First Impressions on Duck and Buvette, Shangri-La, Home of Confit Duck and Intelligentsia CoffeeAugust 1, 2019
Recently, among Manila’s restaurant openings, there have been a few gems, but mostly resounding duds. Food that lacks clear vision or creativity, coupled with tired or half-baked concepts seem to be the trouble of those who are failing to make noise. For the increasingly discerning Filipino diner, it spells a boring dining experience, but not all is lost. While there was a dry spell the past few months, there has been a definite revival in the scene, with the news of Bianca Elizalde’s Wholesome Table, the opening of Argentian restaurant La Cabrera (ranked among the finest in Latin America), the transformation of Nielson Tower into Colin Mckay’s Blackbird, among others.
With considerably less noise, but still quite the buzz, there is also Duck and Buvette, tucked away in the old wing of Shangri-La Plaza. With straightforward food, just a few hiccups, and a coffee selection that boasts Intelligentsia Coffee, Duck and Buvette may be overshadowed by the rest of this month’s restaurant openings, but it can definitely shine on its own.
The new restaurant is decked in hipster-cool blues and grays, and outfitted impeccably. The food fits the place, with a menu reading like the pseudo-French gastropubs that are now trending worldwide. There’s offal, rillettes and confit, some traditional recipes, and others that have been tweaked to fit the modern restaurant landscape. There’s a lamb neck with a dense, smoky flavor, complimented by the salsa verde it is drenched in. It is a little tough, not braised long enough, but it is a unique dish that should be applauded. A little longer on the cooking time could turn this into something extremely special.
Rillettes, which are rarely seen on Manila menus and left behind by their pate counterparts, are featured here. Incredibly fatty with a smooth and chunky texture, it’s very divisive, but I still commend their attempts to make pots of this. Salting duck, cooking it slowly in its own fat until it breaks down into a paste takes a lot of time, skill and effort for just a starter dish. The spins on classics are also great conceptually, like escargot which appears chopped up in silky, pillowy gnocchi. There might be not enough escargot, but it is a quirky take, with the garlic sauce addictive and buttery that it begged for more bread.
Mains were intriguing, separated into ones that can be devoured individually, and others that can be shared. Everything sounds rich, but incredibly delicious, with meats that have been braised for hours taking center stage—Beef Burgundy, 8 Hour Angus Briskets, Confit of Pork Belly. The star of their menu is the D&B Crispy Half Duck Confit, a steal at PHP 980, as it is a mammoth-sized piece of duck easily divided between 2-3 people.
Arriving on a slab of slate, it is messy to tackle, but the skin looks crisp, with shiny brown edges that crackle with the prod of a fork. The jus is normal, and the rice not enough for sharing, but the confit itself is dangerous and mouthwatering. The meat falls off the bone in pieces, and the flavors are bloody and intense. There’s a bit of unrendered duck fat and skin at the bottom, but the flavor compensates for whatever missteps this dish has.
Duck and Buvette may still be suffering from a few opening mishaps, but it has all the potential to be a more-than-decent neighborhood restaurant. The fact that they serve Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee will also draw in crowds transfixed by the current coffee craze in Manila. With a little finishing touches here and there (fine-tuning some of the dishes, training their staff a little more, adding more eventful desserts), this place could be something really special.