Mikkayla reviews: Chibog – ‘you can’t go wrong’
553 Barkly Street West Footscray 3012
I’m calling it: Chibog is the place that is going to help elevate Filipino cuisine to cult-like status.
When I mentioned that my first food review would be for a little Filipino joint in Footscray, my friends all asked the same question: “What is Filipino food?” My answer came from what I’ve experienced – the traditional home-cooked dishes courtesy of my brother’s Filipino wife and her parents: “It’s ugly… but it’s delicious.”
What Filipino cuisine has been needing is someone to reinvigorate these traditional ‘ugly-delicious’ dishes that can scare the uninitiated before they even take a bite by giving them a modern salute and a bit of a facelift.
Enter ‘Chibog’, a trendy, neon-lit, almost bar-like premises in West Footscray. They’ve taken a bunch of nostalgic, well-loved Filipino dishes out of the home kitchen, and into a modern setting that, with just few liberties, capture the explosive flavours of Filipino cooking but are still photogenic.
Owner-operator Janine Barican is a wonderful example of that someone we all know who has pivoted from one set career to something completely different. The former nurse’s longing for the flavours of her homeland inspired her to open her own Filipino restaurant earlier this year… and then COVID hit, and she was forced to close her doors, not once, but twice (remember that glorious few weeks of freedom we experienced in June?)
As soon as you step through the doors, you’re greeted by Janine and her husband’s wide smiles, and the incredible smells emanating from their open kitchen. “Take the best seat of the house,” we’re instructed, “So you can take photos with our neon sign in the background.”
We check in and then scan the sticker on the table with the QR code which takes us to the menu – and face the dilemma of surely over-ordering for our table of two. Hot tip: take more people. More people = more dishes to try. Janine is readily available to answer all of our questions about the food, and doesn’t laugh at our terrible mispronunciation of pretty much every dish. She tells us that chibog is Filipino slang for ‘to eat’. “Let’s chibog”. We are ready to oblige.
We start with Lumpiang Shanghai – a fancy name for pork and prawn spring rolls, served with a tangy and slightly sweet banana ketchup. The outside is perfectly crisp, the filling is dense and meaty, and the ketchup cuts through perfectly. It was my first time having banana ketchup; we’re told that it was created due to a lack of tomatoes in the Philippines during WWII, but an overabundance of bananas (red food colouring is added to make it look just like ketchup). The serving size is generous with 10 in a bowl, and the ketchup is so good that it is long gone before the final roll is taken.
This is followed by the Tortang Talong, a delightfully-light eggplant omelette, garnished with a fresh and zesty chopped salad of tomato, cucumber and red onion, and a squeeze of lemon to finish it off. Simple but packs a punch.
The Lumpiang Sariwa is the dish of the night – a coconut wrap enveloping a mix of veggies and generously dressed with a sweet garlic soy and peanut sauce. The wrap is reminiscent of a regular crepe, but somehow smoother with a tiny bit of chewiness to it, and we used the remaining spring rolls to scrape up the leftover sauce.
The main dishes are mostly share-style plates, except for the surprising inclusion of a burger and chips. The Crispy Pata (fried pork knuckle) served with pickled green papaya is the lazy man’s more accessible version of the popular national favourite dish, lechon (roasted suckling pig). It sounded a bit too intimidating for us, though Janine assures us later that while it’s good fun for them to stand back and watch people attempt to cut it up for the table, they eventually do step in and help if needed! We instead get our pork fix with the sisig – thrice-cooked pork pieces served on a sizzling hot plate (that you can’t help but touch) mixed with onion, liver pate and chicharon.
The pieces are crispy, crunchy and almost dry – which makes it the perfect picking dish, popular to snack on while drinking. I loosen mine up with drizzles of the sauce from the Kare Kare, a dish famous throughout the whole country.
Kare Kare is an oxtail stew, and whilst the hunk of meat swimming in the sea of rich, savoury peanut butter stew seems scary, a fork to steady it and a spoon to scrape reveals meltingly-tender meat. It’s served with bok choy, eggplant and snake beans, and a scoop of shrimp paste on the side which adds a delightful, umami element that you can adjust according to your tastes. Served with rice to soak up the sauce, it’s hearty, delicious and warming.
Fit to burst by this stage, Janine comes out and apologises – they forgot to bring out the Relleno Squid we ordered (squid stuffed with minced pork and vegies). We thank her profusely, because this means we can share a dessert!
We found ourselves staring in amazement at the crispy leche flan and ube ice cream. It’s as pretty as a picture but the first bite makes us forget decorum. Think crème brulee-type spring rolls – a sweet, creamy, vanilla filling oozing out of golden fried pastry, and the Ube ice cream is the perfect partner – not too sweet and almost floral. The ube is native to the Philippines, imported over and is responsible for the beautiful lavender colour of the ice cream.
Chibog is excellent – an intimate, modern venue setting, exceptionally good service, wholesome hearty dishes and price-wise, you can’t go wrong. The cocktail list is limited but well designed to suit the majority of dishes and their wine and beer list is decent. Vegetarians have a few things to choose from but the carnivores will definitely be kept happy. No longer ugly-delicious but simply just delicious, grab a group a head to Chibog where you’ll be greeted warmly like an old friend.