“As close as you can get to eating paella in Spain.”
It’s a claim that Arrozeria Manila does not take lightly. Chefs Chele Gonzalez, Ivan Saiz and Keith Fresnido – the team behind the highly regarded Vask and Gallery Vask – are the same team behind Arrozeria. The philosophy that guides the popular BGC restaurant, Vask, is the same philosophy they have applied to Arrozeria – only choosing high quality food, sustainable local ingredients, and serving it all with no pretensions, whilst helping local farm communities by buying their products.
But don’t get me wrong, although the people behind Arrozeria have also been the driving force behind Vask, the popular paella restaurant located inside Century City Mall in Makati is anything but a Vask clone. The food is simpler, homier, and comfort-driven, with affordable prices that make it easy for one to return again and again. The interiors are unpretentious, casual, and show off not just the chefs’ personalities, but the star of the restaurant’s menu – rice.
Sitting down to lunch with Chef Chele and a few other foodie friends, we discussed, what else, but rice! Yes, rice is definitely the hero at Arrozeria, but aside from the restaurant partnering up with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Chef Chele also shared some of his other new dishes inspired from the familiar smells and flavors growing up, with a lot of them being inspired from his mama’s cooking, naturally.
We kick-started lunch in a celebratory mood, with Chef Chele bringing out the La Guapa (Php 250 per carafe or Php 875 per jar), a bright red sangria that put everyone in a sunny disposition for the rest of the day, and just the thing to pair with ArroZeria’s dishes. We were also served an amuse-bouche of a Spanish beef carpaccio, served with lots of olive oil and lemon – a little something to wake up the palate and keep us from having all that celebratory alcohol go right to our heads.
A Spanish meal isn’t complete without reveling in a few tapas before the main meal, and the Salpicon de Pulpo (Php 370) hit just the right notes of tangy and slightly spicy, with the marinated octopus being tender with just the right amount of chew offsetting the crunch from the capsicum and onion vinaigrette. This is something I would definitely order again.
Moving on from octopus to another Spanish seafood staple, squid, the Txipirones Rellenos (Php 275) has the cephalopod stuffed with and stewed in a white wine and capsicum sauce, the delicate flavors making for a happy marriage of delicate flavors best sopped up with a crusty piece of sourdough bread lightly brushed with butter.
Now, I’m not a big fan of ox tongue and usually run the opposite direction when it’s being presented to me in a dish, but when Chef Chele personally cuts and serves you a piece, you eat it! The Lengua Frita (Php 380) uses Angus ox tongue, simply coated in bechamel and breadcrumbs and served with tartar sauce. This tasted almost like butter – it was that rich! Gone are my apprehensions of ox tongue being tired and tough, this was the complete opposite!
If you’re looking for something familiar, Albondigas Con Champiñones (Php 375) is always a god choice. The beef and pork meatballs are stewed in a tomato-based sauce with button mushroom and rustic potatoes, a lovely hearty tapas option that can also be a meal in itself.
Now, the restaurant isn’t named after rice for nothing – the hefty llaneras of paella were coming up, and they take their grain of choice seriously. To ensure the authenticity of the Arrozeria’s paella while remaining true to their philosophy of cooking local, the chefs partnered with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos. They brought samples of bomba, the Spanish variety of rice typically used in paella and other rice dishes, for the scientists to study. Once it was determined that the Ifugao heirloom rice variety tinawan had all the characteristics of bomba, the chefs set out to secure their supply. This involved several journeys to the Ifugao communities to buy the rice, and build relationships with them—meeting the people, understanding their planting and harvesting traditions, sharing meals with them, and even learning to cook the rice.
Arrozeria’s Longaniza Arroz Gratinado (Php 600 for 2-3 pax) is a tad salty for my taste, but then again, that’s what usually happens when you mix Spanish longanisa with rice. Aside from the bacon-like longanisa, the paella is also topped with broccoli florets and a generous aioli gratin, which offsets some of the saltiness with cream.
The classic Paella Valenciana (Php 590 for 2-3 pax) is more my type, the saffron-infused rice being topped with cuts of chicken, rosemary, bell peppers, and green beans.There is something seriously satisfying about the crunch of green beans against the soft grains of rice between bites of chicken… it seems healthy almost. Almost.
Another unexpected surprise that I took to like a cow to cud was their Callos Fideuà, Fideuà, which basically translates to, “large amount of noodles,” is originally a seafood dish originally from the coast of Valencia. Chef Chele puts his own spin to it, the result is an exceptionally tasty combination of tomatoes, pork, melt-in-your-mouth tripe, and garbanzo beans.
I am a self-proclaimed dessert person, and as stuffed as I was after powering through portion after portion of tapas, paella, fideuà, I still had just enough room left for dessert. Naturally, Chef Chele didn’t disappoint, and his Calamansi Semifrio (Php 225) – which had the consistency of white cheese almost – had just the right balance of sourness and creaminess to each mouthful, with mango sauce and mint jelly, to make you keep going back for another bite until you realize you’ve cleaned the plate!
A misleadingly simple-looking dessert is Chef Chele’s Torrija de Coco Caramelizada (Php 195), a caramelized coconut brioche served with pineapple sorbet – his take on a bread pudding, but using local Philippine ingredients and making them shine. Personally, I’m just not a bread pudding fan, but I did enjoy the light sorbet that came with it.
The traditional leche flan gets a little more complicated with the restaurant’s version of Tocinillo del Cielo (Php 250). Think of flan that’s smaller, but with an intense flavor – that’s exactly with this egg yolk flan with raspberry foam, yogurt, lime and a Modena vinegar reduction delivers.
Aside from the semifrio, the chocolate monster in me was unleashed once we were served the delectable Tarta de Chocolate (Php 195). All it really is is a chocolate tart with whipped cream and chocolate crumble, but the creaminess of the milk chocolate is just divine, and one can’t help but close your eyes once as the solid bar turns to liquid gold once it touches your tongue.
ArroZeria, to me at least, is synonymous with affordable Spanish comfort eats. This is the type of restaurant that you would want to bring your mates or girlfriends to for a whole evening of moderate debauchery with sangria, tapas, and paella from 5 o’clock in the afternoon until they close up shop for the night. Chef Chele and his talented team have done a fantastic job of melding Spanish favorites with Filipino ingredients, which makes Arrozeria one of my must-try restaurants at Century City Mall!
ArroZeria Manila is located at the 4th Floor of Century City Mall, Kalayaan Avenue corner Salamanca St., Poblacion, Makati, and is open daily from 11am to 11pm. For inquiries and table reservations, please call +63 920 974 4742.