Chef Cyril was busy manning the squeaky clean stainless steel counter when I arrived at The Oriental Spice Gourmet in Basak, Lapu-Lapu. It was a little over 10 AM and his small restaurant, which used to be a secret shared by expats working nearby, foreign divers and students, was largely empty. He manages it with Maryann, his long-time penpal and now wife.
Later I would witness that by lunch time, the regulars would soon trickle in one by one. And the restaurant, if you take away the A/C, would then remind you of your favorite hawker center in Singapore, in all its intoxicating scents and beautiful frenzy.
It took me so long to visit Oriental Spice Gourmet because of two reasons. First, it only opens during weekdays**. Cyril explained that since he does all the cooking, he may not be able to maintain the quality of every dish when more customers would come during the weekend.
The Malaysian chef, who spent a decade manning a Wagamama restaurant in London, has never been fond of shortcuts, MSG included. Proof of that is their best-seller Spicy Beef, which was the most tender rendang I’ve ever had.
“Really, you did not use coconut milk here?” I asked Cyril with a mix of disbelief and astonishment.
He confirmed that again, adding that you can only have this melt-in-your-mouth rendang when you patiently cooked the beef cuts for hours, over flame and not using the pressure cooker.
Our Mee Goreng was served next, which was stir-fried just a few minutes earlier. Cooking using a wok is a skill that takes years and years of practice. Many aspiring chefs have to endure the heat, not without minor burns along the way, in mastering the technique.
Cyril only uses the freshest local meat and vegetables. However, they had to buy most, if not all, their spices in Malaysia or in Singapore. Those that come in convenient packs available in our groceries, just wouldn’t cut in for him. Don’t be surprise then if the restaurant is closed for a couple of weeks every year, when they are probably on vacation. restocking the spices that they need.
That he puts that kind of premium on quality, perhaps more than anything else, is indeed mind-boggling. Yet you’d be happy to know that despite that, almost every dish in the menu is at Php 150.00. Cyril shared that they are able to drive the price insanely low since they own the building the restaurant is on.
My fellow foodie friends and I, also had the Salted Fish Pork and the Aachari Chicken. The latter in particular was concocted in Cebu. Cyril thought of this recipe when he noticed the abundance of cheap tomatoes in the province.
But the fitness hypocrite that I am, I stayed away from the rice. While the Rothi Paratha made our experience more ‘Asian’ than it already is, I think that the sauces from the Aachari Chicken and the rendang especially, are best drizzled and then enjoyed over a heaping of rice.
The other reason why it took me long to visit this restaurant is that it is located in Mactan. Other than the overrated sutukil stalls at Punta Engaño or the pricey buffets served at chi-chi resorts in this island, I did not have a compelling reason to endure the traffic in crossing the bridge just to have a worthwhile dining experience. In all honesty, there are many restaurants, eateries and pungko-pungko to choose from in Cebu City.
I am glad to be wrong finally. This restaurant should be one good reason as it is among the very few affordable restaurants that I know, that serve fresh food, fast.
And if I wanted to sample again a wide variety of South East Asian cuisine, Oriental Spice Gourmet, will be worth the long drive and the wait
Oriental Spice Gourmet
Basak, Lapu-Lapu City
+63 32 4060814
+63 32 3406084
**Update: OSG is now open Wednesdays to Sundays, 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM.
They have also moved to a bigger space, a few more meters after the Jollibee branch near MEPZ 2. It is right across the Science and Technology Education Center in Basak, Lapu-lapu City