295). The crackers were quite appetizing. Still sleepy after a car ride through the hot city, the brioche opened my eyes. It was buttery, perfectly soft; and tasted like what an average brioche would like to taste. Coupled with the onion jam and chicken butter, it was an exercise for the senses.

While another table praised the KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) with kimchi ketchup (P580), we reserved that praise for the Poached Red Grouper (in Filipino, lapu-lapu, sharing a name with the city’s first hero) with a Gruyère crust, sitting on a bed of marbled adlai and topped with balsamic caviar (P970). It was light but filling, perfect for the summer heat; while parsley enlivened perfectly textured adlai grains, displaying the integrity of the ingredient.

Perhaps the city’s proximity to the sea contributed to the excellence of the grouper. Mr Doe said: ‘We try to use as many local suppliers as possible,’ he said. “I’m very passionate about finding small, local suppliers.”

“I’m not mainstream. I try to find the little people I can help – and they can help me. We can work closely together and build a relationship,” he said.

Although he shares a relative with a Michelin-starred restaurant, Mr. Doe reminds us that there is no Michelin Guide for the Philippines. “We’re not trying to pretend we’re a Michelin-starred restaurant. We just make good food accessible to everyone.

When asked if they would open a branch in the capital, he replied: “It’s something we’ve talked about before, but it wouldn’t be Pig & Palm. Each of Jason’s restaurants is unique.

The restaurant has been in existence for six years and Mr. Doe has worked there for three years. Two of those years were spent holding the line during the pandemic, as well as holding the restaurant during Typhoon Odette, which swept through five Visayas provinces, including Cebu, last December.

“We had tough times, but I have a great team here,” he said.

He talked about reopening, but having to deal with curfews and alcohol bans at the start of the pandemic. “It was really against us,” he said. Still, he said, “We kept our whole team.”

On Odette, he pointed to the restaurant’s roof: “We’ve literally managed to fix it now.” The typhoon caused structural damage around the city, as well as power and water outages. “We were really lucky to have a generator here. We had full power and electricity. But for many of my staff – myself included – we had no electricity, we had no water [at home].”

With some optimism, he spoke of the easing of restrictions on entering Cebu after the pandemic. “With the reopening of the borders, we started to see a lot of new faces coming in. The tourists are coming back. It’s really nice.

“Especially after the pandemic…they start exploring different local places.”

The Pig & Palm is located in MSY Tower, Pescadores Rd., Cebu Business Park, Cebu City. For more information, visit the Instagram page @thepigandpalm. — Joseph L. Garcia

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