A Taste Of The Test Kitchen
Last November 6, a select few were invited to a preview of The Test Kitchen, which, to the sheer excitement of a burgeoning Josh Boutwood fan base, is set to open on the 15th.
But what sets it apart from the first Test Kitchen?
“At the original, it was ‘tasting only,’” explains Boutwood, the corporate chef of The Bistro Group, referring to his firstborn of the same name in Antonio Village, adding, “but it’s an àla carte menu for this one.”
For now, according to the concept’s architect, we can look forward to lunch and dinner service, plus brunch on the weekends, and an average too-good-to-be-true Php 1,500.00 spend per person.
The two-storey space, which previously belonged to the brunch and comfort food purveyor that is Apartment 1B, is now home to a re-imagined and transformed Test Kitchen, and Boutwood’s progressive answer to the Rockwell dining community’s calling (and everyone else outside the 1200 zip code).
At night, The Test Kitchen is darker than most fine-dining establishments in the city. One cannot help but feel decidedly more attractive under the sexy, dimmed mood lighting. Strategically placed spotlighting, however, beam down on each table, highlighting the presentation and plating of each good-looking creation. Studies have in fact suggested that dim lighting in restaurants makes you eat more, which, calorifically speaking, translates to pure ignorant bliss. Boutwood is definitely onto something here!
Even the open kitchen seems darker than the ordinary. But, as per the man behind the kitchen, his modus operandi was to not distract from the dining experience. “There’s enough light in there to see what we’re cooking,” he justifies. Best reserved for the kitchen-curious who prefer to perch at the counter over rubbernecking, four prime seats overlook the goings-on in the kitchen, an interactive design element that Boutwood has maintained throughout his other restaurants.
Indoors, the 48-seating capacity is split between the two floors including the counter seating, while the handful of tables that wrap around the restaurant’s façade can seat up to 16.
Black and white photographs of his beloved pooch, Bentley, line the staircase to the second floor, a warm and fuzzy touch. Up here, the focal point of the loft-like design is an exposed curing room. Known for his lamb prosciutto, Boutwood has at least a couple of legs dangling from the ceiling alongside a number of other mouth-watering salumi and cured meats (some even dry-aged for up to three years).
Exposed timber beams pull the visuals together while a floor-to-ceiling accent wall featuring treacle varnished wood panels cause the eye to travel. Intentional or not, perhaps it is the organic nature of the skeletal structure that softens the piped in music, an ambient playlist of cocktail/lounge tunes.
Placing the ingredient at the centre of The Test Kitchen universe, the menu revisits a couple of his tried and tested techniques (even favourite dishes, he reveals, will make a comeback) but also boldly steps into unchartered territory.
Using one ingredient in particular—time—Boutwood’s artistic expression authentically collides with his diverse and seasoned handle on the all-important process. The recent preview dinner was a compelling testament to such.
To start, light “snacks” from his curing chamber are served to amuse our, by now, highly excitable palates. Complementary to the country-style salami and pork neck is the deceptively straightforward-sounding “Today’s Bread.” Fresh out the oven, a thickly sliced flaxseed loaf appears accompanied by a rich butter emulsified by a yeast extract and curiously sprinkled with subtly sweet granules of bee pollen, a supposed superfood.
Boutwood insists that the mojama on toast be consumed in three bites. Pretty as it is tasty, each bite of the warm hors d’oevre delivers delicate slivers of briny tuna loin (from the tuna capital of the Philippines) atop an almost sponge-like squid ink brioche further intensified by a garlic emulsion, a squeeze of lemon for added zest, and a nice sea salt crunch. Delicious.
The nduja & guanciale arancini topped with grated pecorino and a light sprinkling of dehydrated chive seasoning, has a spicy-savoury pop to it. A starchy dish of salt potatoes (marble potatoes cooked in salted water till evaporated) with smoked bell pepper and aioli is given added texture with a smattering of slightly roasted almond flakes and popcorn.
A refreshing, cold appetiser comes in the way of cucumber (compressed with dill oil) and smoked squid julienne immersed in juice of cucumber and topped with a divine salty lumpfish roe. A wise follow up was a colourful salad of heirloom tomatoes spanning a pretty autumnal palette of red, yellow, and green tossed with fresh (and powdered) basil and crunchy “yesterday’s bread” croutons.
A clean and bright fish dish is presented in the combination of the perfectly cooked white flesh of Pacific yellowtail and shaved zucchini, then garnished with a none too spicy home-made kimchi and lemon juice.
The evening’s most memorable flavours and textures, however, are derived from Boutwood’s trademark ‘porridge dish.’ “The Test Kitchen was known for its grain courses,” he shares, as he proudly sets his flagship (albeit modified) creation down, a toothsome mélange of Palawan abalone, shiso, barley, popped tapioca chips and sorghum for texture, all immersed in a lovely earthy red miso emulsion.
The main fish course of filleted Chilean sea bass with fennel purée, salty fingers (“Try it,” Boutwood urges, motioning to the decorative digit-like greens, “it tastes like the ocean”—which it remarkably does), and green peas (these have a great starchy bite to them), drizzled in a light, distilled vinegar sauce, is a clever showcase of the ocean’s bounty.
A Test Kitchen must, his Wagyu striploin came together beautifully with a surprisingly sweet horseradish emulsion topped with sunflower seeds, and a rich and decadent oxtail gravy.
For sweets, a teepee fashioned from burnt white chocolate emerges, and beneath, a fluffy roasted coffee oil and egg mousse. Best likened to a panna cotta, the next and slightly gelatinous dessert of juniper-infused milk (this is done so for 24 hours) “is a tedious dessert to make,” admits Boutwood. Topped with a thin meringue-like layer of dehydrated egg whites and thinly sliced red grapes, the creation looks as complicated as it tastes.
While the full spectrum of the final menu is yet to be revealed, you can be sure that this latest rendition of The Test Kitchen is ready to serve up some new and time-tested treats, à la Boutwood.
Tuesday to Sunday
Lunch: 11:00 am to 3:00 pm
Dinner: 6:00 pm to 10.00 pm
The Test Kitchen: G/F One Rockwell, Rockwell Drive, Rockwell, Makati City
Tel: +63.977.288.5751; E-mail: email@example.com
- Photography Kryss Rubio