Opened in 2016, Toyo Eatery is the brainchild of Filipino chef Jordy Navarra, founded on a philosophy of re-discovery of national identity through the country’s products, cuisine and culture. From its name – ‘toyo’ is the Filipino word for soy sauce, a simple condiment created through a complex production system – the restaurant plays with elements of the local language and heritage, resulting in dishes that are steeped in the country’s identity, but modern in flavour and presentation.
Navarra trained at Heston Blumenthal’s iconic restaurant The Fat Duck in the UK, picking up the chef’s advanced technical skills and progressive mentality. He later worked at Bo Innovation in Hong Kong before moving back to his home country, where he launched Black Sheep in 2014, already with a focus on modern Filipino fare. With his wife May running front of house, he opened Toyo Eatery two years later.
The idea for the first dish at Toyo came from a popular Tagalog children song called Bahay Kubo. As the nursery rhyme lists 18 different local vegetables, Navarra decided to create a dish that would incorporate all of these elements in a nostalgic and creative homage to his childhood. The dish, simply called ‘garden vegetables,’ is still on the menu to this day as an inventive salad.
Sourcing the vegetables for the dish took Navarra on a trip through the region’s countryside, leading him to meet many of the local farmers, with whom he developed a close relationship. A strong believer in community, the chef strives to support local producers and to bring their products to a new audience in an exploration of Filipino culture that takes place on the plate.
Often using traditional cooking methods, Navarra has created tasting menus ranging from three to 11 dishes, and the restaurant also offers à la carte options. Among the flavoursome creations are the ‘Three-cut pork BBQ silog’ – a modern version of a popular street food, made at Toyo using three cuts of pork cooked over charcoal and finished in pork bone broth – and a dessert duo of charred cassava cake and chocolate bonbons filled with fish-sauce salted caramel.
Toyo Eatery’s dining room features a large open kitchen and wooden tables, some of which are communal. The furnishing and dinnerware are, of course, made by local artists, and the work of Manila photographers is displayed on the walls. The atmosphere is buzzing, with diners sometimes taking the time to enjoy one of the inventive cocktails at the bar before making their way to the table for the main event.
Navarra says that Toyo is “still in its infancy,” but having received the Miele One To Watch Award 2018, it seems that Filipino ingredients and culinary traditions are set for a great coming of age.