Cover Photo: Txoko Official Facebook Page

Despite its ill-timed opening right before the lockdowns, Txoko demonstrates that the pandemic is no match for the imaginative Spanish cuisine coming out of this Miguel Vecin-led kitchen.

Timing is everything, so they say. However, those who opened a restaurant right before the pandemic descended upon the world, could not have foreseen this worst-case scenario. Suddenly, the last place anyone wanted to be was inside a restaurant. For the most part of its existence, Txoko— the fine dining Spanish asador concept of the Bar Pintxos group— is suddenly deemed dangerous territory. Time, it seems, was not on their side.

The predicament is especially unfortunate since the food is arguably some of the best in the city. Chef and owner Miguel Vecin classifies the concept as “classic Spanish with a contemporary twist,” while business partner Carlo Calma Lorenzana prefers to describe it as “a more refined version of Bar Pintxos.” However, while these might make Txoko more relatable to those who have not dined there, I feel this is an oversimplification of their food and does not quite do it justice. Feeling much more confident about dining out being fully vaccinated and knowing that proper safety protocols are strictly implemented, I knew that revisiting Chef Miguel’s reimagined Spanish dishes was in order.

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For instance, his version of patatas bravas— the tapas bar staple of fried potato cubes, alioli, and spicy red sauce— is a demonstration of a technique that takes twenty-four hours to prepare. There is a whole process of slicing, freezing, and frying in order to attain the multiple layers of a moist, tender inside and a paper-crisp outside. The napoleon-like wafers are then generously dotted with the traditional salsas if only to remind one of the dish’s provenance. Is it worth the trouble? If you appreciate how this tedious procedure exponentially multiplies the crunch, then yes.

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Furthermore, there is a deep understanding of ingredients as well as an informed respect for tradition. Vecin admits that the ensaladilla Rusa is a dish you will find in any tapas bar in Spain, and yet his interpretation is careful to include ingredients that are meant to simply enhance and not muddle its identity. Some truffle, because its heady aroma works beautifully with potatoes, and then caviar because, well, he can. A well-travelled regular customer testifies: “It’s true that there’s Russian salad in practically every tapas bar in Spain, but none as good as the version of Miguel Vecin.”

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Good food, as any chef will tell you, is a mastery of balance. While all of Txoko’s paellas are note-worthy, the paella verdura stands out because it pairs so well with the asador’s bestselling cochinillo and suckling lamb quarters. There’s the crunch from the blanched asparagus, then the earthiness from the mushrooms, and alioli to bring all those flavours together. The beautifully-roasted meats are deserving of their own epic prose, but the success of the meal, I believe, was most indebted to that thoughtful pairing.

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With the lockdown easing up, vaccines rolling out, and people feeling more confident about discovering new restaurants with strict safety protocols in place, many have found a safe escape in the understatedly elegant confines of Txoko’s dining room. About time, it seems, as Carlo shares his concerns: “The worst part of the lockdowns is the stop-and-go. Each time sales would start picking up, we would suddenly have to close again or stop indoor dining due to the surge in infections. Momentum would be cut short and we go back to square one. We really hope March 2021 is the last surge so we don’t have to stop-and-go again.”

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For their sake, I do hope we have seen the last those surges - but more for selfish reasons, we diners need to have consistent access to Txoko’s food. When asked about why their regulars keep coming back, Chef Miguel intimates, “I think what they like is the combination of great food and the ambience. What we serve is something that you can eat on a regular basis, basically elevated comfort food that you can never get tired of.”

Now I understand that it is not an oversimplification, but rather confidence in the knowledge that there is excellence in that simplicity. Food here is neither over-staged nor in need of long-drawn explanations. Service is warm yet sharp, and it really does match the dignified sophistication of the surroundings. What diners experience is that quiet confidence one has when they know they have something good - and at Txoko, you will find that everything is.

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