Unofficial rules of culinary London, no. 117: any pop-up at the Sun & 13 Cantons is going to be a cracker.
Actually, I have no idea if that’s true as I’ve missed a few over the last two, three years but the ones I have made it to… Darjeeling Express? Sambal Shiok? Claw? Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen? Whatever else happened in between that’s a pretty fine average.
And now it’s the turn of Ferdinand “Budgie” Montoya to take over the pub kitchen under his Sarap banner, a fine run through some Filipino food, which seems to be stacking up as “the next big thing” in London. If that happens to be the case, well, based on this quick lunch that’s a brief flash of good news in these very odd times.
I first met Budgie at an event at Brooksby’s Walk, a brilliant – if bizarre – bar / restaurant in a converted public toilet in Homerton. His cooking was exceptional and, even with the constraints of that event (promoting Parmigiano Reggiano, as I recall) creative, fun and delicious.
Now this Sydney-raised, Filipino chef is doing something closer to his heart and it shows. Sarap, I’m told, translates as “delicious” and there’s no argument here. There’s not a duff, or dull moment in my brief graze through the menu, and it’s easy to see why Filipino food is becoming so popular: there’s a distinct hit of Asia but spicing and flavours frequently fire off in a slightly different direction, making it at once familiar and new.
To be fair, I’m pushed to pick a favourite. It might have been the kinilaw – think Filipino ceviche – where calamansi juice (a Filipino citrus fruit) replaces lime. Cassava crisps replace cutlery, and add a lovely texture to the (tender) fish – bream, if memory serves – (bright) red onion and (audience-splitting) coriander.
Then again, there are the chicken wings, exemplary versions of what are probably the best snack “limb” out there. The meat is tender but still has resistance, meaning you have to get right into them, tearing at the flesh, sucking on the bones and inhaling the sweet, lightly spicy, salty, vinegary, banana ketchup-based sauce, and the slices of fried garlic.
Of course, there’s also the lechon, the classic, crispy, succulent roast pig. Flying solo for this visit, I shunned the full plate in favour of the bun and, while that was the more sensible approach, two bites in and I was wondering if I could justify the whole portion for dessert. Texturally, it’s got it all going on: succulent meat, thin pieces of crackling that run the gamut from chewy to shattering like glass. The Filipino BBQ sauce adds sweet and spicy layers, while green papaya and carrot bring coolness, crunch and balance. The bun – I think potato flour? – gave it the properly absorbent home it requires.
There’s a whole load of things I didn’t try but I fully intend to before this pop-up moves on from mid-April. For those seeking a slightly less, well, greedy lunch, there are also generously topped bargain rice bowls for £8.50. Whatever you do, make a note of the name(s): this won’t be the last you hear of Budgie or Sarap, that’s for sure.
Sun & 13 Cantons, 21 Great Pulteney St, London W1F 9NG