A Breakfast Buffet in Poblacion Turns Into a Cocktail Bar at Night
When chef Mikel Zaguirre (Locavore/Bad Bowl) invites you for a tasting at one of his new concepts, be sure to bring reinforcements. He is not the type to pull back on either flavor or quantity. His style is usually described as indulgent, rich, and playful, leaving no room for the timid and nuanced. Therefore, when you are a guest at his table, prepare to be treated to a dizzying array of his latest masterpieces. This is just really how he does things.
Zaguirre’s latest venture, Ovo, is a most apt showcase of this luxurious and brazen style of cooking. He serves brunch all day, something that fits right into the dynamic Poblacion neighborhood. It also provides the guests of the hotel it occupies with breakfast fare, but what will surely dazzle and mystify is the brunch options tweaked according to Zaguirre’s brand of whimsy.
But, first, drinks. After dinner service, Ovo (which is Italian for “egg,” by the way) turns into a cocktail bar—nothing noisy or up-tempo like Zaguirre’s Bang Bang nearby, more steady and reserved for those looking for a quiet conclusion to their evening. Brunch is usually an unspoken invitation to day drinking, and the chef will be the first to tell you that the Foie Gras Deviled Eggs and the Steamed Eggs with Caviar are made to be enjoyed with glasses of Champagne or Prosecco.
Once we have committed to alcohol consumption in the middle of the day, the drinks kept coming. The Hickory Whisky Sour—with that perfect balance of sweet, tang, and bacon—is irresistible. A mezcal-based margarita and the basil mojito both have subtle twists to classic concoctions, making them more current and interesting. Zaguirre is most excited about the Butter Irish Coffee, a discovery that he brought back from one of his travels. The hot cocktail with Jameson, coffee, brown butter syrup, and cream is like a warm, brawny hug on one of those cold mornings we have been having recently.
To tone down the buzz, the chef sends us the decadent lobster nachos to munch on. Starters like the clam chowder—generously embellished with chunks of bacon, potatoes, and clams—and a rather successful bangus belly Caesar salad warms our bellies.
Zaguirre joins us as the brunch mains are served. We talk shop. Like, how the highly competitive market leaves little room for mediocrity and careless mistakes. We talk about what it’s like to work with his business partners, as well as parting ways with some bad ones. Experience has truly made him a smarter businessman complementing his sharpened natural talents as a chef, and if you have been following his career, it is easy to spot the shrewdness of his decisions.
Ovo, he has decided, will soon become a 24-hour operation to maximize his overhead and the potential of being in eclectic and lively Poblacion. When the cocktail bar closes, the restaurant will once again transform into an early morning breakfast buffet from 2 to 6 a.m., catering to partygoers and anyone looking for a hearty meal in the wee hours.
While that part of Ovo’s operation is still in the works, guests have given their nods and nos (Zaguirre has discontinued his tater tots. “As in violent reaction,” he snickers. He serves some mean croquetas in its stead) to the brunch menu.
The Fried Chicken and Mash is a more streamlined version. Half a butterflied chicken, it's brick-fried until crispy and golden and flavored with piri-piri and chimichurri. But, Zaguirre being Zaguirre, he goes all out on the Chicken and Waffles with a chicken ala Kiev served alongside a brilliant ensaymada sourdough waffle.
The Sirloin Daing is his tapsilog, with air-dried beef, Wagyu steak rice, and a fried egg. The bone marrow adds the fatty-ness one typically looks for in beef tapa, but this time with more personality and depth.
If you’re lucky, maybe you will catch Zaguirre and his team playing around in the kitchen— as they like to—and get to try something fun like the Corned Beef Bolognese. “It’s my version of a shakshouka,” the chef says, referring to an Israeli breakfast dish that is mainly eggs poached in tomato sauce on a skillet. This one though is a hearty abomination that marries salty, flaky corned beef with the Italian-style sauce fragrant with oregano, then topped with lightly poached eggs still runny on the inside. The starch comes in the form of rissoni, a rice-shaped pasta that soaks up all that sauce. It looks like something you would find the morning after at a bachelor’s pad or frat house, albeit one with a well-stocked pantry.
Brunch is really nothing new, some might even call it tired and overdone. But, Ovo does it so well and with such flair that you will buy into its penchant for the outlandish and extreme. It’s good food, and how lucky are we that it will be made available to us all day. That playful stance is truly what sets Zaguirre apart from his peers, and we are hoping he never outgrows it.
Y2 Hotel, Santiago Street, Poblacion, Makati