Cover Chefs Ruther Sandico & Rubén Beltran Castellnou

Be whisked away by Spanish-Filipino flare at Hola Bombón

Hola Bombón is a restaurant characterised by its whimsical approach to Spanish cuisine. They often infuse touches of worldly flavours, like Filipino accents, to create impactful nuances in their dishes. A recent four-hands dinner which was part of their series titled Noche De Sabores (rightfully so) prepared by the restaurant’s current executive chef, Rubén Beltran Castellnou and his soon to be culinary successor, chef Ruther Sandico, did not disappoint.

Chef Ruther has had 12 years of experience in high-level culinary environments, having cooked in 5-star institutions located in Manila, Cebu, Dubai, and Hong Kong. His skills have been refined and sharpened, as proved by his performance during the dinner.

These two gastronomes cooked up a storm, preparing a tasting menu filled with welcomed juxtapositions. Dishes were bold yet delicate, filled with crunch and smooth textures, plus had complementary sweet, salty, and acidic hues.

I remember my first meal at Hola Bombón fondly. Confident in experimentation and skilled in creating chic interiors, these restaurateurs had gotten off to a strong start. With excitement, a friend and I walked into the restaurant one ordinary evening, and eagerly took our seats.

The meal began with a crisp eye-catching ube cracker that was topped with a refreshing mixture of eggplant and tomatoes with a savoury chorizo vinaigrette and a crunchy chorizo crumble. The crispiness of the ube cracker in combination with the chorizo crumble contrasted the soft gooey eggplant successfully–I couldn’t wait for my second bite.

A round, golden ball arrived next. Curious, I asked what exactly this dish—titled Buñuelo was—to which a partner at the restaurant explained as their take on a stuffed pani puri. I was quite intrigued! Traditionally a buñuelo is fried dough and more often than not, a dessert. This time, its outer shell was much more like that of pani puri, and was filled with a rich bacalao (codfish), paired with a buttery crab fat aioli, spiced green curry sauce and a dollop of salty caviar. This tasty, vibrant multi-textural bite was surrounded by a dusting of fluffy white olive oil powder, which did not contribute to the dish.

A modern take on the mini-burger was created with a perfectly fried soft-shell crab, encased in a pillowy yet slightly toasted molete bun. Lightly smothered with kimchi aioli and brightened with mango and cilantro–each mouthful contained a variety of satisfying sensations: from spicy to refreshing. This was one of my favourite moments from the menu!

Wagyu—always a crowd-pleaser—had its time to shine in the Bomba course. This was a twist on arancini and a croqueta, minus the rice and the béchamel. Filled with ground wagyu, the dish evoked memories of shepherd's pie and arroz a la cubana. It was a meaty mouthful, that was skillfully fried so as to not be overly oily. The Bomba was paired with an excellent bravas sauce and a spunky herbaceous parsley aioli which both to me were the standouts of the course.

A delicate surf-and-turf plate contained a perfectly cooked scallop topped with pickled red onions. It was gently layered on top of a beautifully sliced morcilla (blood sausage), a mild chive mash, and surrounded by a smokey bath of Cordilleran pork dashi. To me this dish was elegant and well thought through, showing an appreciation for each ingredient present on the table.

At this point in time, we checked the menu for what was next: Socarrat aka tutong. Paella is famous for soccarat—that toasted, almost burnt bottom layer pressed against the pallelera—which soaks up the essence of this national dish's juices and personality. Hola Bombón's interpretation was paella served in a cylindrical shape on a slim rectangular plate with romesco sauce and seasonal vegetables. With a title like Socarrat, I had high expectations and was looking forward to that crispy crunchy mouthful, but was instead met with a tender, al dente, but well-seasoned nosh.

Next up to bat was the Costilla de Vaca. A stunning piece of three-day slow-braised short ribs with a chickpea herb emulsion topped with a slightly crisped beef floss absolutely stole the show. Its tender, melt-in-your-mouth soft meat was infused with so much flavour. Again, this plate hit all the right marks: contrasting textures - check, sweet and salty - check. The hummus emulsion was innovative and so addicting, I wanted to know where I could buy some to take home!

To finish off, two desserts were concocted: one tart in taste while the other was sweet and chocolatey.

Chefs Ruben and Ruther invited us into their culinary playground and a good time was definitely had. We left incredibly full and looking forward to our next experience at Hola Bombón.  

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