Food

Le Bon Funk Takes Over Savage

Like-minded chefs Josh Boutwood and Keiran Buck find each other in Manila.
IMAGE Le Bon Funk
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Josh Boutwood has always been a bit of an anomaly in the Manila food scene. Just take one look at himsure, he has Filipino blood, but more evident is his British side, and this shows in more than just the way he looks and speaks. He’s worked in the beautiful island of Boracay, but he’s also honed his skills in Spain and Sweden and God knows where else. He spent years taking everything in, including technique, kitchen moves, interesting ingredients, and most important, flavor. Someone who’s moved around a lot brings a view of the world to the table, making things more interesting. Boutwood is truly a culinary nomad.

Have you ever met anyone like this? Neither here nor there, but full of wisdom bestowed by the world? As you can imagine, conversations with nomads are always eye-opening.

Boutwood’s travels have shaped his cooking, a style that is just like him: It's not particularly from anywhere, but uses a lot of technique and the freshest ingredients available to drive the point home. This philosophy led to his Nomad series of dining events for Helm and Savage. As someone who has had the good fortune of working all over the world, Boutwood is naturally open to collaboration. Enter Keirin Buck.

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Chef's Choice

Photo by Dre Ferrer.

A roast chicken to end other roast chickens

Photo by Dre Ferrer.
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 Fish and beans

Photo by Dre Ferrer.

Buck, who is of Canadian and Japanese heritage, is a chef and owner of the successful restaurant and wine bar Le Bon Funk. He lived in Toronto and grew up on a steady diet of organic produce, thanks largely to his parents who take organic food very seriously (they now own their own farm). After stints in Canadian restaurants, learning charcuterie and more, he moved to Singapore, becoming the sous chef of celebrated restaurant Burnt Endsanother "no rules" restaurant that coaxes flavors using wood and fire.

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Le Bon Funk, his first solo restaurant, features organic, all-natural wines complemented by his myriad of dishes. Reading up on Buck, it’s easy to see the many parallels between his and Boutwood’s trajectories, which makes him the perfect guest for the Nomad dinners.

I was able to attend the Savage take over by Le Bon Funk. Using Savage's kitchen facilities, the two-man team of Le Bon Funk introduced its brand of cooking to a packed room of curious diners. Unless you’ve been to its restaurant in Singapore, you won’t quite figure out what to expect from dinner, which makes for intriguing (and fun) dining. The menu presented a few shared plates, a main, and a signature dessert, all of which were to be paired by organic wines.

The first plate, a brioche square topped with cedar jelly and frozen shaved foie, was a good opener, especially for the many foie gras lovers of Manila. But it was the second plate that really shone bright and spoke of chef Keirin’s way with food: organic bread (made from a starter they flew in!) surrounded by all sorts of his signatures, stuff like whipped roe served alongside fresh crudités, including a sweet raw Japanese squash, very boldly flavored charcuterie served with homemade mustard, and a smear of this deep dark brown paste, which turned out to be liver and burnt butter cooked down and meant to be spread on bread. It tasted like a very umami-filled cheese spread.

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By this time, our senses were fully engaged. These gentlemen don’t play around, layering flavors on flavors. Juicy and fresh lamb sausages were served alongside slightly acidic and cheesy crispy tapioca squares, creating complementary bites whose flavors and textures danced together on your tongue.

A roast chicken meant to be shared was the equivalent of the pool hall hustler, feigning as “just another roast,” albeit an appealing one with golden skin. A glistening claw stuck out deliberately, serving as a test if you can see beyond it and tuck in anyway.

When I bit into the breasta part countless others cook until it's dry as sand—I was floored. Moist and tender and served with charred and dressed radicchio, the local organic bird was seasoned with something rare in these parts: fennel pollen. Dusted atop roasts before going into the oven, it can make a run-of-the-mill roast ethereal.

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A brioche square topped with cedar jelly and frozen shaved foie

Photo by Dre Ferrer.

 

It's always a good thing when your dish smiles at you.

Photo by Dre Ferrer.
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It's safe to say that this is the best sandwich in the world.

Photo by Dre Ferrer.

But the star of the evening, in my opinion, was what might be the most unappealing choice on the menu: a sandwich. I don’t know why but it called my name. It helped that I do love sandwiches, but why order one in this situation, right? That was what intrigued me. Why put a sandwich on the menu?

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This cat’s curiosity was rewarded. Mind you, if you Google Keiran Buck, this sandwich pops up everywhere and now, I know why. It’s an all-star. Tucked between two pieces of bread was a generous pile of thinly sliced beef tongue so full of flavor and so tender that your teeth go right through it: absolutely zero resistance. Dressed with sauce gribiche, an underrated condiment made of boiled egg and a lot of cornichons, capers, and herbs, it was one of the most amazing sandwichesheck, one of the most amazing dishes, periodI’ve ever encountered in my pursuit of the delicious.

Suffice to say, it has spoiled me forever and, if I ever find myself in the neighborhood of Le Bon Funk, I’d buy two to take home: one for a midnight snack and one for the next day.

The signature dessert of birch syrup tart, with a big dollop of whipped cream, was excellent, but seemed almost anti-climactic after the sandwich. Not that I wouldn’t ask for an extra slice, because I would totally go for seconds. I’m sure you would, too! 

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Keiran Buck makes the kind of dishes that look so simple and too casual (ugly even, if you listen to him describe it) but upon diving into it, you understand that he’s a magician of flavor. With his vast culinary knowledge, he ages meats or produce until they reach a certain peak that only he knows about. He ferments like it’s no one’s business. He smokes, braises, and roasts for eternity. And he puts together meals that transcends borders, cuisines, and cultures, like food for the global village.

We should be happy that like-minded chefs like Boutwood and Buck found each other somehow and cooked in Manila. It makes the world that much smaller and our plates that much tastier.

 

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About The Author
JJ Yulo
Always just jonesing, JJ Yulo is everyone's favorite curator of fun. The man behind Manly Eats and its more evolved counterpart Supermanly Eats, JJ describes himself as a humble observer and peanut gallery commenter of the local food scene.
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