Jordy Navarra (pictured) with JP Cruz
Why go: Opened in 2016, Toyo Eatery is founded on the philosophy of rediscovering national identity through the Philippines’ products, cuisine and culture. The restaurant makes its debut onto the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year after being selected as the Miele One To Watch in 2018.
About the chef: Navarra first dabbled in sports, business and music, before finally landing on food as a profession. He worked in kitchens in London and Hong Kong, then set his sights on going back to the Philippines to create food that resonated with the flavours he grew up with. This resulted in opening Toyo Eatery with his wife, May.
Behind the name: Toyo is the Filipino word for soy sauce, a simple condiment created through a complex production system. The name also references a saying in the Philippines, “May toyo sa ulo”, which translates as “Soy sauce in the brain”, an idiom use to call out crazy people. The restaurant plays with elements of Philippine language and heritage, resulting in dishes that are steeped in the country’s identity, marrying familiar local flavours with modern presentations.
On the menu: 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. Taking inspiration from various facets of Philippine culture, the Bahay Kubo is a play on a local kid’s song that enumerates 18 different vegetables — all of which are prepared and cooked in various ways, then assembled into one dish. Toyo also created a dish called Banana Catsup, named after this surprisingly popular local condiment. Made from fermented bananas and banana vinegar, the catsup is served alongside an eggplant omelette with alternating layers of shrimp and crab meat.
The ambience: Toyo Eatery’s dining room features a large open kitchen and wooden tables, some of which are communal. The furnishings are set on a polished grey background, with subtle elements of old Manila seen through details like woven basket lampshades and a large wooden fork and spoon on the wall. Creations made by local artists are present in the dinnerware, the paintings and the photographs on the restaurant’s walls.
Images: Miguel Nacianceno, Sonny Thakur