Cover Metronome’s chef Miko Calo and Sofitel Manila’s chef Bettina Arguelles left gourmands in awe with their four-hands dinner earlier this March

Chef Miko Calo hosts Sofitel Manila’s executive chef Bettina Arguelles in the second leg of their collaboration. The result, as expected, was nothing short of extraordinary

We expected a good show, and the stars of the evening did not disappoint.

Metronome’s chef and Tatler Dining Guide’s Chef of the Year Miko Calo and Sofitel Manila’s multi-awarded executive chef Bettina Arguelles roamed the dining room as most of the guests were on the final lap of the 11-course dinner. Like two seasoned generals who just recently survived an epic battle fighting to keep their businesses afloat during the lingering pandemic, this collaboration is definitely the friendly joust they both looked forward to. Their first four-hands dinner in Sofitel was so well-attended that they longed to have a redux of that successful evening, this time at Calo’s popular Legaspi Village shrine to modern French cuisine.

With the evening’s event almost over, and champagne in hand, a mellowed Calo chats comfortably about her first four-hands dinner in her home turf. “Since I have the advantage of working in my own kitchen, I decided to really raise the bar with my team,” she says. “It is always tough cooking in someone else’s kitchen—I felt that when I was in Sofitel and trying to work in an unfamiliar space. I am quite sure chef Bettina feels the same way.”

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If ever there was a degree of unease on Arguelles’ end, there was no evidence of it. The evening’s dishes, all eleven of them that composed what could easily have been a tedious four-hour meal, were not only impeccably prepared but practically seamless. Arguelles explains why she and Calo were perfectly paired. “I have always wanted to do a collaboration with her because I knew her from when we were both still working in Singapore,” she explains. “If you look at our backgrounds, there are many parallelisms.” By this, she certainly pertains to the classical training they both received—she at Sunrice Global Chef Academy in Singapore, and Calo at École Grégoire-Ferrandi in Paris. They both honed their skills in the most punishing French kitchens—Arguelles under the discerning eye of Daniel Boulud at db Bistro Moderne in Marina Bay Sands and NYC; Calo is through and through a veteran of Joël Robuchon’s restaurants, from her internship in Paris until her stint as Junior Sous Chef at l’atelier de Joël Robuchon in Singapore.

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The level of cooking at the one-night-only event is not only a reflection of their productive past, but is also indicative of these two professionals currently performing at their peak. With every dish that was released from the kitchen—paired with exquisite French wines carefully chosen by former hotelier and Metronome active partner Alain Borgers—it became evident that it would be a gargantuan task to pick a favourite. The amuse bouche was a foie gras parfait eclair and a terrine of pork and game—the fitting pair to set the stage for what is to come. More pours of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV for the velvety potato vichyssoise, braised potato topped with avruga caviar; as well as a delicate veal tenderloin tartare, sea urchin, glass potato chips, showered with grated cured egg yolk.

The escargot fricassee vol-au-vent was a sweet reunion with one of my most favourite French dishes, the pops of foie gras mi-cuit were bursts of creamy surprises in my mouth. The buttery Joseph Drouhin Chassagne Montrachet 2018 was truly an ideal match, also with the monkfish cheeks and razor clams sautéed in sunchoke and brown butter emulsion. However, what could have easily stolen the show was the Hokkaido scallop and leek ragout encased in a bucatini timbale topped with a foamy truffle-comté cream, all perched on a mind-numbingly delicious leek puree.

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Still, the highlights were yet to come in the form of perfectly cooked game. The sous vide pigeon breast was so tender it yielded with minimal prodding, the crispy bonbon giving good texture, and that accompanying bite-sized chou farci daintily restrained by a blade of chive. Sips of the Haut Côtes de Nuits Louise Auguste 2019 from David Duband truly enhanced the dish with its balanced acidity and aromas of ripe berries. The brawnier Rhone Valley red—Côtes Rotie, Maison Nicolas Perrin 2014—was an easy pick to match the seared venison fillet seasoned with juniper berries and pink peppercorns, accompanied by a red wine sauce and potato puree. Still, that venison was so soft and refined that I would not have complained having been given another glass of that pinot noir.

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To bring this exceptional dinner to a close, nothing less than three desserts will do. First, a refreshing mouthful of compressed watermelon tartare and cassis espuma to cleanse the palate. Then came an elaborate white chocolate semifreddo, basil chiffon, white balsamic strawberry, and pistachio crumble. Finally, a trio of coffee-flavoured creams with a puff pastry crisp for crunch, to indulge those wanting that espresso closer without having to abandon their wine buzz.

Throughout the meal, my companions and I kept saying, in so many words, “this feels so normal.” As dinner service drew to a close and Calo signals for the bar to prepare the cases of beer for the kitchen team, she confirms our shared sentiments. “As much as I enjoyed exploring that more playful side of me with (her pandemic business) Lazy Oeuf, I really missed this kind of cooking,” Calo admits. “It was nice providing the comfort food people needed at the time. But, now, I think I am ready to go back to doing what I really do.” It is safe to say that the dining public is cautiously abandoning survival mode and are now ready to live fully once again. On the other end of that tunnel, chefs like Calo and Arguelles will be waiting, eager to perform once again at their highest level.

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