Chef Tina Legarda’s name, as a private chef serving up great food at Tina’s Table, has been bandied about in local culinary circles for quite some time now. I never did get to try her fare, but with everyone serving up praises, I expected the food at her flagship restaurant, Bamba, to be great. Tucked away in BF Paranaque, a village that is becoming more and more known as a culinary destination, Bamba is a great and welcome addition to the ever-growing list of restaurants making their home in the area. There are a few problematic dishes on its menu, but overall, Bamba is a great place for Southerners to get no-frills, comforting grub.
The menu at Bamba is pretty extensive, with dishes that one would expect in a more high-end establishment. The fact that Legarda personally makes some of the pasta and bread is also a really admirable thing, as even some of the more well-known restaurants don’t do that. I really think it makes a difference.
Bamba’s Duck Ravioli is a well-conceived dish that you can definitely imagine coming from an upscale restaurant. I’ve slowly started hating truffle, but her use of it is subtle and restrained rather than being an assault on the senses. The duck and ricotta filling is generous, the flaky shredded duck is never overpowered by the ricotta’s creaminess.
The Cochon Sliders should be hailed as Bamba’s signature dish.
My favorite item on the menu is the Cochon Sliders, crisp pork belly with eel sauce. Maybe it’s just me, but seriously, how many times have you ever seen eel sauce on a menu? The Cochon Sliders are a great study in textural contrast, with the fried wonton, crisp slaw, and chicharon-esque skin providing a much-needed crunch to the eel sauce-soaked bread and unctuous fat of the belly. This is such an innovative take on a classic banh mi, and something Bamba should hail as their signature dish. Most of the items on the menu are actually riffs on old classics, but with surprising new combinations, and it serves Bamba well. The Bistro St. Salad with balsamic cream, fried string onions, and blue cheese is something you would never really find on a salad, but add some grilled tenderloin, and it suddenly makes for a great starter.
However, not everything in Bamba is a winner, and sometimes the combinations do fall flat. The Steak ala Manila was a general disappointment. The waiter told me that this was what people kept coming back for, but I didn’t find it very good. The concept itself is great, steak with a tapa marinade, but the flavors were weak, neither sweet nor garlicky. The quality of the meat made it very tough to both slice and chew. I suspect this has something to do with the PHP 690 price tag. They probably sourced their meat from somewhere more affordable. The lamb adobo was also hard to deal with, full of unrendered fat and bony pieces with too little meat for a main course. I’m willing to blame this on costs and meat suppliers, though, rather than the chef’s cooking.
It’s hard not to like the place.
For what it is, Bamba is good. Nothing about this place is pretentious, and what they promise their customer, they deliver. The premise, as well as the food, is straightforward, with some concepts that are definitely new and interesting. It’s hard not to like the place, especially when the chef is all smiles, and seems to be having a blast playing in her kitchen. If it were located anywhere else, however, it might suffer from stiff competition from better joints with similar concepts. As a comfy little bistro in a quaint neighborhood, however, it holds its own.