Several new establishments have been sprouting up in Metro Manila over the past few months, calling themselves “gastropubs.” This phenomenon began as a revolution in England in the early nineties. Pubs, notoriously known for having bland food responsible for English cuisine’s dismal reputation, began caring about their food. They started developing their menus with an eye toward not just improving the standard “pub grub”, but also of pairing dishes and beers that go well together. Hence, the prefix gastro-.
Thus, the ideal gastropub should provide two things: quality food and drink, at reasonable prices. After all, at its heart, it is still a pub, short for public house. It is a laid-back place where people converge after work, share a pint, and socialize. Majority of the local self-anointed gastropubs fail this test. Some purport to be fine-dining restaurants and thereby jack up the prices of their menus. Many more offer an unexciting bar list of flavorless beer, uninspired cocktails and astringent wines.
Luckily, I’ve come across one place worth recommending - Harvest at the Grand Hamptons Tower II in Bonifacio Global City. With an extensive menu of comfort food favorites done well, and a well-stocked bar of world-class libations, all at reasonable (even ridiculously so) prices, this is one gastropub that truly deserves to call itself thus.
A couple of friends and I were intrigued by the variety in both Harvest’s menu and beer list, so we decided to have a beer and food pairing dinner. One of us was running quite late due to Makati traffic, so we began with a light starter of Salt and Pepper Squid (P185.00) and Hitachino Nest White Ale (P200.00) to tide us over. This was a good partnership of crispness, light spices and complementary flavors, with the perfectly seasoned squid and the orange peel and coriander notes of the White Ale. I recommend this Japanese take on a classic Belgian ale to everyone who claims that they don’t like beer, and proceed to watch their minds get blown. You’re welcome.
When dinner proper finally began, it was with an order of Harvest’s Baked Roxas Scallops (P240.00) with cheese, garlic, lemon and spinach, paired with Unibroue La Fin du Monde (P945.00). La Fin du Monde is the highest-rated Tripel in the world, which is another traditional Belgian style originally brewed by Trappist monks, but this time from a Canadian craft brewery. Unibroue’s brewmaster recommends scallops for pairing with their award-winning beer, and justifiably so. The simple succulence of the shellfish and the richness of the cheese go really well with the complexity of this beautiful golden beer and a creamy crown of a head. It is well-carbonated, floral with a whisper of spice, and a dry finish. Beer sommeliers, known as cicerones, often pit tripels head-to-head with champagne in beer versus wine pairing dinners, and win. This is an outstanding ale that holds its own against the classiest drink in the world. And with a corked and caged 750-ml. bottle, served chilled in an ice bucket, you lose none of the experience you would get with champagne, at a more affordable price.
Our next course was a sharing portion of their Brick-Oven Lechon Belly (P395.00, P240.00 for a single serving), paired with a Nøgne ø India Pale Ale, a Norweigian craft beer following an American recipe, that a friend picked up from Beerfest Asia in Singapore (we need one of those in Manila!). Their slow roasted pork is excellent, with glorious fat and crisp skin highlighted by a trio of liver, soy and barbecue sauces, and accompanied by tomato ensalada and achara. I love bitter India Pale Ales (IPAs) with rich, crispy pork and salty, savory Asian flavors. Harvest offers the Victory Hop Wallop Double IPA (P240.00), which is relatively light for its style, malty and not overly bitter, making it a good match for the lechon. A friend of mine swears by pairing the lechon with Unibroue Maudite (P945 for a corked 750-ml bottle), a Belgian-style strong dark ale with notes of dark fruit and a spicy, complex finish.
We then decided on another pub favorite – pizza! Harvest’s gourmet pizzas are interesting, and their laing and Laguna cheese pizza came highly recommended, but not all of us were feeling adventurous that night. We decided on a safe, but equally mouth-watering pie, their Supreme Pizza (395.00), one of the newest items on their menu and generously topped with a variety of cured meats, bell peppers and onions. Even the uninitiated know that beer and pizza are a match made in heaven, but not all beers would go well with such an umami bomb of a pizza. Our choice was the Nøgne ø Porter, a robust dark English-style ale with roasted coffee and dark chocolate flavors that would go well with any meat. While the porter came from Beerfest as well, Harvest offers a couple of solid brews that would pair well.
For the more adventurous, I’d suggest the Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard (P175.00). This beer gets its name from the fact that you probably won’t like it - unless your taste buds are already acclimated to real beer, of course. A craft beer virgin would find it unbearably bitter and aggressive, but a more seasoned palate will appreciate the razor-thin balance between this American strong ale’s initial flash of malt sweetness and its lingering hop bitterness.
A safer, yet equally delicious choice to pair with their pizza is the Rogue Dead Guy Ale (P175.00). This is easy to drink, with a slight sweetness and medium body that has made many exclaim their amazement that beer could actually taste like this.
For dessert, we wanted to pair the Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Vanilla and Coffee Porter from Global Beer Exchange with a chocolate cake, but they had run out of stock. Beer and dessert pairing may come as a shock to many, but it can be done, to surprisingly decadent results! This is quite tough to do, because you’d need foresight and knowledge of how both the beer and the dessert will taste. The general rule is that the dessert should not be sweeter than the beer.
Thus, with our plan gone awry, we decided to opt instead for the Peanutbutter Bananalicious (P120) by Dessert Barn. This was excellent - sweet and a touch savory for balance. It brings to mind the heartwarming familiarity of childhood favorites – banana bread, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Chocnut. However, I’ll admit that the cake was dwarfed by the beer, with the latter’s strong coffee bean, dark chocolate and vanilla aroma, imposing 10% alcohol, and a sticky viscous black coffee taste that engulfed the palate, finishing with more vanilla. This wasn’t to say that the beer wasn’t good, it was one of the best beers of its style that we’ve tried. But to pair with dessert, only a thick, rich, sinful dark chocolate could have stood up to it.
Well, that was our only failed pairing of the night, out of five attempts, so the numbers are good. And we had the right idea in mind, had they still had some chocolate cake left. In retrospect, I’d say that for the Peanutbutter Bananalicious, I’d go with the Gordon Biersch Marzen (P130.00) as a partner. It’s relatively light, with a caramel sweetness and nuttiness that would complement the cake perfectly.
We were not done for the night yet, as we continued on with a serious beer tasting as a digestif despite being already quite full, to almost disastrous ends. Lesson learned: quit while you’re ahead. Having said that, it’s another story for another time, to be published on my blog, Books, Bites, Brews (http://booksbitesbrews.blogspot.com).
Eli Convocar tries to stay sane while reviewing for the bar exams through beer, food, writing about beer and food, and reading about beer and food.
Photography by JC Taruc.
Harvest Gastropub is located at The Grand Hamptons Tower 2, 31st St cor 1st Ave, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.