Carnivore: dine here before they close for good
I could still remember that during my first time at Carnivore, an upscale casual restaurant in Cebu, I had their crowd pleaser Chop & Marrow as a post work-out meal. Since the place was packed that evening, my friend and I settled for the seats behind the counter.
I didn’t complain of course as we could see in full view all the action that took place in the restaurant’s open kitchen, manned and maintained by the owners themselves – Kurt Famador and Barbra Sia. The controlled chaos that ensued during service reminded me a lot of Top Chef’s Kitchen Wars – queued paper slips, fired orders, and for final touches – swirled sauces and the occasional tweezified microgreens.
But unlike Top Chef, you are spared the unnecessary reality TV drama and flared tempers at Carnivore. It’s just good, honest cooking here and nothing more.
It was only a few weeks back that I found myself again, with two of my colleagues this time, at Carnivore. The menu is different now and the counter seats have been removed. Opposite the kitchen is a hipsteresque wall with interesting scribbles in chalk.
One section contains photos of produce and personalities that the couple get their inspiration from. I could identify a few of the chefs – Eric Ripert, Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller and Stephanie Izard. All of them are excellent in their respective crafts so in a way you’d have the idea that Kurt and Barbra are also serious with theirs.
The other sections of the wall point to where the restaurant source their produce. The local Kitayama Wagyu Beef (a cross between Australia Wagyu and local Brahman breeds) is from Mindanao, the seafood caught from nearby islands, and the vegetables are supplied by various local producers across the province.
Carnivore indeed knows where the quality stuffs are, including even the underrated wild cobia fish, locally known as tasik. Maybe the temptation to take shortcuts by buying cheaper items off the grocery shelves is always there, but still the owners stubbornly stuck with these small farms and local fishermen. What’s more amazing is the fact that they still kept their prices at mid-levels – neither dirt cheap or obscenely expensive.
Chop & Marrow and other surprises
Our lunch would have started with one of their new best-sellers, the Wild Board Mask Poutine, but I suggested to the group that we start with something bright and light instead. The Seared Yellowfin Tuna Salad fit this description.
For mains, I tried something different that afternoon- the wickedly tender BBQ Lamb Belly, braised, then grilled and drizzled with a homemade sauce. I would have wanted my mashed potato to be more buttery though. Otherwise, the side dish paired well with the lamb and the malty Belgian Dubble from The Cebruery.
One of the gents chose the Chop & Marrow, a thick slab of grilled pork chop resting on a wedge of bone, the glorious marrow of which is ready to be scooped and be used as you may deem fit.
The other one ordered the Surf & Turf, a dish that married a sous-vide Kitayama beef hump and a properly cooked half wild jumbo prawn – a combo that will only make sense after a a few bites.
The only miss perhaps was the Uni Ice Cream. I expected to have the taste of the ocean on my first spoonful, but somehow the sea urchin was almost lost in the dessert. Barbra would later explain to me that they decided to tone down the brine after some of their guests complained of its rather intense flavors.
“But it’s supposed to taste that way,” I remarked. She could only smile in agreement.
It’s a great restaurant, but what went wrong?
So why is it that Carnivore, a small restaurant with great ambitions, will be unfortunately closing its doors soon? Is it because of their relatively hidden location in Cebu or that the city is not yet ready for this kind of cuisine? How will a restaurant then with no lechon belly or unlimited rice or baked scallops in the menu, thrive in this part of the Philippines? I don’t have easy answers to these questions I’m afraid.
More than a year has already passed since my first visit at Carnivore. I could only wish I took more brunches here or capped off one of my long weeks last year with an ice cold bottle of craft beer.
But I didn’t do any of these. Instead, I treated this small culinary gem as just another folder of photos in my hard drive, a stale backlog for a future restaurant review.
The bitter takeaway for me here is this, that while my foodie friends and I would like to try the new kid on the block, maybe we’ll also seek to remember our old haunts along the way.
Because at the end of the day, your favorite restaurants are not unlike your family. They will always thank you for your mouth-watering, viral Instagram #flatlay posts. But they’d certainly appreciate it more if you leave a tip, spread the word around and most especially pay them another visit.
closed last December 2016
The Gallery, Juan Luna ave, Cebu City
Monday-Thursday | 11:30 AM-9:30 PM
Friday | 11:30 AM-10 PM
Saturday | 6 PM- 10 PM reservations and inquiries: +63 32 231 1440